As the old year ends and the new year begins, many of us think about making resolutions for the coming year. Things like, "I will exercise every morning," or "I will only eat chocolate once a week," or something like that. While there's nothing wrong with making resolutions, I find that it puts a huge amount of pressure on ourselves, so that when we aren't able to live up to our expectations, we feel guilty about it then don't want to continue to try.
Part of the reason we tend to fail in our expectations of ourselves is that we don't set reasonable goals. Amy Morin, a psychotherapist, says that people often fail because there is a “pressure to create a resolution based on the date of the calendar, rather than a true readiness to change. People, declare a resolution without a concrete plan for how they'll make it happen. There's also the tendency to create vague resolutions. Saying you want to be 'happier' or 'healthier' doesn't mean much. How will you measure it, or what action will you take to make that happen? Resolutions can also be dangerous in several ways; someone who decides to quit drinking might try to stop cold turkey. If they have a physical dependence on alcohol, their resolution could place them at risk of health issues or even death. Resolutions can also be dangerous to our mental health; some people might create nearly impossible goals and then beat themselves up when they don't achieve them. This creates a vicious cycle that can be hard to break.”
This isn't to say that making resolutions is a bad thing; however, it's better to change the word 'resolutions' to 'goals'. A goal is a target, something you want to attain or a desired result ("I want to increase my physical activity 3 times per week"). A resolution usually involves a drastic change to be achieved by a set date ("I want to lose 50 pounds in the next 3 months.") A good way to set goals is to use the SMART method; SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. To set your SMART goals, take at least half an hour to define and write down your intentions. Don't feel you have to do it on New Year's Day, make your goals for when you're actually ready and able to do them.
S for Specific: Start by making your goal specific. Instead of saying, "I want to get in shape," set a specific goal like, "I will increase my physical activity by walking 20 minutes after dinner 3 times a week." When you make a specific goal like this, it's easier to accomplish, and if something happens to prevent you from doing it (like you have to take your kids to practice after dinner), it encourages you to come up with an alternative solution (like taking your walk on your lunch break).
M for Measurable: It's important to have measurable goals, so that you can track your progress and stay motivated. Plus, being able to count off numbers as you progress makes you feel good about yourself and keeps you focused. For example, exercising 3 days a week can be tracked on a calendar or an app.
A for Attainable: Your goal needs to be realistic to be successful, not a high, unachievable pedestal from which you will fall; it should push you but still remain possible. For example, setting yourself a goal to lose 20 pounds in a month is both difficult and unhealthy. A better goal would be to be to increase your physical activity or to eat a salad for lunch 3 times a week. Choose a goal that you are confident you can reach, but will challenge you to follow through with smaller, more attainable actions required to accomplish it.
R is for Relevant: This step is about making sure that your goal matters to you. A relevant goal should be worthwhile, important to you and set by you (not by someone else) and be the right time for you to do it; they should be inspiring enough to motivate you to succeed. If your doctor tells you to lose weight but you're not inspired by this, find another goal you care about. For example, a more relevant goal to you might be, "I want to have more energy to play with my grandkids" or "I want to fit back into those shorts from 3 years ago" in order to feel inspired to create smaller, process-based goals. If you want to increase your physical activity, be sure to choose an activity you enjoy. Some people enjoy running, swimming or aerobics, but if you don't, don't pick that as your activity as you will always be finding an excuse not to do it.
T is for Time-Bound: Every goal needs a target date, so that you have a deadline to focus on and something to work toward. Choose a time that is realistic but not too far into the future. Telling yourself, "I will get fit this year" is great, but changing it to, "I will walk for 20 minutes 3 times a week for the next 4 months" gives you a reasonable schedule to follow and a finish line that is foreseeable. Once you've reached your goal date, you can evaluate how you've done and set a new goal based on your progress and interest.
To be successful with your goals, you need to keep certain things in mind. Sometimes things and life happen to put obstacles in your way; making adjustments to your goal is part of the process. Don't make yourself feel bad if you can't do something one day; simply readjust and get back into it. Make sustainable lifestyle changes and work on changing behaviours and habits. Share your goals with others; it makes it harder to give up on them when others know about them and supports you in them. Your goals should be your goals, not what someone else set for you; they need to be important to you, otherwise you won't do them. Choosing the right time to do it is important too; if you're not ready to commit to quit smoking or change your eating habits, you're simply not motivated enough to do so.
I wish you all a very Happy New Year! May it bring you much health and happiness, and the ability to achieve all you desire.