Note: No matter how much I tried, this post comes out pretty long. You don't have to read it, but if you do, I hope it will help you. Now, to the point:

20 days from today most of us will wake up with new expectations and inspirations (and some with hang-overs). Three weeks from today we will start working on turning those expectation into reality. Within three months most people will fall back into the same old routine. Is that because their resolutions were wrong? No, but most of us simply don't know how to turn a resolution into an action plan. Some of us are naturally good at planning, some learned it, but most are lacking. Good news, this is easy to fix.

I first heard abour S.M.A.R.T. goal setting from an HR memo. It was boring, too brief, poorly written, and I dismissed it as a regular HR mumbo-jumbo. Then I ran into it once more, then again, and at one point it occurred to me - this stuff actually makes sense. You can use it anywhere - home improvements, education, vacation planning, but since this is a fitness forum, allow me to demonstrate with a long, detailed example.

Take a guy, who wakes up on January 1st, and decides that by the end of the year he's going to get fit. On the 2nd he signs up in the local gym, works out fervently 7 days a week. By the end of January it's more like 5 days, February - 3 days a week. April - he's home in front of TV carping that the gym was total loss of money and didn't help at all. This guy (me, circa 1998 ) had a noble goal - "get fit". The problem - the goal was not S.M.A.R.T.

S is for Specific. "get fit" is way to general. Do you want to be fit like Michael Phelps or Mike Tyson? Both are great champions, but can either one outplay Roger Federer (or Serena Williams) on a tennis court? Neither of the above stands a chance in a marathon or Mr. Olympia. So, when our guy gets to the gym one day he's on the treadmill, next day he's huffing and puffing in the weights section, a week later he does his best in the pool, then playing basketball with his buddies, but at the end he spreads himself too thin, because he never expressed what he really wants. So, now he gets specific and decides that for him "fit" is "strong". That already elminates pool and team events. He sticks with the weights. He's now focused, and has better chance to succeed. Yet, he may get tripped.

M is for Measurable. How do you measure "strong"? Plenty of people are trying to improve on their bench press and squat, but only a few do military perss on a reqular basis (and I have no idea why). Is 150 on bench press "strong" or not? Our guy may be doing very well indeed, but without some observable benchmarks it is very easy to get disappointed, then discouraged, and at the end - drop out. To move on we need to see progress, so the next step would be to define how "strong" he wants to get. Let's say, that "stronger" means doing better on military press, bench press, and squat. For a beginner this is not a bad goal, and here's where we move to the next step.

A is for Achievable. Take someone who just walked in the gym for the first time and can barely lift the bar. He might easily double his performance within a year. A champion powerlifter would consider himself lucky if he can add 5 percent to their record in the same time. Set the long-term goals that match your dreams, but be reasonable with your short-term targets. For example, if our guy, who can maybe bench press 70lbs, sets his eyes on 100, he will get there soon enough (took me 2 months) to be encouraged for more. 80 is too small of a step, it's hard to be enthusiastic about it, while 200 may take too long and lead to disappointment. So, the plan now becomes - lift 20 more on military press, 30 more on bench press, and 50 more on squat. Now, this is still about "getting fit", but this is a plan one can stick to, as long as the plan is right. (This is actually not a bad plan - add a few exercises for back and arms and you'll get a pretty good strength complex for a beginner).

R is for Relevant. Here's where we fit our plans with our long-term vision. Are we doing what we want / need to do? For example, if our guy is an anemic 15-year old who's tired of getting pushed around, the plan above is absolutely great and he has good motivation to stick to it. If he is an overweight 50-year old with pre-stroke cholesterol level and bad back, he should stick with weight loss for a while and definitely stay away from squats.

T is for Timely. There is that old joke: "I said - I'll fix it - and I'll fix it, you don't have to remind me every six months!" Our plans are nothing if they are not binding. The best way to make them binding is to set deadlines. And as far as the plan of adding 20/30/50 on the three benchmarks - "by next week" is way unrealistic, "in 5 years" is laughable, but with proper training "by this summer" is enough, may even be a bit generous, depending on our guy's fitness level. And it's a good way not to get disappointed - when our guy adds 10lbs on his bench press by mid-February, instead of second-guessing whether it's too little or too much he's going to say "I'm on track" and keep at it.

Now, of course this method does not guarantee that you succeed, but setting observable and reasonable goals will help a lot. There are two things I learned from experience. First - enthusiasm comes in waves. When you feel a surge of enthusiasm, make sure to lock it in - commit. One good way of doing it - money. My resolution came early this year (for several personal reasons), and I did two things: found and scheduled workouts for 10 months ahead and bought all supplements that are recommended by these workouts' authors. With the time and money I've spent it won't be easy for me to just walk away. Second - when we are enthusiastic, we are often impatient, and that's a major commitment-breaker. Learn to be patient. Train to be patient. To the point that when you are trying to lose weight stay away from the bathroom scale for the first 4-8 weeks. Persevere, and when the first wave of excitement is gone, just steel yourself and go for the goals you've set. You can get there.

Happy Holidays to all, and good luck in the coming 2014!