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Kathy Whelan

Posted on January 01, 2019

Whether we call them resolutions or not, many of us form intentions to do things differently in a new year. A typical target is habits that have negatively impacted our health and wellness. It’s been shown that following a process is more effective than random attempts at habit change. To avoid your well-intentioned plans ending up in the New Year’s resolution graveyard, take the extra time to follow these steps:

Look farther out. Think how the change you’re considering fits into a picture of your ideal health several years from now. Aspirations like losing weight to fit into a wedding dress may give you a start, but a broader, longer-term vision will help sustain your efforts.

Consider underlying values. Goals linked to significant personal values will have the greatest power to motivate you when the going gets tough. For example, you may value being a grandparent and want to stay healthy to see your grandchildren grow up. Exploring your personal values will also keep you from pursuing a goal simply because someone else wants you to.

Narrow your focus. You may wish to change multiple areas of your health, but don’t tackle everything at once. When you succeed in one area, you can move on to another with greater confidence.

Examine your readiness to change. How important is making this change right now? How confident are you of success? Really take some time here. Imagine your future life if you do, and if you don’t, make the change. Think about the pros and cons of changing. Look at areas of your life where you’ve been successful and remember what helped you succeed. Think of different ways of achieving your goal if a particular way seems daunting or uninteresting. If you feel ready to move forward after this step, set a goal you would like to reach in 3 to 6 months.

Make your goal SMART. You stand a greater chance of success if your goal is Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Timed. Clear, detailed plans – where, when, how, with whom – will serve you better than vague, general goals (“walking in the neighborhood with my walking group” v. “exercising”). Quantify your goal (“three times a week” v. “more often”). Choose a goal that’s under your control, not someone else’s (“be consistent in disciplining my child” v. “get my child to behave better”). Don’t set a goal so lofty you can’t achieve it in the near future. You may someday reach that goal, but don’t try to do it all at once. Be clear about your timeline (“By April 1, I will be running xx miles per week”).

Take small, thoughtful steps. Think about your life and schedule carefully when deciding on weekly SMART steps toward your goal. What is your typical day or week? What barriers and obstacles could thwart you? Make back-up plans for when life might get in your way.

Establish accountability. Track your progress in writing or on your smartphone. Or find someone to remind and encourage you.

Be mindful. Notice what you’re doing when you’re doing it. If you’ve ever grabbed a cookie and wondered later why you did it, you know what I mean. By noticing our thoughts and actions in the moment, we have a better chance of changing what we do.

Acknowledge yourself. Give yourself credit whether or not you are completely successful week to week. Learning from success, partial success and failure, and making appropriate adjustments, are all cause for a pat on the back.

Have patience. Our brains are wired to repeat habitual behaviors. Change takes time and repetition, usually over a minimum of 3 months. If you stick to your plan, you will get to your goal.

Enjoy the journey! And please let me know if you would like a “guide by your side.”

I wish you the very best of health and wellness in 2019!

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