With the first month of the new year coming to a end, this is the time where we are transitioning from a season of celebrations toward looking forward into the new year. Many of us may experience a type of social pressure to drum up our list of New Year’s resolutions- ones that will be sure to impress or be acceptable to those who ask us. While a lot of us have very similar resolutions (“I’m going to lose weight”, “I’m going to exercise more”, “I’m going to stop eating junk food”, “I’m going to try diet XYZ”, “I’m going to manage my stress better”, etc.), year after year so many of us can’t seem to maintain our resolutions past March. Why?
New Year’s Resolutions are often made with good intentions. Wanting to start off the new year working to be healthier is a wonderful commitment! The trend, however, appears to show that New Year’s resolutions don’t always work because, for one reason or another, they are ultimately unsustainable. Now this doesn’t mean we should give up on resolutions all together. The real question is: how can you set a solid New Year’s resolution- one that you can actually stick to? It all starts with genuine intention then setting the right kind of goals and staying accountable for them. If you’d like to know more, read on for some of our top tips for setting sustainable goals so that you can start off the New Year set up for success rather than disappointment.
So Why Don’t New Year’s Resolutions Work?
At this point, New Year’s resolutions may seem a bit cliche. Many of us wake up to the New Year determined to, say, start going to the gym. We buy the year-long membership confident that this time we will stick to it and go to the gym everyday! Come mid-February, our motivation has tanked and the desire to stay in bed an extra hour is far greater than the drive to go to the gym before work. Come March, we’ve all but given up on going to the gym everyday and would rather just forget we even had a gym membership to begin with. Why does this happen so often that New Year’s resolutions have become such a cultural cliche? Often times, resolutions or goals don’t work long-term because they are either too vague, unrealistic or unrealistic for their time frame, unsupported, or set without a genuine motivator. Before we dive into some tips on how you can set more sustainable and achievable goals, let’s explore these common barriers to success a little deeper.
- Unrealistic goals: Example: “I want to lose 85 pounds in a month”
- Lack of time-frame or unrealistic time frame: Setting goals without a time frame makes it hard to stay motivated. Example: “I’m going to read more books this year.” It’s also important to set a realistic time frame for accomplishing your goals. Example: “I’m going to read one book every two months” rather than “I’m going to knock out my whole reading list (30 books) this summer.”
- Too vague/ not detailed: Example: “I want to do yoga.”
- Unsupported: Committing to change is hard enough. Being in an environment and/or community that does not support your goals makes the whole process so much harder. Often times, goals fail because we are alone and/or going against the current when trying to make healthy changes.
- Unmotivated: There’s a huge difference between “I want to be skinny” and “I want to lower my blood pressure so that I can live a longer, healthier life and be able to play with my grand kids.” Setting a goal from a place of genuine intention is the best place to start!
- Lack of Accountability/Not Measurable: It’s important to not only hold yourself accountable by setting measurable goals (e.g. I will meditate 10 minutes a day for a month). It’s also important to have a support network or “accountabili-buddy” to help keep you motivated and accountable for your goals.
How To Set Goals for Yourself:
For many of us, simply saying that we’re going to do something does not necessarily mean that we’re going to do it- or continue doing it. While verbal or written commitments to yourself can be helpful when trying to make healthier changes, that usually is not enough to keep us accountable or motivated.
Let’s be honest, change can be hard. Especially when it comes to changing our health for the better. Unfortunately, we live in a stress-prone society that promotes inactivity and poor food choices (A.K.A. an obesogenic culture). But don’t despair! Each of us is capable of change if we have the right mindset and the right tools at our disposal. In order to set attainable and sustainable goals, it may be helpful to first look at the process of behavior change.
Behavior change involves changing of one’s habits- intentionally adopting new, more beneficial habits and leaving the old habits behind. While it sounds simple, behavior change is not always easy. There are several barriers to behavior change that many of us face: habitual behavior, perceived long-term benefit of change, motivation, perceived difficulty of change, and environmental factors.
- Habits– Whether they’re a result of repetition/routine or are reward/pleasure-driven, habits can be hard to break. Being able to identify which type of habit you’re trying to change may be helpful during the beginning stages of change (i.e. setting the goal!).
- Perceived long-term benefit of change– When looking to make a change, many of us may look at the costs vs. the benefits. We also look at the potential short-term rewards vs. the long-term rewards of change. When looking to make change, it is important to consider the costs and benefits of both the short-term rewards and long-term rewards. Say you’re goal is to lower your blood sugar and a friend at a party offers you a slice of cake. Many of us would be inclined to eat the cake and put our goal to the side simply because, in that moment, the short-term reward seems to outweigh the long-term reward. In these moments, mindfulness and critical thinking may be useful tools to help you remember your goal of lowering your blood sugar and why it’s important to you in the long run (e.g. staving off diabetes).
- Motivation– Motivation is the first essential component of behavior change. Motivation is what we all need to even consider making a change and it is also helpful to have once we have embarked on our change journey. Motivation is what gets you started and keeps you going- although that’s not to say that what motivates you won’t change as you go on. At first, you may be motivated to start working out because you want to lose weight. But as you go along and you notice your weight gradually changing, you may begin to realize that you also enjoy a newfound sense of confidence and strength since you began working out. These two things, consciously or unconsciously, may become your new motivators.
- Perceived difficulty of change– Whether accomplishing a goal seems too hard or too easy, we are unlikely to stick to it or even try. Either extreme is often not the best approach to take when setting goals and making changes. Thus, it is important to either set more realistic goals or to shift your perspective regarding your goal. Aim for balance- a goal that will challenge you but also feels attainable so as to avoid defeat or ambivalence.
- Environmental factors– As mentioned above, making changes can be hard when so much of our surrounding environment encourages us to move less, eat more, eat less healthily, sleep less, etc.. Social pressures, environmental cues, and other external stimuli can either crush our motivation or facilitate lasting change. It’s important to consider altering elements in your environment that you can control so that they inspire you to maintain your goals rather than abandon them.
All in all, the most important thing to consider when setting any kind of goal is why you’re setting the goal. Why are you wanting to change? How may you benefit/thrive from making this change? How does this change align with your values? Why is this change important to you and/or those you care about? Why would doing X be the best way to achieve your goal? Asking ourselves these questions allows us to dig deeper. It’s all well and good to say you want to lose 10 lbs.. But why do you want to lose 10 lbs.? Is it because you want to feel confident in your clothes? Because someone in your family died of a heart attack and you think losing weight will help improve your blood pressure? Getting to your why and aligning your goals with your deep-seated values is crucial for creating sustainable change. Setting goals with genuine intention will also help keep you motivated along your journey.
Now that you’ve identified your goals and your motivations for achieving those goals, it’s important to consider your support system. Do you have people in your life that can support you as you work toward your goals? How might you adjust your environment so that it supports the changes you’re trying to make? What are ways that you can stay accountable for your goals? Are they measurable? How will you stay motivated?
If you feel like you want or are in need of more guidance in regards to creating goals and achieving them, you may want to consider working with someone who can walk alongside you and be your accountability partner. Schedule a consultation with our Nutrition and Wellness Educator, Sara, and you can work together to create sustainable, health-related goals that will put you on the path to your healthiest self!