Make fitness goals you'll hit with these science-backed decision-making hacks

Combining two different types of fitness goals – vague and specific – is the key to sticking to your resolutions this year

Woman walking into fitness class
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How can you make sure you'll stick to your new year's resolutions and fitness goals? Simple objectives like "save more money" or "lose weight" are always very popular choices, but because they're so vague, it's tough to stay on target. 

Whether you're opting to buy a pair of the best cross training shoes as an incentive to get to the gym, or maybe one of the best exercise machines to lose weight in order to work out at home, it's no use throwing money at fitness if you don't follow through with your plans. But don't feel bad if you've not stuck to your resolutions so far: it turns out it has everything to do with how you set your goals, not your lack of willpower. 

Researchers from the University of Bern, Switzerland, sought to analyse how goal-setting affects our resolutions. Analysing 256 participants over the first three months of last year, they researchers found evidence suggesting that combining "superordinate" and "subordinate" goals is the best way to hit your targets. But what's the difference between the two types of goals, and why do the combination of the two make your resolutions more successful?

New Year's Resolutions

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A superordinate goal is defined in the scientific journal Frontiers as a "vague or abstract goal". Something like "lose weight" might come under this umbrella, as it is vague and undefined. A subordinate goal, meanwhile, is defined as a "challenging, specific, and concrete goal". One example might be "run a 10k".

The Swiss researchers found combining the two kinds of goals is the best way to create long-lasting resolutions. For example, if your new year's resolution is "save money", that's your superordinate goal. From there, you might combine it with two or more subordinate goals, such as "deposit $50 into a savings account each month" or "only order one takeout meal a week".

You can also, naturally, apply this to your fitness goals – and we don't just mean ordering less takeout. If your new year's resolution is "lose weight", that's your superordinate goal right there. The key is to combine it with several subordinate goals, such as "work out twice a week", "drink one litre of water a day" and "replace your afternoon chocolate bar with fruit". You could even create a spreadsheet with a list of subordinate goals to track your progress.

Making specific, measurable goals is the best way to hit your targets, whether that's health, fitness, personal or financial. Achieving your goals feels good, creating a positive impact in your life. Not got a goal for this year? Try a 5K run, and visit our guide on how to run a 5k to get started.

Matt Evans
Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and Channel Editor at Fit&Well. He's previously written for titles like Men's Health and Red Bull, and covers all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen kickboxer and runner. His top fitness tip? Stretch.