New Year’s Day has come and gone. Most of you probably made a New Year’s resolution, since about 45% of Americans make at least one New Year’s resolution each year.(1)
As many of us know, however, deciding to make a change and actually making it are distinctly different. After six months, 54% of resolutions have fallen by the wayside.(1) It’s been about four months already. Have you kept your resolution?
If you haven’t, you probably made the most common mistake: being overzealous in resolution making. This includes deciding all at once to stop drinking, smoking, and swearing, and to start losing weight and exercising more. We set the bar so high, it’s nearly impossible to succeed. One small misstep leads to another, and soon good intentions are abandoned in favor of the comfort of familiar behaviors.
If your first round of resolutions fell flat, consider making some new ones. The resolution solution is to make goals that are actually achievable. If your goal is to lose 100 lbs. and you only lose 80, then you’ve failed despite the fact that losing 80 lbs. in a healthy way is a tremendous achievement. Instead, set your goal to lose five pounds, achieve it, decide to lose five more, and so on. By the time you lose 80 lbs., you’ve been successful 16 times. That can do wonders for your mental health. The point is, it’s all in your approach; when making goals, you need to be smart.
SMART goals are specific, measurable, appropriate, realistic and timely.
• Specific: Define exactly what you hope to accomplish.
• Measurable: Set concrete criteria, including amount or frequency.
• Appropriate: Choose a goal that’s within your grasp. Consider your schedule, finances and physical situation.
• Realistic: Choose a goal for which you’re able and willing to work.
• Timely: Set a time frame for your goal, in days, weeks, or months. The shorter the time frame, the more manageable you will likely make your goal.
For a practical example, let’s look at a common New Year’s resolution: “I want to lose weight.” Among Americans who make resolutions, losing weight is the goal most frequently chosen.(1) Stated like that, however, the goal is open to interpretation and can be easily distorted: Do you want to lose five pounds? Fifty? One hundred and fifty? And how, exactly, will you go about doing it? Do you mean to exercise, eat more healthfully, or run 20 miles a day while still eating a whole pepperoni pizza?
A SMART goal would look more like the following: “I will lose 10 pounds by July by going to the gym for 20 minutes, three times a week; and packing my lunch twice a week instead of eating out.” The goal is specific: I plan to lose a specific amount of weight. It’s measurable: Pounds can be measured by a bathroom scale; you can count the number and duration of trips to the gym; and you can count the number of lunches to be packed each week. It’s appropriate: losing 10 pounds in three months is a safe and healthy rate of weight loss, and using diet and exercise is the accepted way to accomplish this. It’s realistic: a busy EMS provider can likely fit in packing two lunches and make time for three 20-minute sessions. This is a much more reasonable expectation than choosing to run for an hour seven days a week and eat nothing but kale. And it’s timely: saying “by July” provides an identifiable end point in the near future.
Another good approach is to think not in terms of the year’s resolutions, but rather in terms of the day’s resolutions. Focus on small changes you can make every day, such as remembering to eat breakfast, choosing one healthier option each day and opting for one glass of water over one can of soda. These changes alone aren’t intimidating, and if you make a few healthy choices every day, they will add up to big results for a healthier, happier you.
Here are a few other resolutions to consider that are more specific than simply “get healthy:”
1. Stay in touch: People with stronger social ties live longer than those without.
2. Decrease your stress: Chronic stress increases risk for many diseases.
3. Go to the doctor: Stay up to date on visits and vaccines. Focus on prevention.
4. Floss your teeth: It’s an easy way to fight and prevent gum disease, and some studies have said it can reduce your long-term risk for heart disease.
5. Wear sunscreen: The sun can damage your skin even in winter. Protect yourself.
6. Take time for yourself: Use it to de-stress, organize your thoughts and relax.
7. Don’t multitask while you eat: You’ll eat less and enjoy your food more.
8. Volunteer: People who volunteer are happier. Happiness is good for your health.
9. Get more sleep: Sleep improves your memory, mood and appearance.
10. Cut back on alcohol: Excessive drinking increases depression and memory loss.
11. Save money: Save wherever you can to decrease debt and decrease stress.
12. Try something new: Life is an adventure. Get out of your rut.
1. Norcross JC, Mrykalo MS, Blagys MD. Auld lang syne: Success predictors, change processes and self-reported outcomes of New Year's resolvers and nonresolvers. J Clin Psychol. 2002;58(4):397–405.