written by John Cioffredi
At about this time each year, millions of people sit down and write out their New Year’s resolutions. It’s an opportunity to reimagine our lives, who we want to be, and what we want to accomplish. Many peoples’ New Year’s resolutions center around living healthier, happier lives. Yet despite our best intentions to eat healthier and get more exercise, only about 4% of people who create New Year’s resolutions actually end up sticking to all of them for the full year.
So what’s the verdict? Give up on New Year’s resolutions altogether since most of us won’t make it past the second week of January anyways? Of course not! For many people, adjusting how they approach their goals makes all the difference in the world in their ability to achieve them.
The first order of business is setting clear, well-defined goals that have measurable markers of success. SMART goals can be very useful for this purpose. The acronym stands for:
Specific – What do you want to accomplish?
Ex: I want to improve my 5k road race time.
Measurable – How are you going to measure your progress?
Ex: Weekly 5k time trials.
Attainable – Is this goal realistic for you at this point in time?
Ex: I ran a 30 minute 5k last fall. This year I would like to shave 30 seconds off of that time.
Relevant – Does this goal align with your long term priorities?
Ex: I want to improve my cardiovascular endurance since research has shown it can have beneficial effects on long-term health and wellness.
Time-based – When do you want to achieve this goal by?
Ex: I want to be in shape to break my 5k personal record in 10 weeks.
SMART goals are a great way to identify what you want to accomplish and why, but they lack one key element that is fundamental for success: strategic planning of how you are going to achieve your goals.
Long term behavioral change, aka healthy habits, requires patience and persistence to take shape. If someone has never exercised before, setting a goal of working out 5 days a week for the rest of their lives will likely feel overwhelming and unattainable. Similarly, someone who’s accustomed to having burgers and fries on a regular basis may find it hard to stomach quinoa and kale for lunch every day.
The key to achieving these lifestyle goals is to start small and work your way up to the big picture while creating an environment that will be conducive to success. For example, if exercising five days a week feels too intimidating and unsustainable, start by working out just one day a week. Once one day feels manageable, add in a second day. Once that feels good, try a third, and so on, until you’ve worked up to your goal of five days a week.
Similarly, if you know that your motivation to workout will likely waver when the alarm goes off at 6 am, consider creating a resolution with a friend or family member. Knowing they’ll be waiting for you at the gym is a great way to use positive peer pressure to hold yourself accountable.
New Year’s resolutions can help shape your life through concrete goal setting, but it’s important to remember that sustainable, long-term change takes patience and persistence. An effective way to ingrain these habits is to ensure a slow and methodical transition from the life you are living to the one you imagine. Creating a supportive environment that fosters success is also a critical piece of the puzzle when it comes to achieving long term goals.
All of these pieces put together are what help us go from the 96% of people who dream of changing their lives each year, to the 4% of people who patiently and persistently do.