It’s January, again. The month of fresh starts and high hopes for the year ahead. This year will be the one when we finally do the thing we set out to do last year or the year before. Goals like eat healthier, exercise regularly, or get more sleep are often on those lists of resolutions we jump into, full steam ahead in January but then we fizzle out by the time February ends.
So, why is it so hard to stick to our resolutions or new year goals?
Your goal isn’t SMART
It could be the goal itself is the problem. Goals like “eat healthier” or “sleep more” aren’t helpful because they don’t describe what to DO and HOW MUCH to do it. “Sleep more” than what? How much are you sleeping now?
You will need an amount you can MEASURE and it needs to be ATTAINABLE given what you can already do. If you sleep for about 5 hours each night, 8 hours may not be a realistic goal for you yet. Instead, you may consider adding an hour each night.
New goal: This week, I’ll add 1 hour of sleep each night by going to bed 30 minutes earlier and sleeping 30 minutes later.
This goal fits the criteria of a SMART goal.
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Your goals have been SMART since 2010. You’ve just got too many of them.
Start with ONE behavior or goal. You want to do all the things and you absolutely can accomplish more than one thing in 2020, but not all at once. Once you’ve narrowed it down to make one small change, break it down into small, manageable steps.
You need a strategy to turn healthy behaviors into habits.
Most of the resolutions we set are about making changes to improve our lives and we want those changes to stick. The goal to “sleep 1 more hour per night” is a short-term goal, we hope will get us to the long-term goal of 7-9 hours of sleep per night to meet the recommendation for adults. The overall goal is to build a healthy habit. Changing behaviors is tough enough, getting them to stick is even tougher, but you can do this. We recommend that you include the following steps in your strategy:
If the goal is to add a 30 minute walk to the day, these steps could be…
You want your gold star (You need to see a benefit)
We reach adulthood and no longer hear “good job” or get a sticker next to the chore chart when we feed the dog. Why is this the case? Because we are responsible for ourselves and the goals we set are for us and for us alone. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be rewarded. In fact, rewards, particularly immediate rewards, provide the motivation needed to keep going when changing a behavior gets tough.
Immediate rewards include:
Interestingly enough, health isn’t a big motivator over the long term. If we want sustainable change, we need a “gold star” we can feel now. But, if an “attaboy” is something you feel you need, there are a number of apps that provide that positive reinforcement including MyFitnessPal when you reach your goals.
Now isn’t the right time.
There isn’t anything magical about January. Don’t feel bad about yourself if you aren’t ready to sign up for a gym membership or start bringing lunch instead of eating out immediately after the holidays end. You need to be ready to make changes. You may have 1-4 down but a big barrier stands in your way. Maybe you are recovering from an injury, selling your home, or being audited. There may be a more pressing need that deserves your time and attention. Focus on maintaining the habits that you already do to care for yourself during this time. Big life changes can mess with our routines and the healthy habits we had in place. Add new habits later, once you weather the current storm.
The storm has passed - You’ve removed barriers to change.
You are ready to begin. You’ve paired down your list of resolutions (or new habits to build) to focus on one to start. The SMART goal is written (post it on your fridge or somewhere else where you will see it often), you have a strategy (including Plan, Space, Support), and a reward in mind to motivate you. All that’s left is to DO THE THING.
Take the first step. Just begin. Knowledge doesn’t lead to change, ACTION does. You have all the information and resources you need. Remember, it won’t always go the way you plan. You’ll have to change your strategy, add a visual reminder or new support.
If you discover that you need more guidance, send us a note using the Ask the Dietitian form here:
For more inspiration, check out this video from How to ADHD. We love how Jessica McCabe describes creating routines over resolutions. Whether you have ADHD or not, the approach she describes can be extremely helpful for building healthier habits!
Are you ready to get started? Share your goal with us on social media with #LetsMoveSTL2020
Let's Move! STL Dietitians