New Year’s resolutions sound good in theory, but often fail when put into practice. Who doesn’t want to start eating healthier, exercise more, lose weight and save money? Unfortunately, these resolutions rarely yield the desired results.
According to one study, less than 50 percent of resolution makers maintain their resolutions by mid-year. This may sound discouraging, but before you throw your New Year’s resolution list into the recycle bin and Google search the world’s most decadent dessert home delivery, consider trying a more balanced approach to your goal setting.
Setting Yourself Up for Success
One of the problems with most people’s New Year’s resolutions is they are too rigid and “all or nothing.” Setting inflexible and unrealistic expectations of ourselves is a recipe for failure and can perpetuate unhealthy behavior.
Imagine you want to train to run a marathon, but never run a day in your life. If you try to run 26.2 miles the first time you go out with your brand new running shoes, you’re not going to get very far before you reach your limit and want to hurl. By having unrealistic expectations about how far to run that first time, you have pushed yourself too hard too fast which will increase the possibility that you’ll throw in the towel after your first taste of “failure.”
However, if you set up realistic and practical goals for yourself-- like running 1 mile the first week, then slowly building up your mileage as you gain strength-- you’re more likely to be able to cross the finish line come marathon day.
SMART goals can help us achieve our goals in a more healthy manner. Initially developed for the business management world, this formula is often used in therapy sessions to help clients achieve their therapeutic and personal goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Bound.
Let’s look at an example. Imagine that getting into better physical shape is your resolution. If you simply tell yourself to “exercise more,” you’re being way too vague and unlikely to succeed. But if you use SMART goals, you would tell yourself “for the next month, I’m going to go for a run in the park after work for 45 minutes at least 3 times a week.”
SMART goal worksheets can help you narrow your focus and be accountable to yourself. Using small, easy to succeed steps (“the low hanging fruit”) will increase the likelihood of initial success which will increase your confidence to stay on track and help you maintain inertia towards your longer term goal.
Set an Intention
Approaching your goals smarter is only part of the equation. It’s crucial that we are clear on our intentions. If goals are the final destination, then intentions are the underlying motivation for going there in the first place. When thinking about your resolutions for the new year, ask yourself “what is the deeper reason I want this change?”
For example, if your goal is to lose weight, what’s the intention behind it? To be healthier so you can live longer? To feel better physically? To look different so people won’t judge your appearance? Whatever your answer, reviewing your intention keeps you honest with yourself and more likely to stay on track.
Sometimes we can be so task-oriented about our destination that we lose sight of all of the nice scenery along the way. Or we may feel empty or dissatisfied once we arrived because our goal doesn’t really meet our true underlying need.
Regularly returning to the intention behind our goals will keep us grounded in the “here and now,” be more committed to a successful outcome, and feel more assured that we are doing things for the right reason.
Be Kind to Yourself
It’s inevitable that we will screw up. Even under the best circumstances, we will have a few slips along the way. No one is perfect. Some days, we’re going to skip the gym, opt for chocolate cake instead of fruit salad, or violate some self-imposed rule established to keep our eyes on the prize.
The question isn’t will we hit bumps, but what how will we respond when we do? It's easy to throw in the towel at the first sign of trouble. But doubling down on the unhealthy habit or giving up because of one slip up is unhelpful and counterproductive.
Once we catch ourselves veering away from our goals, it’s best to simply return to our underlying intention with mindful self-compassion. Being kind to yourself increases the likelihood that you’ll be able to self-correct rather than abort the mission.
Mindful self-compassion doesn’t mean avoiding self-responsibility, ignoring what went wrong or continuing the unhealthy habit you want to curtail. It means not excessively beating yourself up while being honest with what went wrong and resolving to learn from it in order do better in the future. It means returning to your intention and being okay with the fact that you’re not perfect.
As we embark on this new year, let our lives be filled with abundant ease, kindness, and fulfillment.. Let us reaffirm what changes can help us best meet our deepest needs, make practical and realistic plans for success, and have compassion for ourselves as we inevitably struggle on this journey.
Needing some help to achieve your New Year’s resolutions this year? Contact me for a free phone consultation to see if psychotherapy can help you.
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