or many of us, each New Year represents a new start and a clean slate. It’s a chance to reset, renew and revisit goals we want to accomplish in the next 365 days.
However, when we kick off the New Year with lofty goals, unrealistic expectations and poor planning, we can sabotage our best intentions and set ourselves up for failure well before February. And the fact that Jan. 1 comes during one of the coldest and darkest times of the year can also make it challenging to stick with resolutions to eat healthier and work out more often.
To help maintain focus and momentum, health and wellness experts at Saint Thomas Health offer the following advice for planning and reframing how we think about New Year’s resolutions to improve chances of long-term success:
• Write down your goals and visualize them so they stay top of mind: It sounds so simple, but writing out your goals and looking at them frequently can help keep you focused on what you want to accomplish.
Some people make “vision boards” displaying images to help visualize their goals.
Post your goals somewhere you will see on a routine basis – on your mirror, refrigerator, dashboard, desk, etc.
• Set SMART goals with small actions you can stick to: Specific – Instead of being too vague, make your goal a particular action item. For example, “I want to increase the number of days a week that I exercise.”
Measureable – After you decide on an actionable goal, give it a number you can measure and a timeframe. “I want to go to the gym three days a week.”
Attainable – Whatever goal you set for yourself, make it something realistic that you know you can accomplish. If exercising three days during the week isn’t possible, adjust that goal and set it to something more manageable. Plus, the smaller wins will help to encourage you to continue and to build upon them.
Relevant – Align your goals with things you really want to accomplish. If a goal about fitness or nutrition isn’t that important to you, then focus your New Year’s Resolution on something you feel more passionate about.
Time-based – Set time limits for your goals. “I want to go to the gym three days during the week for the next month.” That way, at the end of the month, you can evaluate if you met your goal or not. If not, modify your actions and try again the next month.
• Write down potential obstacles and challenges so you can plan ways to overcome: In addition to writing down the goals you want to accomplish, it’s important to write out the particular challenges you might face in working towards your goals.
If you anticipate the obstacles that might keep you from accomplishing your goals, then you can come up with back-up plans and strategies to overcome them.
Have a support system in place for accountability and encouragement
It can really help to have a support system that can follow up with you to encourage you and keep you on track.
Going to the gym with a friend or planning on running a race with a friend can also help keep you focused on your goals.
• Reflect and re-evaluate every month: Many of us make goals in January and totally forget about them in February. Put a monthly reminder in your phone or calendar to review your goals regularly to see if you are progressing.
Take this time to revamp your goals to set yourself up for success going into the rest of the year.
Brian Gill is vice president of behavioral health at Saint Thomas Health. Saint Thomas Health is a part of Ascension, the nation’s largest nonprofit health system and the largest Catholic health system in the world.