New Year’s resolutions suck.
92% of all New Year’s resolutions fail 1. That’s a pretty staggering statistic. The concept of “starting fresh” is great. New year, new lifestyle…right? But the method of making a resolution is inherently flawed.
“Right from the getgo [a resolution] has failure and procrastination built into it,” says Timothy Pychyl, associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, in Canada, whose research focuses on procrastination. They’re typically big overarching ideas of what you want to do this year, with very little follow-up on how to achieve these goals.
It’s easy to throw your hands in the air and call it quits when things don’t go your way. I like to quote the brilliant Kunu from the film Forgetting Sarah Marshall in cases like this, “When life hands you lemons, just say forget (they used a different f word in the movie) the lemons and bail.” But the goal behind resolutions isn’t to get somewhere, it’s really to improve something; which can be more of a long term thing. The goal isn’t to lose 20 pounds and upon achieving that goal eat anything you want and sit-watching 10 hours of Netflix a day. It’s a lifestyle change.
Why January 1st?
January 1st is the date I give myself permission to do whatever thing. Change whatever I want to change. We decide January 1st is the date to do it. But each day is really a potential to start again or to begin. If you need a mental mark and you’ve decided New Year’s Day is the date, then that’s great. Let’s do this! But, let’s reframe your resolution.
How can we improve on our resolutions?
Instead of being vague, be specific. Take the example of “I want to lose weight.” How much are you going to lose? How are you going to lose the weight? What habits can you change in your life to achieve this goal? What support will you need to reach these goals? Is there a start date and an end date to achieve your goal? How will you monitor progress?
Set a specific goal and make a plan. So, in our example of, “I want to lose weight;” it needs to be broken down to make it achievable. Many people like to use the SMART goal strategy:
The acronym SMART has several slightly different variations, which can be used to provide a more comprehensive definition of goal setting:
Specific. Instead of saying, “I’m going to lose weight,” specify how many calories you’ll burn per day, how many calories you’ll intake, etc.
Measurable. If you have a smart device that can track calories burned, that definitely helps. A scale is significant in tracking the goal of weight loss – considering it’s one of the only ways to measure your weight.
Attainable. This really depends on your level of exercise and food intake in a day. Start small, e.g. “I’m going to walk 15 minutes every day.” Or measure approximate calories burned, e.g. “I’m going to burn 300 calories every day through exercise.”
Relevant. Exercise is so important in weight loss! It definitely fits in your larger weight loss plan; so does watching your food intake. Personally I’m a big fan of myfitnesspal. It lets you diary your food easily and has great tips and recipes right from your smart phone or computer, plus you can log your workouts.
Time-bound. Set a goal for the week. You can try again next week, or set a new goal if it doesn’t work. It’s easier to be successful if you commit to a goal framed around a set amount of time. These can be short term – weekly goals or daily goals. Or your long term – “I want to lose 20 pounds by May 9th.”
Get others involved!
Talk about it! Let people know about your goal – friends, family, co-workers. There may be someone or a group working towards the same goal that would help hold you accountable for your actions. Having someone to share your struggles and successes with makes your journey to a healthier lifestyle easier and less daunting.
Talk to your health provider about your goals. Did you know we have a program called “Quit Happens” to help our patients in their quest to quit smoking?* There are often different programs or support groups available to you that you might not be aware of.
Set a goal in the positive.
Add to your life instead of subtracting. For example, instead of “eat less unhealthy food,” try to “eat more healthy food.” Instead of, “don’t be so lazy,” try, “I’m adding more exercise to my routine.” You’re trying to improve your life, not make it feel like a chore.
Remember that it’s a process: If you have a terrible day, literally don’t move from the couch, and order nothing but pizza delivered to your door, don’t worry. Expect to consistently try at your goal vs. expecting perfection and giving up once perfection isn’t met. And remember, every day can by January 1st in your mind – a day to reset. If you fall back and need a reset date, there is always one tomorrow.
Keep your future in mind. Think of where you want to be in a few years and how this goal is just a piece of it.
1 University of Scranton. Journal of Clinical Psychology, January 13, 2012.
*If you are interested in quitting smoking, we have a lot of great resources for you. See your provider or pharmacist for more information and ask them about the Quit Happens program.
By Matt Grebe, Content Manager