Are New Year’s resolutions on the brain? Do you swear you are going to complete your goal this year? Self-awareness and improvement are great for overall mental and physical health. But according to the New York Times, one-third of those working toward resolutions don’t make it past the end of January. So what is the problem? Studies show that many of these commitments fail because they are too vague, unrealistic, or it wasn’t your idea in the first place. The trick is to make the right goals.
It’s a wonderful idea to have goals for the New Year. They just need to be smart, or S.M.A.R.T. – the acronym devised from the journal of Management Review for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals. Does this sound familiar? Businesses use it all over the country as an employee performance tool. But it is also a great way to set your New Year’s resolutions.
Specific. Saying something vague like, “I want to lose weight” or “get fit” isn’t going to cut it. Your resolution should be precise. How much weight do you want to lose? How are you planning to lose the weight? Do you have a deadline for yourself? Think about all the particulars and write them down to be more effective.
Measurable. While it’s easier to track things with numbers like weight or fitness, other goals can be measured by logging your progress or taking photos. Sometimes there are even apps to track different behaviors and encourage progress. Resolutions such as getting more sleep, consuming less sugar, walking so many steps in a day – these can all be measured if you set up a system to do it ahead of time.
Achievable. You can have big goals, but ease into things and start small so that you don’t become frustrated. For example if your goal is to get eight hours of sleep each night, start going to bed maybe 15 minutes earlier each week or each month. Or if you’re working on your diet, swap out one unhealthy food with a healthy one each week. This will help you keep steady, attainable progress toward your ultimate goal.
Relevant. Does this goal really matter to you? Are you doing it because your friends do this or your kids suggested it? If you are making a resolution because of peer pressure or spontaneity, you may have a harder time completing it. Think hard about your long term goals and about the support system you have to reinforce those goals when designing your resolution. This will make your chances of success that much greater.
Time-bound. Now that you have made a “specific” and “achievable” plan as suggested above, creating a timeline toward reaching your goal is the next step. Breaking your goal up to create small wins gives you more personal encouragement and also helps to create positive habits over time. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, can you break your ultimate goal out into monthly increments? This will not only help keep you on track throughout the process, but it makes the end goal seem less daunting.
Now that you have a strategy for success, do you need some ideas? Check out this article from Women’s Health for some inspiration. They’ve got great ideas that start small and build toward bigger goals and healthier habits. You can try things like eating one meal of only fruits and veggies each day, or trying to add 1,000 more steps to your daily routine each week. Maybe your goal is more about your mental health and trying to reduce stress. Try taking 30 minutes of “me time” each week. We all need it!
And if you feel like your goal is just too much for you to handle on your own, seek out help where you need it. Your primary care provider can provide plenty of tips and support for diet and exercise goals. They will also know of other resources in the community, such as the Smoking Cessation program from our Internal Medicine Department. Whether you are trying to break a vice like cigarettes, or create good habits like reading each night with your kids – you can do it by creating a SMART plan.