We all know the cycle. We decide that this will be the year we finally get in shape! No more beer! I’m eating healthy! I’m going to the gym more! I’m gonna lose 50 lbs! But if you are like most of us, you don’t have much success keeping your resolutions for the New Year. So what’s the key to actually making progress? How are you going to make this New Years Resolution different? Psychology shows us there are 5 specific aspects of making a S.M.A.R.T. New Year’s Resolution that you can keep.
SMART Resolutions should be
Make Your New Years Resolution Specific
“Get more exercise” is not a good New Years Resolution. It’s too vague! You need to pick an exercise program, with specific days and times to do it. Then attach that plan to previously established habits or schedules. “I’m going to lift weights while the kids are at basketball practice.” Or “I’m going to walk for ten minutes after eating lunch.” Maybe you pass by a gym on the way home from work. It’s easy to attach “stop at the gym” to your habitual route home. All you’ve got to do is make a left turn! And once that left turn becomes part of your “autopilot” then you’re halfway there.
Simple, specific resolutions help us to perform the same action until it becomes a habit. Because that’s the real key to successful New Years Resolutions: making the new behavior into a habit. So you want to make a resolution that involves a specific and simple action you can consciously do for a couple of weeks. At that point, your resolution is a habit, and you’ve succeeded in making a healthy change to your lifestyle.
Make Your New Years Resolution Measurable
A good resolution needs some criteria for measuring progress. Measurable goals give you a sense of achievement. Without that sense of achievement, it’s very hard to continue with a change to your lifestyle. Without specific goals, you will not be able to determine your progress and you won’t hit the short term milestones that lead to long term achievements. So give yourself some measurable criteria. How many days a week will you exercise? How much weight will you lose in a month?
If you decide to work out three days a week, you’ll get a little mental boost for hitting that goal. And that feeling of achievement will be increased if you had to struggle a bit to get there. This is why it’s important to be flexible in how you achieve your goals. Which brings us to the next point.
Make Your New Years Resolution Adjustable
Give yourself some leeway. As Mark Twain said, “Life is just one damn thing after another.” Don’t let the unexpected events in life derail your resolution. Maybe you resolved to workout every Tuesday and Thursday. But sick children, unexpected meetings, car troubles, and other disruptions are just waiting to screw that up. Don’t let them!
Be flexible in your resolution. If something comes up and you can’t get to the gym on Thursday at 5:30 pm, just switch it up. Go take care of the unexpected problem on Thursday and then come home Friday and go for a run instead. You’ve deviated from the plan, but you’ve learned to overcome adversity to achieve your goal. And having the flexibility to achieve your goals despite unexpected obstacles can make your success feel even better!
Make Your New Years Resolution Realistic
Don’t try to change everything at once; it’s a recipe for failure. One key to sticking with a resolution is making it simple enough to do regularly. Because what you are trying to do is create a new habit. “Exercising more” is not a habit. “Jogging for thirty minutes while the kids are at soccer practice” though, that can be a habit. And it’s realistic.
Maybe you can’t spend 60 minutes at the gym every day. But can you spend 30 minutes, or even fifteen? That can be your specific, simple resolution. “I’m stopping at the gym on the way home every day for 20 minutes.” Or maybe you already exercise regularly but need to do more. You can decide “I’m going to spend five more minutes running or walking at every workout.” That kind of specific and realist resolution is easy to turn into a habit.
Make Your New Years Resolution Timely
Setting a time goal helps you to keep your resolution manageable. When you are sweating your butt off and working hard at the gym, the prospect of doing this for an entire year can be enough to make anyone consider quitting. So don’t set your timeline too long. Don’t look a year out; look two weeks ahead. It’s only difficult until it becomes a habit. So set your sight on a closer horizon.
Most simple habits only take a couple of weeks to establish. If you keep this in mind, it makes your resolution much more manageable. It won’t be this hard forever. It will only be hard at first. So set a series of short term time frames that make your resolution achievable. “I’m going to the gym twice a week for a month.” Then when that month is over, set another goal to keep working out twice a week for another month. Soon enough you will stop thinking about timelines as the workout becomes part of your routine.
Set Yourself Up For Success
There are often many barriers that prevent us from sticking with a resolution, even if you’ve made a SMART one. So set yourself up for success by eliminating your barriers and setting reminders. Put your gym clothes for the week in a bag and toss it in the backseat of your car on Sunday. Put a sticky note on the wall by your keys: “Gym tonight!” Put your workout on the family calendar so that everyone can help you get there.
For example, I find it hard to come home after work and then go back to the gym. If I go home first I get comfortable and lazy, and getting back to the gym becomes even more difficult. So the habit I actually have to set is getting my gym bag ready the night before. Then I put it by my keys to remind me of my plans in the morning. That way I have the right equipment, the right mindset, and I’ve set myself up for success.
Dr. James Larson is an orthopedic surgeon, trained and specializing in sports medicine and arthroscopic surgery. He started the LSO website to educate the functional fitness community of coaches and athletes. His mission is to help people understand their bodies and the sport of fitness so that they can stay healthy and prevent injuries.
- How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world
- Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit. – This is a great book on how to improve your life by using little habits to make big changes.