Clients, Friends, and Family are always asking me how I feel about New Year’s Resolutions. I think they are great as long as they are done properly! In theory, resolutions represent a long-term goal (or goals) with the intention of self-improvement and/or overcoming past obstacles, so it's hard to not be in favor of that. However, I'm not in favor of people seeing themselves being able to magically turn into a new person on January 1st, able to conquer every issue they've ever struggled with.
Unfortunately, the odds are against those who make resolutions. According to a study by the University of Scranton, just 8 percent of people have successful resolutions. There are a variety of reasons why people who make New Year's Resolutions are doomed from the start.
So here are seven ways you can stick to your New Year’s Resolutions, while also gaining some new techniques to tackle your goals in general!
1. Be Realistic
So many times I’ve said I would NEVER drink again, NEVER eat desserts again, and work out EVERY single day for the rest of my life. Then a week would go by, I’d have a beer (or 30), consume a vegan pumpkin pie by myself, while only working out twice. Far too many of my "New Year's Resolutions" of these sorts were ruined well before February even started (or January 2nd, for that matter).
So let’s not make unrealistic expectations next year. Even the fittest and healthiest people on the planet miss workouts and have a cheat meal once in a while.
Another issue with this "NEVER AGAIN" way of thinking was my focus on what I was “not" going to do. Specifically, instead of planning what I was NOT going to do, I should have been focusing on what I WOULD be doing. For instance, instead of quitting cupcakes, my goal should have been to eat three fruits and three vegetables every day.
This "promotion-focused" way of thinking is far more successful and further explained here.
2. Be Specific
Most of us have surely said, “That’s it: I’m going to be healthy this year!” "Healthy" is far too vague, and too easy to break, as ANY behavior you deem as unhealthy instantly breaks this type of resolution. For instance, one single bite of cake, or getting six hours of sleep instead of seven, instantly ends this far-too-general resolution. Similar to what I mentioned above, it’s important to focus on what exactly you are going to do order to be “healthy.”
Therefore, if your general goal is to "Eat Healthy," your resolution should be to eat at least three servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables a day. If you have the general goal to "Get Fit," your resolution should be to work out five times a week for 30 minutes.
In order to meet these goals, one suggestion is to create a spreadsheet where you check off the specific food categories you need to eat each day (three vegetables, three fruits, two whole grains, legumes, etc.), as well as check-offs for the amount of times you want to work out each week.
3. Have Short-Term Goals and Long-Term Goals
Real change doesn’t take place overnight. So if your goal is to lose 50 pounds in 2016, break this down into smaller goals like losing four pounds a month. I have found that people who crash diet and over-train are typically the ones to put all of the weight, and sometimes more, back on. Another reason for segmenting your plan is to keep things positive at different points when the weight isn’t falling off. Maybe you were able to lose 10 pounds the first two months, but month three, the weight-loss is slowing down. Remembering you are striving toward a long-term goal allows you to keep pushing, as well as seeing where you need to make adjustments (to your plan or goal itself).
4. Get Support!
You don’t have to do this alone! Tell your friends and family what your goals are, join a Meetup hiking group, or put up pictures and check-in posts on your social media pages to keep yourself motivated and others informed of your ongoing success AND during the hard times! Far too many people only use social media to only promote the positive aspects of their lives, but don't use it to reach out in times of need. So if you need a new walking buddy, I'm sure someone on your friends list would be willing to join you!
And from a professional standpoint, I recommend hiring a personal trainer and/or getting a therapist, depending on what your issues and goals are. If you’re not sure why you’re an emotional eater, or how to eat and train properly, why not get an expert to help you out? It's not enough to say you are going to quit eating junk food. For instance, it's important to understand WHY you eat junk food (I personally over-snack/eat junk when I have exams coming up). While the motivation for behavior change should come from within, letting others aid you with support and education will help keep you stick to your goals.
(Read here on the benefits of support groups regarding exercise.)
5. Figure out HOW you will achieve your Resolution, and remember WHY!
In psychology, there is something called "Construal Level Theory." Essentially, you have your goal, and high or low level construals are used to help you achieve your goal. High construals are the more abstract, "Why" reasons for your goal. For instance, if your goal is to lose 10 pounds, your "Why" reason might be to fit into that dress you used to wear, or because you want to have more energy to run around with your children.
Low construals are the "How" ways you will achieve your goal. How will you lose 10 pounds? You might sign up for a gym membership, or you might hire a personal trainer. Then you ask how you will get a personal trainer or a gym membership, and decide that you will start by saving $100 per month.
What's great about Construal Level Theory is that, not only will it give you a blueprint on how to work on your resolutions, and also really understand why these resolutions matter to you, but you can also use certain construals when you are struggling for a variety of reasons. For instance, if you find yourself procrastinating and only daydreaming about your goals, reminding yourself of your "How" construals will get you back on track (e.g., in order to graduate, I need to finish reading this chapter). If you find yourself tired of "The Grind" of your goals, use your "Why" construals/reasons to remember your purpose for committing to these challenging resolutions in the first place (e.g., I'm reading this chapter on a Friday night because I'm going to graduate soon!).
6. Performance Goals vs. Learning Goals
One of the reasons people give up on their goals and resolutions is because they have the "Fixed Mindset," or the belief that things should come quickly and easily if they are "That type of person" (Check out "Mindset" by Carol Dweck, link below). For instance, someone struggling with fitness goals might look at someone and say, "Oh, she was just born that way," and not appreciate HOW HARD that person worked to get in shape. So after putting in a month of working out and eating better, this Fixed Mindset individual believes they aren't getting anywhere, and gives up.
Someone with the Growth Mindset, however, understands The Process, and realizes that they have been making small improvements along the way in that first month, and that they have learned some new exercises they couldn't do before. They also realize that if they continue to WORK HARD, they will only get better at their power cleans, what foods agree and don't agree with them, and see exercise (or whatever the goal is) as a part of their lifelong lifestyle choice.
Why do these views matter? For one, it's almost a guarantee that there will be setbacks. When someone with a fixed mindset has been working out for three weeks and eating better hops on the scale and sees that they've gained three pounds, chances are they see themselves as failures, and not even sure why they started in the first place. Someone with the Growth Mindset, however, might be frustrated with the slight gain in weight, but also think about how much they've accomplished already ("I've worked out five times for a week for three weeks and am eating more veggies than ever!"). Maybe they decide to have their body fat checked and realize, while their weight has gone up slightly, their body fat has gone down, so the weight gain might just be the addition of some muscle. And even if they really just gained some body fat weight, the Growth Mindset individual would say, "Maybe I need to start pushing myself a little harder when I'm working out now that I'm getting in better shape."
So when you think about eating and exercise as a learning process, and not just some means to an end where you'll look like a model, you will be better able to give yourself credit for how much you've accomplished, and what to do when obstacles arise.
7. Celebrate your successes along the way!
An important part of the process is positive reinforcement, so make sure you congratulate yourself every time you reach a milestone! For every 30 workouts you complete (a version of "Effort Praise" from "Mindset"!), treat yourself to a healthy meal at a restaurant, or buy yourself a new workout outfit. Because motivation ebbs and flows, it’s important to have frequent check-ins along the way to keep yourself moving forward.
~So hopefully this helps! Feel free to comment here on my webpage, or via Facebook/Twitter. I'm going to list some books that help deal with goal setting, motivation, and willpower below. My personal goal is to read 100 books in 2016 because I have a shitload of books I've bought over the years that I've never gotten to, and because I want to spend less time procrastinating on social media (like replacing cupcakes with more veggies instead of just "quitting" social media). So check these books out, set your goals, and enjoy the hell out of the journey!
I wish you an amazing 2016 and beyond!
1. "The Willpower Instinct" By Kelly McGonigal (Kelly's "The Upside of Stress" is also fantastic, and helpful for goals)
2. "Succeed," By Heidi Grant Halvorson
3. "Drive," By Daniel Pink
4. "Mindset," By Carol Dweck
5. "SuperBetter" by Jane McGonigal (The SuperBetter Site and App are also fantastic for taking on various physical/psychological goals)