By Whitney Sweat, MS, RD, CSSD
The New Year is once again upon us, and for many, that means setting New Year’s Resolutions. Too often, however, these resolutions that we start off with so strongly quickly become a thing of past. What starts off as the best of intentions in January often leads to feelings of disappointment and failure come February. Why is it that so many people fail to keep these resolutions? Common mistakes in maintaining resolutions include failing to define goals in more specific terms, setting broad, large scale goals instead of smaller, more obtainable ones, and neglecting to break down goals into measurable actions that yield results.
Well, this year, I have a different challenge for you Gut Checkers! Instead of thinking in terms of New Year’s Resolutions, focus on making “New You” resolutions. Rather than setting broad, large-scalegoals create smaller, more realistic onesalong with planned strategies to help you achieve them. For example, instead of saying, “This year I will exercise more and eat better,” be more specific by saying “The month of January I will start by going to Gut Check 2 times per week and I will eat 1 cup of vegetables at lunch and dinner.” In the second set of goals you can easily identify if you are reaching them or not. If you are not meeting them, you can try to identify what the barrier(s) to success may be.
So how do we create these more obtainable goals? Read-on and follow the simple steps below to create personalized goals and strategies to meet your needs!
Download this: Goal Setting Worksheet
Identify what you want to accomplish. For some this may be weight loss, others may have a performance or health related goal. You may also have more than one.
- Examples: I will eat better. I will exercise more. I will run a marathon.
Prioritize your goals. If you have more than one goal, tackling everything at one time can be overwhelming and make it difficult to maintain changes. Identify which are most important to you and/or your overall health and start there. Chances are addressing those issues will set you up for greater success in your other goals.
Re-define your goals using SMART principles. This step identifies how to turn broad, vague goals into more specific “mini-goals.”
Specific: Be specific in what is you want to accomplish. Instead of “I will eat better,” define exactly how you will do this or what you need to address. For example, “I will eat 1 piece of fruit and 1 cup of vegetables every day.”“I will substitute soda with water or unsweetened tea.”
Measurable: Set goals that you can answer “yes” or “no” to. You can easily check yourself at the end of the day on whether or not you ate your servings of fruits and vegetables. Putting a more objective measurement on your goals will be necessary for tracking progress and/or impediments to change.
Attainable: Set goals that you can obtain. It’s great if you want to run a marathon, but if you have not been actively running regularly, perhaps starting with a 10K or half-marathon is more achievable for you at this point. Eating better will often include cooking more homemade food, but if your cooking skills are limited a more attainable goal than “cooking all meals from scratch” might be “incorporate one new recipe a week.”
Realistic: Think realistically about your work and life demands. Is training for a marathon realistic given what you have going on? If you are traveling a lot or have a big project coming up at work that may take away from your training, modify your goals to fit better. A 10 k might be more realistic for now, but keep the marathon as an option in the future when time permits.
Time-oriented: Set a realistic time frame for each mini-goal. This allows for you to break your goals into smaller, more obtainable pieces and progress in your goals. Added bonus, it can also help keep you from procrastinating! For example, “Sunday I will prepare enough food to eat lunch Monday-Thursday,” or “This week I will run 3 miles 3 times.”
Break down each goal into specific actions and strategies. Mini-goals are great for monitoring your progress, but if you are going to eat 2 servings of fruits and vegetables each day you will need to make sure you put enough on your grocery list and that you get to the store. Perhaps you even need to start with taking an inventory of what you are currently eating. What can you eliminate and replace with a healthier option? What state are your running shoes in? Do you need to invest in a new pair to support your training? Do you need to arrange childcare or support from a spouse in order to achieve your exercise goals? Think of this as the “logistics” as to how you will make these goals happen.
Commitment. Behavior change is difficult; it takes time to break old habits and form new ones. Give yourself enough time to get through this initial discomfort, soon enough these new strategies will become habit and ultimately, preference! Commit to each mini-goal and strategy that you set for 3 weeks to make a new habit. Make sure you set yourself up for success during this time. Use a weekly planner or calendar to schedule time for exercise, meal planning, grocery shopping, and meal preparation. Put reminders into your phone, elicit support from friends, and include your family into your new lifestyle changes. Ultimately, finding what will work best for you to stay motivated, focused, and on track will help you make changes for the long-term!
Monitor progress and barriers. As time goes forward, you will face some ups and downs with your overall progress. Remember this is completely normal! Keep a detailed food and exercise journal to help you track progress. Instead of just writing down what you eat and when also write why you ate what you ate. Were you hungry or were you using food for a different reason? Same with exercise, track why you missed a work out. If a goal is not achieved or a strategy is not working, use this journal to reflect on some possible barriers to your success that you can focus on addressing. Perhaps a goal needs to be revised or you need to look again at the strategies you laid out. On the other hand, as you move forward you will need to continue to modify your goals to make sure they are challenging enough for you. Doing too little can be just as detrimental as doing too much, so make sure you continue to assess your progress and continue to take yourself outside of your comfort zone, whether it is putting in that extra mile each week, attending one more Gut Check class, or trying a new food you are unfamiliar with.
Create contingency plans. Inevitably, life is going to happen. You will miss a workout, you won’t have time for meal preparation, etc. Whatever it is, have a backup plan to either minimize the impact or to help you get back on track immediately. Make sure to have easy, ready-to-eat options for quick meals like frozen vegetables, instant brown rice, and frozen turkey burger or salmon fillets for a last minute meal. Or “overschedule” yourself for workouts. If your goal is 4 workouts a week, find 5 different times to fit it in. That way if you miss one, you are still on track, and if you make all 5, bonus!
Maintenance. Sometimes this can be the most difficult step. You did it. You lost that extra 15 pounds, you ran a marathon, and you cleaned up your diet. Now how do you continue to stay on track? Incorporating a lot of the same steps listed above can help you with this. Consider other mini-milestones you can accomplish like improving your marathon time, increasing strength and muscle mass, trying a new sport or workout regimen, or incorporating more variety into your usual foods; anything that will keep you focused on maintaining healthy habits for the long term!
Now for the “New You” challenge! Use the steps above to guide you in the goal setting process. These will be modified every three weeks. It is up to you to self-monitor and track your progress towards these goals. Remember, there is no “one-size-fits-all approach” to creating these goals, so pick what is going to work best for and benefit you the most! Fill out the form below to set your goals. These will be assessed and evaluated every 3 weeks. Your goals may stay the same, but the strategies and tasks may change, and/or you may revise your goals.
Download this: Goal Setting Worksheet