By Linda De Witt, MPH
When I ask my family or friends, “What’s your New Year’s resolution?” or “What goal do you have for the coming year?” I get the quite common response of, “I never make New Year’s resolutions!”, or “I stopped making those years ago!”, or “Why make one, I won’t keep it anyway!”
I’ve thought about those responses and wondered if the reason most of us don’t make resolutions, or even worse, don’t follow through with them is because we think of them in such a broad sense they become unattainable. Let’s face it, if someone says , “I’m going to lose weight this year” or “I’m going to eat healthier or get more exercise”, or “I’m going to cook at home more often instead of eating out” or “get more sleep”, these are all well-intended aspirations, but unfortunately often too broad or abstract.
I think you’d agree that most New Year’s resolutions are health-related. So, here is some advice from Dr. Sheri Pruitt’s book entitled Living Smart: Five Essential Skills to Change Your Health Habits Forever.
Dr. Pruitt uses the acronym SMART to define five skills to achieve a desired change:
S is for Set a Goal. Before setting a goal, make a quick assessment of your core values. Ask yourself, “Do I have a current behavior that does not align with my core values?” If so, consider setting a specific goal related to changing this undesired behavior. Setting a goal with this in mind can be a powerful motivator. When you’re ready, make sure your goal is specific and written stating what, when, and where.
M is for Monitor Your Progress. There’s something about keeping track that helps us to be accountable to ourselves. Keeping a written record of the journey toward our goal is very empowering. Interestingly, the simple act of monitoring a behavior will help you change that behavior.
A is for Arrange Your World for Success. The main idea here is to arrange your immediate environment to support the change you’d like to make. Although it’s not possible to control this 100% of the time, you’ll have a better chance of succeeding if you set up your surroundings in a way that will enable you to be successful.
R is for Recruit a Support Team. Partner or surround yourself with family or friends who share similar goals. Or identify someone as a support person who can check in with you and ask you about your progress. Doing so can help build in accountability and also keep you motivated.
T is for Treat Yourself. Don’t underestimate the power of positive reinforcement; rewarded behaviors are more likely to be repeated. A treat can range from monetary, social, or activity rewards. You decide what works best for you.
Now, let’s look at the improved version of the New Year’s resolution using SMART skills. Instead of saying “I’m going to exercise more” a SMART resolution would be:
S: I will go to the gym to exercise in the morning from 7-8 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
M: I will regularly keep an online exercise journal to monitor my progress.
A: I will prepare my gym bag the night before with my workout clothes and shoes needed. I will also get to bed by 10 p.m. so I’m well rested and ready for my workout in the morning.
R: I will make an agreement with my sister to meet her at the gym on those three mornings, and/or have her check in with me on my progress every two weeks.
T: Once a month, I will treat myself to a pedicure as a reward for consistently going to the gym to exercise.
There you have it! By utilizing these five simple steps you can make your resolution today, succeed, and thrive on that feeling of accomplishment.