As far as I know, my dog never makes resolutions. She seems to be happy with who she is. I am not. I want to get stronger, run some 5k and 10k races. Since I started running a couple of weeks ago, I am up to four miles (this morning). I am resolved to increase my speed (now: very slow!) and my distance (a 10k is 6.2 miles). Since this is the time when people are making resolutions (while dogs laugh at us), this is a post on how to succeed at goal setting.

Here is a good model for keeping resolutions. It is based on real research into goal setting, self-control, and success in behavior change. It has five components. What, Why, How, When and Where.

What. Here you are going to clearly state your goal. “Lose weight” isn’t a goal, it is a hope. “Lose ten pounds in four months” is a goal. It needs to be specific.

My example: I want to run farther and faster, reduce my mile time from about thirteen minutes to around eleven or maybe even ten. (You may laugh at that, but you ought to bear in mind I am very old and haven’t trained for years. Baby Boomers will relate.) I want to run six miles at around ten minutes a mile. I haven’t run for ten years and now I have new knees, so I don’t know how quickly I can speed up.

Why: This speaks to your long-term motivation. If you find your motivation lagging, go back and review the “why” portion.

My example: First, family history of high blood pressure. On the day after I run, my morning resting blood pressure is around 110 / 65. With other types of exercise, it is around 130 / 75. So I gain considerable advantage with the longer runs. Second, I get more of a “high” from long runs. I ran four miles today and still feel (late afternoon) extremely good. Third, I’d like to live a very long life; average life span is reliably increased by vigorous exercise.

How: Specific “if-then” statements, strategies for overcoming stuck places, and other plans.

My example: I will run two long runs a week, two interval training sessions a week, and one or two weight lifting sessions. (Only with interval training will I get faster. The weight lifting will burn more calories and help me lose weight which speeds me up.) If I am at home and it is 6:30 AM, then I start my training for the day. If I am on the road then I go to bed at 9:30, rise at 5:30 and start my daily training in the hotel. If I don’t train in the morning, then I train before I eat supper.

When. Here you reinforce the “how” portion.

My example: I plan to mostly work out in the mornings. Afternoon exercise works better but it is harder for me to stick with, since the day becomes complicated. If it is 6:30 and I am at home . . .

Where. This may be covered in the “how” section but in my case it isn’t.

My example: If I am at home, I run in the neighborhood, or on the treadmill if there is bad snow or ice. Weightlifting I do in the basement. If I have to do interval work indoors, I will do it on the stationary bike.

Try writing your goals with a What, Why, How, Where and When format. Keep the plan visible and look at it often. Keep a daily workout log or diary where you can track your progress. On my daily workout log, today I added one-half mile to my distance. My plan is to add 10% per week to my distance until I am running six miles. Your mileage may vary.