Sticking with it

New Year’s Resolutions—our golden plans to make each year greater than the last. We are going to exercise, eat better or make better relationship decisions. We are determined not to make the same mistakes we made in the previous year. About six weeks into the new year though, many of us—okay most of us—have already changed our plan, given up on it or completely forgotten we’ve made resolutions.

Half of all American adults make New Year’s Resolutions—roughly 120 million people. Yet only 8-10 percent of those making resolutions will successfully keep them—about 12 million. Why is it that so few of us keep our resolutions, and how can we do better? The biggest mistake we make, which has an easy solution, is failing to plan appropriately.

Failing to plan appropriately decreases our chances of success before we even start. We tend to make big, general declarations like, “I’m going to eat better,” or “I’m going to exercise more.” We see these as resolutions for change when they are nothing more than empty statements. We have to remember that a New Year’s Resolution is just a fancy way of saying that we are setting goals for change in the new year.

How can we set goals in a way that make us more likely to achieve them? Set SMART goals. SMART goal-setting is a specific system that allows us to measure progress, understand the process and increase our likelihood for success.

S: Specific
Rather than saying you want to eat better, write down what types of foods you want to eat more and what types of foods you want to eat less. Think through the details; if you want to exercise more, how many days per week and for how long?

M: Measurable
How will you know if you are eating better? Set a guide targeting the goal against which you can measure yourself. I can measure if I am eating a cup of vegetables with every meal or eating 100 less calories per day.

A: Attainable
New Year’s Resolutions are notorious for being unfeasible. We feel encouraged when we make them, and then we realize how large of a task we’ve taken on and get discouraged. Remember, if you set an attainable goal and you achieve it by June, nothing says you can’t make a new goal that pushes you even further.

R: Relevant
Sometimes we get caught up in the idea of resolutions and pick one that is a challenge but isn’t important to us. If we are in good health and quite fit and we decide we want to exercise more and eat better, it may not feel as significant. When it’s not relevant to us, our motivation takes a dive, we lose focus and easily forget we even made the resolution.

T: Time-bound
Give yourself benchmarks. “I want to lose weight” is not time-bound. When is your deadline to lose the weight? How long do you plan to focus on it? Saying you want to lose one pound per week gives you a timeline, which allows you to measure progress and be encouraged by small successes all year long. We get easily distracted from our goals when we don’t bind them to time.

If you can view your resolutions as goals for change and plan appropriately, you may be in that 8-10 percent of folks who successfully stick with it and achieve their New Year’s Resolutions. And if you’ve already given up, reevaluate your goal and give it another shot.

Dr. Chelsi Day is a licensed clinical and sport psychologist who did her undergraduate studies at Miami University and her graduate studies at Antioch University New England. She is currently practicing at Matrix Psychological Service based in its Dublin location.