So January comes around again and everybody sets out with fantastic aims of losing weight and improving their health after the Christmas excess. Gyms and weight loss clinics are full to the brim with new enthusiastic and eager customers looking to change their lives and improve their health for the better.


However, scientific research has shown that adherence to such programs is difficult to maintain for many with a large decrease in new participants after 3 months and about a 50% drop off after 6 months (Tudor-Locke & Chan, 2006). Additionally, research has indicated that only 8% of people who take up such a programme will still be adhering to that programme 12 months later (Journal of Clinical Psychology, 2012).

So what can we do?


Effective Goal Setting

Effective goals is key in helping you to facilitate your intentions. These goals must sit closely with the issues concerning what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it.  Setting of what are known as SMART goals (Doran 1981) can prove very effective.

SMART goals is an acronym that stands for goals that need to be


  • What, How, Where, When I will take action?
  • What exactly i want to achieve?
  • How exactly i will achieve the goals?
  • Where and when will i go about reaching these goals.


  • How much exercise I am going to do?
  • How often, many?
  • How much weight i intend to lose?
  • Reach my target weight of 10 stone.


If the goal is unrealistic or out of reach, then there is a greater chance of one giving up on the programme. Trying to lose three stone in a month is unrealistic and unhealthy. Trying to get a non runner to run a marathon within a few weeks is also unattainable. Is this goal realistic to what you can actually achieve in the set time frame? Small but achievable steps lead to attainable outcomes.


Are your goals relevant to you reaching your long term goal. Are they facilitating you to reach your longer term targets?

Time Managed

What kind of time frame are you allowing to reach each aspect of the goal. As stated previously, trying to lose three stone in a month is unrealistic and unhealthy. Trying to get a non runner to run a marathon within a few weeks is also unattainable.

The following is an edited restricted view of such goals with a strategic and realistic aim of weight loss and healthier living.

Characteristic Short Term Goal Long Term Goal
Time Management, Children & Responsibilities
•When cooking, I will prepare dinner for two days to reduce the time spent cooking each week.
•I will delegate that husband cooks on one evening per week –Reduce my cooking from 7 – 3 days.
•I will delegate children to make their own lunch each evening and make rota to share cleaning, hoovering etc.
Improve  time management
•I will eat in accordance with the diet programme for the next six weeks. 5 pieces of fruit as snacks and wholegrain carbohydrate only
•I will drink 2 litres of water each day. Keep one litre bottle at work to monitor..
•I will have my dinner eaten before 6.30 each evening.
•I will eat a bowl of porridge with fruit each morning – prepared the night before.
•I will restrict my chocolate intake to one bar every week (Friday)
Be a healthier person for improving my diet and lose 4 stone
Exercise & Motivation
•I will cycle to and from work every day.  Total 20 mins / day.
•Go for 3 mile walk with friends on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
•Go to fitness class every Monday evening with friend. (Aquarobics, Zumba,  Spinning)
•Organise by bag for exercise the night before and get to bed for 10am on weekday
Become more active, improve fitness and maintain motivation and lose 4 stone
Social Factor
•Go for 3 mile walk with friends on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
•Go to fitness class every Monday evening with friend. (Aquarobics, Zumba, Spinning)
•I will take part in activities that i enjoy and find fun.
•As a family, we will do fun exercise activities on Sundays – Hill Walking etc in nearby mountains.
Make my exercise regime sustainable and enjoyable
Self Reflection
•I will keep a diary of my progress and log how and where i am doing well and how i can improve.
Improve  self check skills and motivation towards losing 4 stone.

One must remember that you cannot lose 3 stone or 5 stone very quickly in a sustainable and healthy way so the goals must be process oriented. You must walk before you can run and the same goes for goal theory.

The first step must be taken before making the 2nd and third step of the ladder. Set yourself a target of losing 2-3 pounds per week and make the goal realistic and achievable. If you can maintain this consistency over a period of time, then you will eventually reach your long term goal. Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day.

steps to success

As adherence levels tend to decrease over time, there are factors that may help you influence and maintain your adherence (Flegal et al, 2007)

  • ––Enjoyment – People tend only to maintain participation if the experience is enjoyable. Take up a sport you enjoy or make your exercise fun and something you enjoy doing. There are numerous fun classes out there- zumba, aqua-aerobics, spinning, yoga, pilates etc while activities like hill walking, social running clubs etc have become quite popular of late.
  • Motivation – Keep a record of what you are doing and note how you can improve your levels of fitness. Use this self reflection to monitor your emotions about participation and your beliefs about progress.
  • –Belief and Knowledge -read up and inform yourself of the benefits of what you are doing and eating and how to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Knowledge is power.
  • –Exercise Plan – Try and set targets to increase your activity levels as you gain in fitness levels. What you find challenging today might not produce the same benefits as you get fitter so look to challenge yourself a little more as you go through the process.
  • –Social support – One is more likely to maintain a programme if they have the social support of a friend, so get your friends involved in your regime or bring a friend to a class you are taking. It will be a key factor in you achieving your goals.

Other Tips

  • Allow yourself a treat every now and then.
  • Be prepared for a relapse every now and again and don’t let it discourage you. It will happen from time to time but use it as motivation to spur you on. If you could do it before you can do it again.
  • Use reminders – Set reminders on your phone to help organise your time and day.




Keith Begley is an accredited sport psychologist with the Irish Institute of Sport.

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