January means it is that time again. You know… Resolutions time. Every year at this time we feel tremendous pressure to change something about how we are living our life.
RESOLUTION… the word even sounds like a punishment! Some of the most common health related resolutions involve nutrition and physical activity:
- “I will exercise more”
- “I will eat healthy”
- “I will avoid (insert offending nutrient that by avoiding will bring health)”
Just like you, I have seen tons of ads that encourage folks to make extreme changes at this time of year. And, when you combine extreme and punishment (I mean resolution) what could possibly go wrong?
Perfection is not realistic or sustainable. Maybe that is why so many programs, plans and diets promoted around this time of year have built in expirations…
- “7 Day Weight Loss Diet”
- “28 Day Detox Diet”
- “21 Day Weight Loss Plan”
- And so on…
But, what happens after the expiration? Return to your old ways? The fact that these diets or plans are finite is, by definition, the exact opposite of sustainable! In order to have a lasting impact on your health, lifestyle changes must sustainable. The instructions on the back of the shampoo bottle offer an easy to remember instruction list:
Apply, Lather, Rinse, REPEAT.
The repeat directive is what trips most people up, right? This is what these short-lived plans, diets and programs do not address. I would add the word Forever when making life changes for health. In order to be impactful, changes they have to be forever changes.
Because nobody is perfect and perfection is not a sustainable or healthy goal, I embrace the 80/20 Rule year round in my life and encourage you to do the same.
What is the 80/20 rule? Aim to choose foods and activities that nourish or strengthen your body, mind and spirit at least 80% of the time and don’t worry about the other 20%. This allows for imperfection and life obstacles that are beyond everyone’s control. Without the shame inducing cheat days vocabulary.
But if you would like to make a specific health change (or any change really) committing to a goal can help you get there.
Are New Years Resolutions Helpful?
My response? It depends.
Are your resolutions realistic? For example… You may want to exercise more and you would like to begin running. So, a realistic resolution might be to go for a few runs. Do you enjoy it? Are you able to work running into your schedule? Would you like to continue? The idea is to find this stuff out first and then ease into running and increase your time or distance as appropriate based on how the initial effort goes.
An unrealistic running resolution for most people who have never run before would be to commit to completing a full marathon in July. A marathon is no small feat and requires quite a commitment. What if you don’t even like running? How much time do you have to commit to this? I am using the marathon example because it is a good example of a potentially overly ambitious resolution, but the same logic applies to any goal. Small realistic goals (begin a running routine) can feed into larger long-term goals (eventually complete a full marathon) but it is where you begin that counts.
In a nutshell, resolutions that are vague and overly ambitious are often non-starters. You know, the ones that have been forgotten by Valentines Day? On the other hand, SMART goals can create a roadmap that leads to your objective with built in accountability, identifiable milestones and an assessment of how realistic the goal is.
Before making New Years Resolutions this year, consider taking some time to reflect and focus on what (if any) changes you would like to make in your life. Maybe you don’t even want to make a change! And trust me, if your heart is not in it, the rest of you won’t be either.
Honestly, the “why” is really more important than the “what” do you want to change? That is because motivation is an undervalued and very important component of change.
Are you going to be able to train for that marathon because your friend/coworker/spouse thought it would be fun? You are a dedicated friend! But seriously, is the change something you actually want to work towards or is it something that someone else thinks would be a good idea? If it is not driven by your own motivation then just stop now and save the money your would have spent on running shoes.
Chances are pretty good that someone else’s motivation will not carry you across the marathon finish line. And it won’t help you lose weight, quit smoking or change spending habits, or….
Making Sustainable Change Is Hard!
It can really help to have a visual image or reminder of why the change is important to you. Write it down! Include a picture if it is relevant. Put it somewhere you will see it regularly. This can serve as motivation if and when the going gets tough. Here are some suggested questions to get you started:
- How important is it to you to make this change?
- Why do you want to make _________ change? Specifically?
- What would it mean to your life if you make the change?
- What does that look like, feel like?
Ok, so now you know what you want to change and why. You have chosen something that is important to you and you are committed to working on. But, what is the first step? The second? HOW do you go about accomplishing your goal?
SMART Goals Can Be A Roadmap to Accomplishing Resolutions
SMART goals provide the roadmap that keeps us focused on the supportive actions that bring us closer to our goal and away from the counter productive actions we may fall back on without a plan.
SMART goals are:
Clear, detailed and unambiguous goals that answer the five “W” questions:
- What: What do I want to accomplish? What are the potential obstacles? (there are always obstacles… it helps to anticipate and prepare for them!) What resources necessary (time is a resource…)? What are the logical steps to take?
- Why: Why do I want to accomplish it? Specific reasons, purpose or benefits of accomplishing the goal.
- Who: Who else is involved? Is this goal meaningful to me or something that others think I should do?
- Where: Where will I work on this goal?
- When: When will I work on this goal?
If a goal is not measurable, it is not possible to know whether you are making progress towards your goal. A measurable goal will usually answer questions such as:
- How will I measure progress?
- How much change needs to occur?
- How will I know when it is accomplished?
Because you need to take action to achieve your goal(s).
- Does this goal require action on my part and will these actions likely to lead to accomplishing my goal?
Realistic (and Achievable):
Goals should push you but it is important that they are realistic and achievable. A realistic and achievable goal will usually answer these questions:
- Is this a realistic goal?
- How can the goal be accomplished?
- Am I willing to commit to achieving this goal?
- Is the goal in line with my long-term objectives?
- Are the timeline and actions I have decided on realistic for the goal I have committed to?
A commitment to a deadline helps focus efforts on completion of the goal on or before the due date. This is to ensure that the actions required to complete the goal remain high on your priority list each day when life begins to creep in… and it always does. A time bound goal will usually answer these questions:
- When is the deadline for reaching the goal?
- When will I work on this goal?
- What can I do today? What can I do 6 weeks from now? What can I do 6 months from now?
So, as you reflect and review your habits during the resolution season, remember that any change you make for a finite period of time will not likely bring the outcome you were hoping for. To make it sustainable, repeatable forever changes is ultimately what you are looking for. SMART goals can help get you there.
Perfection is not the goal, progress is.
Once you have successfully adopted a new habit and are happily on your way to repeating it forever … remember the 80/20 rule. Life happens and that is ok. If you are making choices to nourish strengthen your body, mind and spirit 80% of the time then congratulations!! That is quite an accomplishment!