It’s that time of the year when we evaluate and set our goals for a new year. The most popular New Year’s resolutions revolve around improving health and wellness. How are you doing with yours? While most people start strong, the momentum typically doesn’t last. Mid-February is the peak time for resolution abandonment. We give up on goals when we don’t establish a plan for success. So, don’t give up on yours – Try something different this year by rethinking your resolution by following a goal preparation process and turning it into a SMART goal!
We kick off each new year with fireworks and the promise of a fresh start. We use the annual tradition of New Year resolution setting to focus on our health, make better choices, and change our habits, behaviors, and routines. However, 80 percent of people give up on their resolutions by mid-February. What is the reason for this abysmal success rate?
Behavior change is hard! It often requires time, patience, and a plan to accomplish. Identifying your stated resolution or health goal is just the first step in the process. To reach your goal successfully, you must also determine a plan for the habits and systems that are counterproductive to your end goal and a realistic time frame for completion. SMART goals offer a more descriptive framework than traditional goal setting, increasing your chance of success.
The Basics of Behavior Change
It’s time to begin your goal preparation. Thinking your goal or resolution is just a statement such as “I want to eat healthily or exercise more.” is a recipe for disappointment. Instead, you need a plan of execution! By adding these extra details around your goal, you can set the intention and direction for your behavior change. The basics of behavior change involve crafting your new identity around your goal and pinpointing which habits and systems you need to change to reach it.
Building Your Identity-Based Goals
The key to making change is to make sure your goal is to focus on who you want to become and then create your processes and outcomes around that identity.
- First, let’s define our new identity. What beliefs do you feel deep in your core, such as your worldview, self-image, and judgments about yourself and others? People who tie their goals to their identity see more success because you have more motivation to prove your identity to yourself than a random task or behavior. For example, do you want to be a person who prioritizes exercise? Someone who likes vegetables?
- Next, what are the outcomes you are looking to achieve? For example, do you want to lose weight? Reduce your risk of heart disease?
- And finally, what systems, habits, and processes do you need to change to be successful at your goal and be true to your new identity? Is that spending more time in the gym? Meal-prepping every week so you can guarantee your plate will be two-thirds vegetables at dinner?
Change Your Habits, Change Your Life
Now it’s time for the execution piece. To be successful, you’ll need to change the habits no longer serving you. In the book Atomic Habits, James Clear defines habits as “the small decisions you make and actions you perform every day.” Changing your habits is the key to changing your life.
Some habits are unhealthy, such as smoking cigarettes, not leaving your desk for lunch, or driving too fast. Other habits are good for us, such as always wearing your seatbelt, brushing your teeth twice a day, or always saying “thank you or I love you.” We do most of these things without even thinking. When thinking about your goal, what are the habits that are barriers to you being successful? It’s a fair assumption that you won’t become someone who prioritizes exercise if you only go on a run once. It has to become a repeated performance. What keeps you from going on that run?
Habit stacking is the practice of pairing a new habit with an existing automatic one to make it “stickier.” If you aren’t going for a run because you can’t find the energy to get off the couch once you get home, you have to change this habit to make progress. To practice habit stacking, you would pair a new habit with an existing one to help keep you off the couch. For example, you could pack your gym clothes and take them to work to change into, or you turn on a workout video first instead of your favorite TV show.
Build Your SMART Goal
Now that you’ve completed your goal preparation, it’s time to create your SMART goal. Instead of a vague sentence, you end up with a path to success in a SMART goal. SMART is an acronym for:
- Specific: Describe your main objective. Clearly explain what you want to accomplish.
- Measurable: How will you measure your progress? Making it quantifiable will help you hold yourself accountable.
- Achievable: Make a list of what tools, time, people, and resources you’ll need to reach your goal. Evaluate if you have access to everything you need.
- Realistic: Can your goal be accomplished in your desired timeframe? (For example, healthy weight loss is losing one to two pounds per week, so losing 20 pounds in a month may not be realistic)
- Time-Bound– determine the time frame to achieve results. Define your start date, end date, and frequency of tasks and habits that make up your goal.
With this new framework in mind, what is your new SMART goal?
A Goal Prep and SMART Goal Example
Let’s put all the pieces together in this example of SMART goal preparation and setting.
- My New Identity: I want to become a person who prioritizes their health so that I can live a long, happy, and healthy life. I plan to do that by moving more and eating healthier.
- Processes and Systems: Exercise routine, logging in the Preventive plan, meal-prepping
- Outcomes: Increase my physical activity & lose 10lbs
- My SMART Goal: Starting on Monday, my first goal is to increase my physical activity by walking for 30 minutes per day, five times per week. I know I will be progressing by increasing my workouts by one day each week. I will log my activity in the Preventive Plan mobile app for the next five weeks to hold myself accountable. In two months, once exercising has become a regular part of my routine, I will begin my second goal to lose two pounds per week over five weeks. I will maintain my exercise plan of 30 minutes to an hour of exercise five days a week while also sticking to a calorie budget. I plan to reduce my calorie intake by 1000 through -500 calories in my diet and -500 calories in exercise per day. A new habit will be to meal-prep and grocery shop for the week every Sunday. I will log all meals and calories in my food diary and exercise in the Preventive Plan mobile app.
You can see this example is more detailed than your typical New Year’s resolution, but this is a recipe for success. Unfortunately, there is an enormous chasm between defining your goal and achieving it
Your Next Steps for Goal-Setting Success
You are ready to get started on your revamped New Year’s resolution turned SMART goal! Remember to:
- Think about what you’d like to change
- Set one small SMART goal to get started
- Identify the supporting habits you need to be successful
- Get to stacking to create new, healthy habits.
- Watch your systems do the work for you!
- Prove your new identity to yourself every day!
- Adjust as needed and turn to your health coaches for support
You have all the tools you need to avoid the disappointment and frustration of traditional resolution setting this year. Bridge the gap between talking about a New Year’s resolution and succeeding with a new identity and defined SMART goals. Cheers to a commitment to year-long goals with new healthy habits as a foundation.
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