When “New Year, New You” Doesn’t Go Quite As Planned…
By: Brie Darcy, PT, DPT
As we approach the end of the January, you might find yourself reflecting on the well-intended goals that many of us made at the beginning of the month. New Year’s Resolutions.
Maybe you resolved to eat more veggies or get in a few extra steps. Maybe you set a goal to drop the holiday weight. If your goals were health-focused, you are in the majority. This year, 4 out of the top 5 New Year’s Resolutions focused on improving one’s health – more specifically, eating healthier, being more active, losing weight, and improving mental health. The final top spot went to improving financial management.
So… how is it going? Are your resolutions on track? If your answer is a resounding “not great,” you are far from alone. In fact, studies have shown that, 80% of resolutions fail by February. 80%!! Additionally, only 7% of Americans reported sticking to all of their resolutions in 2019. So… what’s the deal? Why are these resolutions so hard to keep and what should we do about it??
A common belief is that an error stems from the manner in which we set these goals for ourselves. More specifically, we tend to set goals that are too lofty (or not specific enough) and we don’t plan properly for enacting these goals. The end result? Goals that are largely unachievable leading to frustration, disappointment, and failure. Does this sound familiar? If so, what should we do about it? And is there any hope for actually achieving these well-intended goals?
Luckily, there are some tried and true techniques to help with goal setting and achievement. Below, we discuss several techniques that may help the on the pathway to success…
1. Create an action plan.
An action plan can be thought of as a proposed strategy or course of action. Action plans are often detailed, outlining specific steps needed to reach a goal. So, instead of simply telling yourself, “I want to lose weight” you would identify and document specific steps to achieve this goal. This might include, for example, planning out healthy meals, setting a daily or weekly exercise goal, joining a community group with a similar goal focus, or enlisting the support of a loved one. Action plans help make the goal specific which is more likely to lead to success. In fact, a study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, found that over 50% of patients who made an action plan were able to make a behavior change consistent with their action plan. That is a big improvement from the 7% who kept their resolutions last year! Medical professional (such as doctors and therapists) are often experienced with helping their patients create action plans. Consider discussing your goals with your medical provider to see if they can guide you in this process.
2. Plan for bumps in the road.
Maybe you’ve heard the saying “progress is not linear.” What this means is that advancement towards goals often does not occur in a straight line or smooth path. Ups and downs are normal and to be expected. Without this understanding, it is easy to become frustrated, fall back into old patterns, and decide your goal is unachievable. Instead, use potential set-backs as learning experiences and opportunities to refocus. Remember why this goal was important to you and why you chose to set it in the first place. Focus on progress, not perfection!
3. Be patient.
Research shows that on average, it can take more than 2 months to build a habit (with a range of 18 to 254 days). While this can vary from person to person (and situation to situation), the take home message remains the same… Change doesn’t happen overnight. Most importantly, if you quit shortly after setting your goals, you haven’t allowed yourself the time or resources to make the new behavior, routine, or goal “stick.”
4. Track your progress.
Knowing that progress can take time, it can be challenging to stay motivated. However, by tracking your progress you are more likely to notice small successes and achievements that might otherwise be overlooked. Tracking can be simple as well! Just grab a pen and paper (a calendar works well too) and jot down your completed goal-related activities. If your goal is to eat more veggies, for example, quickly jot down which veggies you consumed that day (check marks and smiley faces are quick and work well too). The visual markers of success can be powerful reminders that you’re on track. Importantly, when you notice a success, no matter how small it is, celebrate! Give yourself a high-five, pat on the back, and thumbs up. Find a way to celebrate that feels meaningful to you. You’ve earned it!
Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and fulfilling 2020!