Are you among the thousands of people pledging to lose thirty pounds, quit smoking, eat healthier, run a marathon, save money, go back to school, or any of the thousands of other pledges people make to themselves every January 1? Do your resolutions usually last much longer than January 15?
It may be a new year, but you don’t need to become a new you. You can be the same old you – and still accomplish your goals. If you’ve set your New Year’s resolution for the year, throw it out the window. Instead, here are some ways to make real changes in your life – and still be the same old you, just happier and healthier.
Create a strategic plan. Your personal strategic plan will help you decide on the strategies you’ll use to accomplish your goals and your overall mission. Your “mission” might be to be the healthiest person you can be. Your priority goal might be to lose 30 pounds – and keep them off. Decide which strategies you’ll use to accomplish that weight loss. How will you go about it? For instance, will you eat more for breakfast to avoid mid-afternoon or late-night binges? Avoid fast-food restaurants? Burn more calories by walking or bicycling to work, or getting off the subway at a stop two blocks away and walking the rest of the way? For each goal you set, write down at least three strategies that will help you accomplish it.
Set goals and subgoals. Want to lose fifty pounds? Spend next summer in the Swiss mountains, yodeling with Heidi? Earn that Bachelor’s degree you’ve thought about for the last 10 years? You’re not likely to accomplish those daunting goals if you take an all-or-nothing approach. Nor are you likely to accomplish a laundry-list of goals that ranges from brushing your teeth three times a day to managing your diabetes.
Instead, choose one or two areas of your life that feel most important right now. Identify your “big” goal. Then set small, realistic goals that eventually will add up to the “big one.” Instead of simply saying “I’m going to lose thirty pounds this year,” set daily or weekly goals for actions (for instance, “Every day I will walk at least one mile”), and monthly or quarterly goals for outcomes (for instance, “in one month, I will have lost five pounds).
Set goals around what you really want, not what you think you should want. All too often, the goals we resolve to accomplish focus on things we think we should do, rather than what we want to do. Research shows that unless motivation comes from our true desires, we’re not likely to succeed.
If you hear yourself say, “I really should start [fill in the blank],” pay attention. Instead of focusing on the obstacle, focus on your desired outcome. Maybe what you want is to be able to reach the end of the day tired, not overly exhausted. Focusing on that outcome might help you to see that shedding those 30 pounds is really a short-term goal. Or perhaps you’re a smoker, and you want to see your seven-year-old granddaughter graduate from high school a decade from now. Every time you feel the urge to reach for a cigarette, think about being there to watch her in her cap and gown.
Make your goals and strategies real. Write down your goals and strategies, and put them in a place you can see them regularly. Put reminders of your goals around the house, and around your life. The fridge, the inside of a kitchen cupboard, the cookie jar, the bathroom mirror, closet door, underwear drawer, your computer desktop, and your PDA are all potential places for reminders.
View activities as opportunities, not sacrifices. Want to lose weight? Don’t focus on things you “can’t” eat because you’re “on a diet.” Instead, explore new foods and cooking techniques. Take a cooking class focused on cooking healthier foods, or sign up for a nutrition course online or through a local community college or health center. Eat out one less time a week. Instead of doing a fast-food drive-by, reserve one night each week to cook with your kids, friends, or spouse. Is fitness your focus? Race your kids up the steps – or to the park. Sign up for a 5K run as a family.
Change your environment. You may need to alter your environment. Is weight loss your goal? Really can’t eat just one? Keep those famous potato chips out of the house. Or buy snack-size bags and limit yourself to one bag at a time. Is your goal to spend more time with family? Make a pact to turn off the computer after dinner. Want to run a spring marathon? Purchase comfortable, protective running clothing that will keep you warm and dry during wintertime training runs.
Envision success. Try the trick that professional athletes use: visualization. The technique is simple. Set aside a few minutes to sit quietly. Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths. Then envision yourself achieving your goal. In your mind, cross that finish line, arms raised. Stand on top of that mountain. See that zero balance on your credit card. Slip into those size 8 pants and zip them up (in the picture, you don’t have to suck in your belly).
Accept setbacks. So you skipped the gym for a day, a week, or a month. The kids were sick; your boss just saddled you with a new project, and the deadline is yesterday. You decided to go out to dinner with your spouse instead of to the gym. You snuck a drink and a cigarette. So what? You can still go to the gym tomorrow. You can still be alcohol and tobacco-free starting right now.
Measure your progress. When you track your progress, you’ll see that those small daily changes do make a difference. Or maybe you’ll see that you’re not making any progress, which suggests you need to rethink your strategies. Measuring your progress might be as simple as stepping on the scale once a week and writing the results in a notebook. You might want to log everything you eat and drink, your activity, moods, medications, or other indicators.
Don’t go it alone. Seek support from family, friends, online discussion forums, experts, and others in the same situation as you. If you’re making a big lifestyle change, like quitting smoking, seek expert help. Ask your physician to refer you to smoking cessation resources, including medications, support groups, and training classes. If fitness is your goal, start with a thorough medical evaluation. Call your doctor and schedule an appointment for a complete physical. Discuss your fitness goals with your physician, and consider hiring a physical trainer, who can help you develop a customized fitness program.
Reward yourself for small successes. You don’t have to wait until you’ve reached your ultimate goal to reward yourself. Did you eat a healthy dinner tonight? Run, walk, swim, or cycle just a little bit farther than yesterday? Make it through another day without a drink or a cigarette? Give yourself a small reward. That could be a hot bubble bath, a cup of tea, a dip into a novel, a trip to the movies, a little playtime with the kids, that dress you’ve been wishing for since last spring. Even more important, eventually, better health will become your reward.
Most Popular New Year's Resolutions
Ever wonder what everyone else is pledging every year? Here are the top 11 New Year's resolutions that people make -- and rarely keep. Although the rank of specific resolutions varies from year to year, these admirable goals are always the most popular, according to usa.gov:
- Drink less alcohol
- Get a better education
- Get a better job
- Get fit
- Lose weight
- Get out of debt
- Deal with stress
- Quit smoking
- Save money
- Take a trip