When you ask someone what their New Year's resolution is, you hear the same collection of answers: "I want to get healthier;" "I want a promotion at work;" "I want to finally lose those 10 stubborn pounds;" "I want to spend more time with loved ones." At the surface, these goals represent all the cracks people attempt to fill in order to enhance their quality of life, but they all have one thing in common — they're vague.

The problem here isn't the goal itself, but the way you talk about it when you build your vision. In the years I've practiced this method of goal-setting, I've learned that a successful goal is made up of three parts: the goal, the habits, and enjoying the journey. But the first step to achieving any goal is deciding what it is you actually want.

I spent years waking up on January 1st thinking "THIS is it. This is the year I get healthy." I wasn't athletic, I was about as flexible as a steel beam, and I knew I was carrying around an extra 20 pounds that I really didn't need or feel comfortable with. But here's a little secret: none of my successful lifestyle changes started on a Monday. None of my completed goals were pioneered by a new year or a fresh slate. The spark finally lit when I sat down and decided what the hell "healthy" actually meant for me. 

After some pep-talks with myself and much-needed soul-searching, I decided I had to stop saying "I want to get healthy" and swapped it with "I want to eat 80% nutritious foods, be able to run a 5k without stopping, and barbell squat my bodyweight." With goal specificity, I tailored the elusive vision of a healthier me to my own reality.

Generally speaking, "healthy" can mean anything. It can mean transitioning to a vegan diet, being conscious of your intake to gain some weight, seeking therapy, learning how to do a pull-up... the list is endless. "Healthy" can be all, some, or none of these things for you. The starting point for me was embracing the fact that my "healthy" was unique, and acknowledging that it would be impossible to achieve something if I didn't actually know what my specific goal or my "healthy" was. 

So there I was, scribbling down "80% nutritious food, 5k run, bodyweight barbell squat" into the last page of my 2012 planner. The first step was realizing my goal, so now I had to address the second part: what the building blocks would be to get there.

These building blocks are your habits. Your goals will almost always be formed by a collection of daily habits, not one grand life overhaul. Think about it: when was the last time you ate ONE salad and woke up like a bodybuilder then next day? What do you think would happen if you made a habit of swapping one meal for a healthier option during the weekdays instead?

My starting building blocks were jogging for twenty minutes four times a week, practicing proper squat form two times a week, and making small dietary swaps (water over calorie-packed drinks that didn't fill me up, exchanging some of my carb-dense food choices for vegetables, and learning that a serving of peanut butter isn't half the jar no matter how organic and sugar-free it is). Every day I completed these habits, I put a red check in my planner. Seeing those those check marks accumulate became a huge source of motivation on their own.

The last part of setting yourself up for success is enjoying the journey. It sounds cheesy, but I can't stress this point enough. Willpower runs out a lot faster than you expect, and if you don't wake up with excitement for the full 24 hours of opportunity waiting for you, the beauty of the goal will become a lot less enticing over time.

The perk of having habitual building blocks to make up your long-term goal is that you get to have small successes that soon become second nature. I remember looking back at my calendar after my first month of trying to figure out what "healthy" meant to me.

I wasn't able to run that 5k yet and I had only just begun to settle into proper squat form, but I had a check mark on every single one of the 31 days of July for sticking to my building blocks. I got my one mile run from twelve minutes to just under nine minutes, lost a few pounds, and (to my surprise) was genuinely loving waking up with green tea instead of my usual mid-morning caramel Frappuccino. 

Choosing a specific goal, establishing your habits, and enjoying the journey are the tools that turn life goals into reality. If you choose to start your own journey at the start of this year, wear your "resolutioner" label with pride. I did, and four years later, I've gone above and beyond my initial goals. 

Today, I can proudly call myself a top-placing natural bodybuilding athlete in the WNBF, I can squat and deadlift over two times body weight, run 10k on a whim, and balance my fruits and veggies with a few Oreos here and there.

It all began with realizing that my "healthy" wasn't going to look like anyone else's, writing down exactly what I wanted to achieve, and letting the little habits over time to achieve the goal. Every goal, whether it be to follow through with a “meatless Monday” each week or to snag a gold at the Olympics, starts with the seed of an idea.

So, if you “fell off the bandwagon” with your New Year’s resolution, don’t fret. You don’t need a January first or a Monday to spark a change; all you need is the first step to the ever-improving you: a goal.