For many, the beginning of the new year is a great time to take stock of where we’ve been and where we want to go. It’s also a great time to work on personal goals related to healthy eating, stress management, and exercise. Each year, nearly 40% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, but statistics show that only 8% actually follow through on them. Those aren’t very good odds! While it’s easy to come up with a long list of goals, it’s a lot harder to turn those goals into sustainable habits.
Thankfully there are more effective ways to stick with your goals than just making New Year’s resolutions. Today we are going to talk about how to make smarter goals that can actually motivate you to form healthier habits all year long.
Make Goals Specific
New Year’s resolutions that are very broad and vague make it hard to follow through on them. Instead of general goals like “eat healthier” or “exercise more,” narrow down the focus of your goals as much as possible. Use the SMART goal format to create specific and achievable goals. SMART is an acronym created by business leaders that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant/Realistic and Time Bound.
The more specific you get, the better you can evaluate your progress. For a healthy eating goal, instead of “eat healthier,” pick one food group to eat more or less of. For example, you could try adding one servings of dark leafy greens each day, and then come up with ways to add in greens at different meals. Try adding spinach to smoothies or eggs, eat a salad with dinner every night or toss greens into your favorite soups and casseroles. If eating too much of something is an issue for you, try setting limits on when, where or how much you eat in one sitting. For example, “I will limit ice cream to ½ cup serving 2 times a week.” Or “I will swap out chips for veggies or fruit at my afternoon snack.” Coming up with specific actions will help you stay focused.
Keep Goals Small
It can be tempting to set really ambitious goals, especially at the beginning of the year when we are coming off the holidays and feeling refreshed. However, goals that are too big are only going to make you feel defeated and unmotivated. Set yourself up for success by choosing goals you are 99% sure you can accomplish. If you set a goal that is too unrealistic, you will be less likely to follow through on it. However, if you set smaller, realistic goals, you can build on them throughout the year. For example, if you are not used to exercising, instead of aiming for the recommended 30 minutes 5 days a week, maybe start with something smaller, like 20 minutes 3x a week. Alternatively, aim to increase your steps by 1000 per day. Once you reach that goal, you can increase it to be closer to the exercise guidelines.
Measure and Share your Goals
Another key factor in sticking with goals is to measure and share them with others. Whether it’s an activity tracker app on your phone, a calendar with check marks or a chart on your fridge, use something to track your progress. Tracking our actions helps us stay motivated and troubleshoot problems. After a couple weeks of tracking your goals, you might be surprised at how far you’ve come. Also, be sure to share your goals with a supportive friend or family member or join an accountability group. Some people also find sharing their goals on social media channels can be helpful. The more support you have the better. Having a team to help you out when you are feeling unmotivated or discouraged will help you stay on track with your goals.
Aim for Progress Not Perfection
We all know even the best laid plans can get derailed from time to time. As you make goals for the new year, focus on making progress each day, not being perfect. If you can’t accomplish your goal for one day, that’s okay. Focus on what you can achieve and celebrate the small wins. At the end of each day or week, reflect back on how you did with your goals and what you want to focus on to improve them. Remember, each small step you take towards being a healthier you is progress.