Every year, I notice that my fitness club becomes jammed in January. Parking spaces are fought over, yoga and other exercise classes overcrowded. This usually persists until the end of the month and begins to wane rapidly in early February. Those of us who have attended the gym for years call these newbies “The Resolutionaries” as they have good intentions to develop new lifestyle habits, but have likely set a bar so high that it is daunting, not sustainable, and this leads them to simply abandon the intention. Not all of them will revert to previous behavior patterns, but many will as resolutions of this sort rarely seem to work.
The internet is filled with articles on successfully setting New Year’s resolutions, and most of them come down to a few thoughts, such as limiting the number and intensity of these intended shifts and making them as realistic and reachable as possible. One of these articles stated that about 80% of the resolutions made are not achieved and are often abandoned within approximately 6 weeks1, 2.
REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS WHEN MAKING A CHANGE
Making change requires planning, readiness and accomplishment that is reinforcing of one’s sense of self efficacy. Resolutions such as “I will lose weight, exercise more, eat better, manage my lymphedema, spend more time with family…” are pretty vague. And an unrealistic reset, such as a high amount of weight loss or long period of daily self-care compliance, like adding a lot of lymphatic exercise in addition to using your pneumatic compression pump, especially when you haven’t done so in the past, can be somewhat booby-trapped from the start by the level of challenge. Other goals might be so easy to achieve, such as add a few minutes to an existing routine, that they quickly become boring and insignificant. Without a clear picture of the end outcome desired, it’s hard to make effective steps in the direction we want to go.
SOME SUGGESTED STEPS
I’d like to suggest an approach to support achievement of the changes we want in a promising new year. Let’s reframe our resolutions as SMART goals leading to our own vision of the wellness status that we would love to embrace, that will enhance our lives.
First, I suggest you take the time to do some planning, imagining what you want to change. Maybe make a list out of a stream of consciousness, not holding back, simply writing down all of the things that would make you feel healthier or feel better about yourself.
Then spend some time reviewing what you have written. Really think about how realistic those changes are, and how difficult it might be to bring them to reality. Think about why you want to make these changes, and also about the successes you have had making changes in the past. What supported you? Who was a cheerleader for you? What did you learn in the process?
Finally, choose 2 or maybe 3 of these items, and begin to break them down into small, SMART steps that are achievable in short time, to be able to see the change unfold and gain a sense of success and accomplishment.
WHAT ARE SMART GOALS?
As a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC), I was trained to help my clients envision a best-self and then to set steps to reach that vision to their best potential. These “wellness visions” can take a long time to realize and have been noted to require smaller goals on the way along with careful steps to move toward them.
To be SMART, a goal should be
Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based. Here’s how those ideas work:
Make your goal SPECIFIC by planning and considering exactly what you want to achieve. Thinking about this in advance will help with planning for a specific thing or amount of change.
Make the goal MEASUREABLE by setting a reasonable deadline and SPECIFIC amount of change (see how these begin to work together?). Consider how you will know that you have reached the goal. What will that look like? How will you feel when you get there? How long do you anticipate it to take? Should you make the goal smaller to feel some confidence in getting to it, or does it need to be a bit more challenging to keep your attention?
Make it ATTAINABLE as you consider the specific thing and the measurements. Can you truly achieve this? You will not suddenly be able to become invisible or snap your fingers to travel across the galaxy! You can, however, improve your fitness or your diet, sleep, self-care, family engagement or many other aspects of your current life.
A goal that is RELEVANT is meaningful to you personally. Something that is important to others may not hold motivation for you. Think about why you want to make a chosen change, and what that new behavior really looks like for you and how it will be beneficial in your whole-life picture, your wellness vision, your best-self.
Make the goal TIME-BASED. This part gives you the framework wherein you may expect to see the results of the behavior change. This is the part that really places some kick-in-the-pants factor to the goal setting. And this should also relate back to the other topics above, helping you hone the goal to a point that you have a high level of confidence that you can make it a reality.
Writing out the SMART goals and reviewing them regularly will keep them fresh and give perspective and accountability to the new self that you pursue. Is it really a good idea to set a goal to review after a full year has passed, or would it be more attainable if the goal is a short-term aim, like a week or a month as you work step-by-step to a larger change? I suggest keeping steps short, and reevaluating at regular weekly or monthly intervals.
GIVE ME AN EXAMPLE:
As a very basic example, I will set a goal to address my desire to be more consistent with deep breathing to help manage my lymphedema:
A goal of “I will spend time every day performing some deep breathing.”
is a goal that is not quite SMART, but leads me to setting some that are.
My first step: “I will take 5 diaphragmatic breaths at 10 pm, my bedtime, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for 2 weeks.”
Second step, the third week: “I will take 8 diaphragmatic breaths on weeknights at bedtime.”
My third step after a month: “I will take 10 diaphragmatic breaths at bedtime nightly.”
Each step of the way, at the end of each week, I will evaluate how the goal went. What amount of achievement did I reach? On a scale of 1-10, how well did this go? What was my best experience with the goal? What challenges did I face and how will I prepare to mitigate these in the coming weeks? Who are those in my life who will support me to make this change? Have I chosen the right time of day, or do I need to do this when I wake, or while using my compression pump? I will adjust my steps as necessary to keep moving forward.
Health coaches help people identify their wellness visions and the changes they desire while setting goals to be successful in these changes. That is what we do, that is our job. There are lots of us out here to help you if you wish. But you can do this on your own by utilizing my suggestions or similar methods of evaluating your personal aims and framing them in this fashion. Always, be kind to yourself and use any experience of any level of success to learn and move forward, rather than engage in any self-recrimination. Slow and steady is the way to go!
So, this coming year, in 2023, I resolve to minimize my number of resolutions, maximize the SMARTness of my goals, to learn from my mistakes, celebrate my successes and to be kind to myself along the way. Care to join me?
- Norcross JC, Vangarelli DJ. The resolution solution: longitudinal examination of New Year’s change attempts. J Subst Abuse. 1988-1989;1(2):127-34. doi: 10.1016/s0899-3289(88)80016-6. PMID: 2980864.