Quick–what was your New Year’s resolution for last year? How about the year before? Can you remember? I don’t think I can either. How sad is that?
Resolutions traditionally center on self-improvement, which is admirable, but what happens between the grand intention and the (too often) failure—even forgetting? What can we learn from the cautionary tales of previous years?
Despite past foiled resolutions, the New Year’s spirit brings plenty of hopeful opportunity to make the upcoming months some of the best you’ve ever experienced. Just be sure to avoid the common pitfalls that stop your intentions in their tracks.
Consider this a primer for what NOT to do—a 5-point map, if you will, for killing that bright, shiny, promising resolution and its potential for shaping your year. Unfortunately, too many people’s resolutions will die such a death in the coming weeks. (Above all, resolve to not be one of them!) Let's take a look now....
Aim for more than one goal.
Don’t tell yourself you’re going to save more money, lose weight, learn a new language, and run a marathon this year. It’s like giving yourself reason to panic, feel disorganized, and have no fun all in one swift, doomed motion.
Willpower is real. It’s shown to have some serious capacity when tested, but that doesn't mean it's a limitless resource. We’re talking some serious and consequential physiology here. In fact, research has demonstrated that when we have to consciously self-regulate our behavior (such as focusing on too many self-imposed resolutions), our brain uses more glucose than if we have a simpler task.
This heavy amount of focus and energy can (and does) lead to lower blood glucose levels, which are associated with lapses in mental performance, memory, and you guessed it—willpower.
Make this year’s self-transformation realistic. (There are no extra points for complicated goals….) Pick ONE thing you can and will do every day to end up in a better spot when 2017 rolls in.
Simplify your resolution down to one specific behavior you feel confident you can do even on your busiest and most stressful days. Then practice it, keep track of your consistency, gather support, and see what happens.
Keep it to yourself.
Most people aren’t great at holding themselves accountable to New Year’s resolutions or any other significant goal (myself included). Look around the web for research stats, and you’ll find that fewer than 10% of people actually follow through on their resolutions past six months. About a quarter of people call it quits before mid-January. Yikes.
Those lucky few who stay true to their intentions may have stronger self-accountability than others, but I’m willing to bet they also have pretty awesome support systems.
Whether it’s the guidance of a professional, support of friends and family, or added accountability in some other external form, you should share your resolutions with the people who matter most in your life.
Share your goals and hopes—preferably in person rather than just on social media. Take the risk of being vulnerable and authentic. Your process will undoubtedly benefit.
When your support network sees and feels the emotional investment you’re placing in your resolutions (and in them), that network will likely become even stronger than it’s ever been. Your one-person mission will become a group effort in ways you never anticipated.
Set a specific goal but be vague about the actual process.
Plenty of people want to lose weight, get fit, or become healthier in 2016, and those are good ideas. Some of those wishful people may even set specific outcome goals:
- Lose 30 pounds.
- Run a 5k in under 30 minutes.
- Achieve normal blood glucose or blood pressure measurements.
Specific outcome measures sound better, but I’ve seen far too many people (myself included) still fail to reach them without very specific, daily process goals.
You need a clear-cut goal and a detailed, daily plan on how you’ll get there. It’s the daily focus and repeated testing of your mettle that truly transform your life in the new year.
For example, to lose 30 pounds you’ll probably have to change one specific thing about your eating habits—every day, right? If you made it your daily mission to eat at least 4 cups of colorful vegetables and achieved it at least 80% of the time, would you be more likely to lose weight? Probably. Doing that is at least better than hoping every day to lose 30 pounds.
As you formulate your 2016 self-betterment intentions, keep this in mind…. You should be able to describe exactly what you’re doing tomorrow to get closer to your outcome goal. Be very detailed and deliberate about the process you’re engaging in, and your outcomes will come to life.
Go by a general “feel” when it comes to assessing progress.
When I ask clients, “How is your progress?” they often reply with a shrug and a “pretty good, I guess…”.
Huh? You guess? That doesn’t sound good.
You should know. You should have data to show where you are today to compare to when you started! Even if the data isn’t pretty, you should be measuring it objectively. Face the facts, adjust the daily plan if necessary, and forge ahead toward that outcome goal (by following the agreed upon process).
Coming up with objective ways to measure progress is relatively simple. Keep track of your daily behavior compliance, and regularly measure how you’re trending toward your outcome.
If you’re trying to lose 30 pounds of fat in three months (a difficult but possible feat), then each week you should see 2.5 pounds of fat loss or be trending towards 10 pounds lost per month.
While it’s easier to hide from the truth and gauge progress subjectively—and tougher to swallow the facts by measuring objectively, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Take precise measurements as true, honest feedback.
Use daily and weekly check-ins to make more intelligent adjustments to your approach, and be open-minded about changing your tactics, leaning on your support system, and re-igniting your personal investment to your commitment.
Invest nothing substantial.
How important is it you reach the resolution you’ve made to yourself this year? How valuable is this achievement to you as a person? Are you willing to change for it, work for it, even at times struggle for it?
Most people don’t pick a trivial achievement for a New Year’s resolution. More than other times of the year, they're inclined to think big. That means your intention likely embodies a very important and valuable part of who you are or want to become.
That means a resolution is more than just a goal—it’s a vision for your life. Now put some more skin in the game. Time. Energy. Emotion. Money.
For many people, investing money to hire a Nutrition Coach or Personal Trainer is enough to keep those all-important health appointments. Knowing you’ve paid money for an appointment with an expert (who’s committed to your success) somehow makes it much, much harder to skip your workout or meal planning time. You may not need to fork over thousands of dollars, but plan to invest something in your process.
If you’re not ready to hire a personal coach, then at least put some healthy, daily pressure on yourself to stay on track. There are dozens of free apps built for behavior tracking, habit development, and even blackmail. (Yep, you can use your smartphone to re-wire your behavior patterns or financially punish yourself if you stray away from your plans….)
Either way, you’re more likely to stay on track the more you invest. That resolution is just a pipe dream otherwise. Apply your energy, emotion, focus, and, yes, perhaps even cash to get to your goals.
Wondering what my personal commitment is this year? I plan to become a better planner. I’m committed to anticipating or planning out my tomorrows today. It’s going to help myself be more organized, thoughtful, deliberate, and even more methodical with my training, nutrition, and personal development. I trust it will also help me be an even better dietitian as I coach others in their health journeys.
Let’s agree to make this year’s resolutions memorable AND successful! Thanks for reading.
Are you interested in support around your aim for 2016? Talk with our professional club staff today about their individualized services and group support options. Happy—and Healthy—New Year, everyone!
In health, Paul Kriegler - Corporate Registered Dietitian
This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.