The time-honored tradition of making a New Year’s resolution comes with the best of intentions, whatever they may be (to be a bit healthier, live in the moment, finally use that gym membership)- but how many resolutions have you successfully seen through to the following year? You might make it to that 6am spin class for the first few weeks of January and maybe even through spring, but more likely, there’s a good chance that the ‘New Year, New You’ charm has worn off by Valentine’s Day.
You’re not alone- and you’re not to blame! Resolutions are a wonderful way to dedicate yourself to self improvement, but they tend to also be hopelessly vague. It’s a worthwhile goal to ‘Eat Healthier,’ but what defines ‘healthy?’ You can aim to “Work out more,” but how much more? Are you going by time, intensity, pounds shed? The solution lies in a classic goal-setting acronym S.M.A.R.T.– Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound.
- Specific: Specific goals have more direction and tell you exactly what actions to do to achieve your goal. Think of your classic resolution as the overall gist of what you’d like to achieve, and to make it more specific, define HOW you will reach it. Want to ‘eat healthier?’ Decide if that means eating more vegetables, eating less fast-food, minimizing refined sugars, or any other specific definition that will help you know if you’re eating healthier or not.
- Measurable: Now that your goal is more specific, you need to find a way to measure your success. This means avoiding the magic “more” (work out more, study more, sleep more) and instead adding a defined target goal. If want to eat more vegetables, aim to eat a certain number of servings of vegetables per day. If you’re trying to work out more, decide to go to the gym three times per week. These concrete numbers will help you keep better track of your progress by giving you a reference point.
- Attainable: This is a big one: only set goals you can realistically achieve! If you are a devout dessert lover who eats ice cream every night, you likely won’t last long if you resolve to replace all ice cream with fresh fruit; it’s a lovely thought, but a bit too ambitious, and you’ll likely fall back into your old habits quickly. Instead, resolve to only indulge on weekend nights or to switch out your Ben & Jerry’s for a low-fat frozen yogurt bar. This makes your resolutions slightly less exciting because the stakes seem lower, but you’re more likely to stick to “cutting back” than you are to “cutting out.” This will lead to sustainable behavior change so you can turn your resolution into your new norm.
- Relevant: This tends to be a shoe-in for most resolutions (though it’s helpful when assessing if a goal you’ve set in other aspects of your life is misguided). Here’s the key question: Will the specific goal you’re setting help you achieve the overall desired outcome? If the answer is yes, then you’ve set a goal that aligns with your overall vision of health (relevant!). If the answer is no, then your focus may have shifted throughout the process, so center your attention back on what it is you really hope to achieve.
- Time-Bound: Goals that are Time-bound will keep you on track by setting mini deadlines for yourself. There is no right or wrong timeline for a goal– it is entirely up to your current habits and your desired outcomes. You might resolve to start eating at least one vegetable per day, one vegetable serving per meal, one new vegetable each week… They’re all worthwhile goals with a timing-specific limit (per day, per meal, each week). Defining this aspect of frequency will help you be consistent, keep track of your actions, and know whether or not you’re hitting your target.
Before midnight strikes on New Year’s Eve, try to craft a S.M.A.R.T. resolution that will last you throughout 2018! Wishing you all a happy, healthy, wonderful New Year!