While annual statistics are bleak when it comes to the success rates of New Year’s resolutions, don’t conclude that goalsetting is a fruitless endeavor, says Shoreline physical therapist Bruk Ballenger. Simply resolve to set smarter goals. 

“This time of year, goals often reflect a commitment to better health, which I definitely applaud,” said Ballenger, owner of Prevail Physical Therapy in Shoreline. “But whether you’re looking to work out more, lose weight or eat better, creating new habits is a difficult process – a process that begins with setting goals that are meaningful, specific and clear.” 

According Nielsen, the No. 1 New Year’s resolution in the U.S. last year was to stay fit and healthy (37 percent), with losing weight coming in at a close second (32 percent). About 64 percent of these resolutions make it past four weeks, however, with an overall success rate of about 8 percent, says the Statistic Brain Research Institute. 

The stats, says Ballenger, seem to shine a dim light on the capacity of people to make tangible changes in their lives – but it shouldn’t. The lack of success often begins with the goal itself. An ideal goal, He says, should be SMART, an acronym that stands for four specific qualities: specific, measureable, attainable, and realistic. 

“It’s not enough to just say you want to accomplish something,” Ballenger said. “Success comes through establishing a tangible game plan for achieving what you’re setting out to do, and that’s what SMART goals set out to do. It’s how we as physical therapists achieve success with our clients, and it’s a process that should be applied to goalsetting at the individual level.”  

Ballenger offers the following guidance for setting your own SMART goals: 

Specific: Don’t be ambiguous when setting goals. Include all the important W’s in your goal: who, what, where and why. Instead of saying “I’d like to lose weight,” be more specific: “I want to lose 15 pounds by May 1 so I can go hiking without experiencing knee pain.” 

Measurable: Always set concrete marks that allow you to measure the progress of your goal. Include your long-term goal, of course, but also include a few benchmarks along the way (e.g., lose 4 lbs. in Jan., 3 lbs in Feb., etc.). 

Attainable: Make sure you have the time, resources and ability to achieve your goal. If you’re strapped for cash, don’t make it your goal contingent on joining a gym. Or if running is painful, don’t make it a goal to jog every day. 

Realistic: Aim high, but don’t leave the stratosphere of what’s truly possible. Setting unrealistic goals – aiming to run a marathon when you’ve never completed a 5K, for instance – could just set you up for disappointment. 

Trackable: Choose goals that allow for tangible ways to track progress, be it through weight lost per week, calories eaten per day, miles run on the treadmill, etc. Like in a sport, keeping score keeps you focused and motivated. 

Of course, before beginning any new exercise regimen or weight-loss program, consult your physician or a certified physical therapist like those on the Prevail Physical Therapy team.