How to Set a New Year's Resolution You'll Actually Keep
A few years ago, I belonged to a gym that was just down the street from our house. I joined in July and faithfully went about three or four times per week through the summer, then fall, and into the winter. I figured out just the right time when it wasn't too busy and I could grab a treadmill without a wait.
But then came January. And the gym. Was. Packed.
Every treadmill - in use.
All the free weights - gone from their resting place.
The indoor walking track - completely packed.
As a healthcare professional, seeing all the people working out delighted my heart! As a regular gym-goer, I was incredibly annoyed.
I needn't have worried, though; a month later the gym was back to its normal capacity. The good-intentioned New-Years-Resolution folks had tired - or (more likely) had come up with valid reasons that excused them from completing their goals.
Let's be honest - we've all been there. I've certainly been there. We've all set goals that we genuinely intend to keep. But somehow things come up, we run out of time, or we just plain run out of motivation.
Be S.M.A.R.T. About It
I'm really into setting goals. Small goals, big goals. They bring focus to my passions and help me to turn good intentions into reality. S.M.A.R.T. is my favorite acronym for setting a goal because the better the goal, the more likely I am to accomplish it.
S = Specific I have found that my goal should be an action that I want to do rather than an outcome that I want to achieve. If I do the action, the outcome is bound to follow; however, often times focusing on the outcome alone won't get you anywhere at all. For example, weight loss is a common outcome that resolutions center around. However, the goal should focus on specific actions (exercise, healthy eating, emotional/mental health) that will eventually effect this goal.
M = Measurable This is really important for me because I'm a list-maker and a goal-checker-offer (that is, one who likes to check off goals). I need to know how often or how frequently or how much of something I want to do so that I can tell when I've reached my goal.
A = Attainable Lofty goals are great, but I only set goals that I'm ready to do. If I'm not confident that I can get my butt off the couch five times a week to go on a jog, then I don't set that goal. On a confidence scale of 1 - 10 (10 being the highest), I ask myself, "How confident am I that I can accomplish this goal?" If my answer isn't at least a seven or higher, I pick a different goal.
R = Realistic Whatever goal I set, it needs to be within my means to accomplish. It doesn't make sense to set a goal that I don't have the resources or ability to accomplish. If I don't have time to cook five days per week, then I don't do that; I set a different goal that I do have time to do.
T = Timely When setting a goal, I decide when I'm going to start and when I hope to accomplish my goal so I can get past the dreaded I'll-do-it-tomorrow syndrome. I have also found that it is very helpful to set a "re-set" day of the week so that if I get off track, I have a specific day to re-evaluate how I've been doing and to re-start if I've not been doing so well.
Setting goals is easy. It's when February rolls around that the real struggle is bound to occur. You know, when it's still dark on the way home from work and the warmth of the couch calls your name away from the kitchen and beckons you to order take-out instead of making dinner.
In my experience (both personal and professional), the best plan for staying on track is to have a many-pronged plan of attack to keep yourself motivated. Here are some of my motivation techniques:
- Reward yourself for accomplishing a goal - buy a new book, take an afternoon for yourself, or go see a movie
- Put your goal on your schedule, in your planner, or on your to-do list
- Do something fun while doing the thing you dislike (I love listening to podcasts during a run or while I'm cooking)
- Train with a friend - either in person or long-distance, knowing that somebody else is also exercising can be encouraging (just make sure you pick somebody who will follow through with their goals!)
- Plan ahead for a future goal (wouldn't it be great to be confident at making Thanksgiving dinner next year? Every time you make dinner now helps you prep for that!)
- Give yourself a little accountability - sign up for a walk for a good cause in your area in a few months so you have something to work for.
- Take it one step at a time. Sometimes I can't make myself go exercise, so I break it into really small steps. 1: Change into workout clothes. 2: Put on shoes. 3: Get podcast ready. 4: Go outside. 5: Walk around the block... etc. It's ridiculous, but it gets the job done.
- Do something even if it's not as good as what you want (when I've used every trick in the book and still can't get myself to go for a run, I take a quick walk instead. Eh, at least I got outside, right?)
Does that seem like a lot of ways to motivate myself? It's because I'm secretly very lazy. I have to trick myself in to cooking/ exercising/ cleaning/ etc. When one motivation technique fails, I go down the list until I reach one of the last two ideas - either doing ridiculous baby steps or falling back on my back-up healthy plan.
Make it Easy
Humans are very - er - efficient creatures (that's a nice way of saying lazy). So rather than stress yourself out about how I'm going to accomplish my goal, I focus more on setting my environment up for success. As the researcher Traci Mann explains, if the healthy choice is the easy choice, we're much more likely to accomplish our goals.
Here are some examples of what I mean:
If I want to eat more veggies: I make sure to have fresh veggies already prepared in the fridge to grab for a snack at anytime. I plan meals that include veggies in the main dish (lentils, broccoli-rice casserole, butternut squash Mexican skillet). I have "back-up" veggies on my grocery list every week to keep on hand in case I didn't plan ahead (frozen, steam-able veggies or canned green beans).
If I want to be more active: I park really far away from work so I automatically get about 5,000 steps in everyday, and I bike to work on the days that I can. On weekends we plan active activities so I have a reason to get outside. Sometimes I even announce to my co-workers that I'm going to exercise in the evening after work, so I have a bit more accountability. I installed an app on my phone that buzzes at me around 7pm to remind me it's time to do something active.
If I want to eat less junk: I just don't buy it. No chips or ice cream (except on special occasions) can be found at our house. Instead of snacking in the evening, I keep yummy herbal teas on hand to sip on while winding down. I don't keep cash with me at work, so even if I wanted to I couldn't indulge the temptation of the vending machines. I actually changed the route I take to work so I avoid the local coffee place with the amazing lattes (it's really helped my budget, too).
Ok, let's get personal. I'm going to share my New Year's resolution with all of you. See if you can pick out the elements of my S.M.A.R.T. goal if you can:
I am going to follow this 20-week plan to run a half marathon in May. I'm starting on Monday, January 4th (the official end of my work-out vacation), with no excuses. If I miss a day or have a bad week, I'll re-start the following weekend. After the half, I'll re-evaluate my resolution and make a new plan.
I suggest you do the same - pick a date and put it on the calendar to re-read about setting goals. Re-evaluate, set a new goal, and get started.
Happy New Year to all of you! Good luck and Godspeed.
With love, from Peas and Hoppiness.