We really don’t love the language of “resolutions” – it’s just too easy to fail at a resolution. We like “intentions” better. You can’t fail at an intention: you just haven’t accomplished it … yet. 

So how do you set reasonable, reachable intentions and move toward them in an emotionally and physically healthy way?

Because so many people have physical goals to reach — first 5K or successful weight management or attending a yoga or spinning class — we approached those amazing Doctors of Physical Therapy, Dr. Meagan Peeters-Gebler and Dr. Brianna Droessler-Aschliman, for help with setting and accomplishing (or moving towards accomplishing) intentions.

Our DPTs see a lot of burnout, fatigue, and injury in the months just after a new year, mainly because folks get excited about their New Year’s Resolutions and hit the gym – hard. It was Brianna who suggested we reframe those goals in terms of “intentions” so there’s pressure and less fear of failure right out of the gate.

Here are their ideas for staying on track to those good intentions beyond February first. And by the way, while these mostly focus on exercise and fitness, those aren’t the only goals. Maybe you want to write a novel or learn to play the guitar or to speak another language. Pretty much all of the following suggestions can help you with those goals as well.

Be specific, says Bri. Write your intentions down and list out the steps you’ll need to take to get there in a realistic way and timeframe. Vague intentions are hard to follow through on, so be very specific. Want to run a 5K? Say so! Then make a plan to get there, starting with a run/walk schedule or visiting your local running store for advice on the right shoe for you. Want to write that novel? What comes first, for you? An outline? Or is January all about Chapter 1?

Set smaller goals for easy success, Meagan suggests. Nothing leads to success like success, so give yourself some very manageable goals. And leave it to a pelvic PT to zero in on healthy hydration. Especially if you’re a woman in midlife and menopause, proper hydration with plain, unflavored water is seriously important. It can be as easy as replacing one coffee a day with water. Over-hydration is also possible, so know what you need: a good general rule is to divide your body weight in half, and the number you’re left with is the right fluid intake (in ounces). If you’re doing lots of physical exercise or it’s hot or you’re sweating from hot flashes, you might want to bump that up a bit.

Regard challenges with care. There are SO MANY of these this time of year: crunch challenges, run streaks, lunge goals…. These are most likely set up with very good intentions, but, as Bri says, not every body is the same. You need to enter any challenge with the notion that if it’s harmful to your body or emotions, you can and will reduce the goal or back out entirely. Know your body and your limitations, and don’t push either beyond the point of safety. Any improvement IS improvement – that’s why they call it “improvement.” Don’t let a quest for perfection derail you or tempt you to injury. Same with other types of goals: unrealistic goals can really derail us, so if NaNoWriMo is too much, do your own version.

Examine what you’re actually doing. Meagan suggests you keep a log of your behavior now, compared to your goal behavior. If your goal is to run a 5K and you’re currently walking a mile a day, great! That means you probably shouldn’t sign up for a 5K in February unless you’re OK with walking a fair piece of it. Start from where you are – and that means being really aware and honest with yourself about where you are now – and ramp up smart to stay safe.

Choose health. Oh, we get it. Vanity is a strong motivator. But if you enter a challenge or fire up an intention with a “health-first” approach, you’ll likely have a more realistic and healthy time frame and goal in mind, says Bri. So don’t go crazy with the crunches in order to have abs for Valentine’s Day; instead, maybe expand your horizons and do some easy lifting for upper body strength or take a core class that focuses on a strong and healthy pelvic floor.

Get outside every day. Meagan leads a very busy life with her work, a young son, and athletic goals of her own, so one of her intentions for 2020 and beyond is to get outside more. It’s a great goal on its own, but, Meagan says, it has amazing trickle-down effects. Getting outside invites movement (biking, walking, running), it often involves fresh air and sunshine (go, vitamin D!), it provides stress relief! You won’t melt or freeze if you dress appropriately, and you really don’t need more than 10 minutes to get some real benefits. (PS Smoke breaks don’t count.)

Approaching intentions with gratitude. We love this suggestion from Bri: Don’t think of what you can’t do (run a marathon), think of what you can (walk comfortably for a mile or more). You are capable of things right now, so remember and let that give you confidence that you can build up to even more. And you might pair this idea with….

Curate your social media to feel good about yourself. Also from Bri, a suggestion to be really thoughtful in your social media choices. Comparing ourselves to folks online can be truly disheartening, even as we cheer our friends on to greater glory. Maybe focus on following those who inspire you, who are at your level, so you can take advantage of their suggestions, instead of that one Wonder Woman friend who we love but who maybe makes us feel a little inadequate.

Limit the commitment. What could be more daunting than committing to a major behavior change for a year? How about a decade? If having huge, hairy, way-out-there goals works for you, great. But for many of us, setting a huge goal way out is the perfect set up for failure. What if you set January goals and February goals instead? You want to run a 10K in 2020? Awesome – let’s plan on running a mile without stopping by the end of January. If that’s still too much, let’s talk shoot for taking the stairs at work twice a week to increase our cardio health and our stamina. Checking goals off your to-do list is a huge motivator to go for the next one.

Beating yourself up doesn’t burn calories. “Be self-aware and treat yourself with grace and kindness,” says Meagan. What does that look like? It means setting goals that suit you rather than help you self-sabotage. And being patient and kind with yourself, just as you would be with a training partner.

Know yourself inside and out. Literally. There are some key questions that might help you set the right intentions:

  1. Am I intrinsically or extrinsically motivated? Does my drive come from a love of challenging myself? Or will knowing my buddy is waiting in cold to go for a run get me out of bed?
  2. Do I perform better alone or with others or by mixing it up? Personally, I’m a solo runner. I like the time to be in my own head. Others find that being with a group is much more fun. Would taking a language class with a teacher and other students be more motivating than working alone with an app?
  3. When is the best time for me to focus on my goal? Be real – if you’re not going to get up at 4 AM to hit the gym or crank out a chapter, EVER, that’s OK. Just don’t plan on it and then kick yourself for failing to. But also, be open to trying new things. Maybe 4 AM is when you really kick butt, you just didn’t know it because you’re usually asleep! 
  4. Where can I scrape loose some time? We are all so busy, but most of us could find time in our day to work towards our goals if we really wanted to. Keep a log of your daily activities to find those pockets of time that could be spent moving towards your goals.
  5. Am I overly compulsive? Some of us can be a bit too focused on goals, to the detriment of the rest of our lives. If this is you, maybe get a friend to be your “governor,” the one who is authorized to let you know when you’re pushing too hard.
  6. Do I fear failure or success, asks Meagan. This might be a conversation to have with a trusted counselor, but if you have a pattern of not reaching goals, there may be something underneath that’s worth exploring.
  7. Do I need to put a team together, Bri wants to know. What support do you need to reach your goal? This can be friends, professionals, a coach, a club or meet up group. These are the folks who have the expertise or maybe just the cheerleading chops to keep you moving forward.
  8. Am I “treat motivated”? OK, you’re not a yellow lab, we know, but many of us really like treats to celebrate our milestones. You stuck with your plan for a full week/month? Awesome, buy yourself a shiny water bottle or sweet fountain pen or whatever floats your boat and keeps you on track for the next milestone.
  9. Am I willing to make my goal time non-negotiable? If you schedule a couple of hours on a Saturday to press forward, don’t let that time get taken away from you. If that other thing can wait, let it. And go ahead and schedule that time, formalize it and make it official, then respect it and insist that others do too.
  10. Am I willing to periodically re-examine my goals and my progress toward them and re-assess? Life is a pretty fluid and changeable thing, so if life changes, your intentions may need to flex with it. Don’t keep up a schedule that just isn’t sustainable. And equally, if you find time has freed up a bit, maybe assign a bit more of it toward those intentions. Achieving those intentions ahead of schedule is awesome (and means you have time to set a new one)!

When everyone else is making resolutions, it can be tempting to jump in and Facebook that Big Hairy Thing I Am Going To Do This Year, And Dammit This Time I Mean It. Resolve NOT to do that, if it doesn’t work for you. Then move ahead toward those great intentions at the pace that gets you there.

What promises do you make on January 1, if any? We’d love for you to share your great ideas in the Gennev Community forums!