Why your resolutions never work and how to fix it
A bulletproof approach to achieving better health
No one is denying that 2020 was a disaster. Many of us started the year off with ambitious goals, only for them to be flattened by the relentless onslaught of events following the-virus-that-shall-not-be-named. But this year will be different. Why? Not because it will be easier, unfortunately no one can guarantee that, but because your goals for 2021 will be bulletproof.
Ironic as it sounds, the key to ensuring your resolutions are successful is to set better goals. There is literally no point in setting New-Year goals if you’re going to abandon them before they’ve even finished the post-Christmas clearance sales.
Setting better health-related goals, or even goals in general, can be substantially more difficult than it sounds. It’s about finding that careful balance between ambition and what’s realistically achievable, and it’s for this very reason that resolutions are often abandoned early on.
This may all sound a little pessimistic, but fortunately there’s already a relatively well-known framework set up to help you get through this. It’s a life-saving mnemonic acronym called SMART which rolls rather nicely off the tongue. Essentially, when setting goals, you need to ensure that they’re Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.
Let’s go through some examples. Almost everyone, at some point in their life, has set the generic resolution of “improving fitness”. There’s nothing wrong with doing that, but it’s not SMART, which means it’s going to be very difficult to then follow through with that resolution. You need to decide what you specifically want to improve. If it’s weight loss, then say how much weight you want to lose. If it’s improving your athletic performance, then pick a specific distance or time that you want to achieve. In this instance, the thing you want to achieve should be specific enough that you can measure it, which then links to the next part of the acronym.
Making sure your goals are measurable isn’t always an easy process. A great way to tell if it’s a measurable goal is to make sure it has some sort of unit in it. If it’s weight loss, how many kilograms or pounds do you want to lose? If it’s an activity like running, what distance or time do you want to beat? Making sure you can measure your achievements means you’ll be able to track your progress as you edge closer to your goals. Better yet, you’ll have objective proof that you have achieved them once you actually get there!
The achievable part of the framework can sometimes be a bit of a blow to your ego, but it’s important that you’re realistic and honest enough with yourself to do this. There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious, but you need to recognise the steps that it will take to get there. So rather than setting one big goal, you can try breaking it down into some smaller ones. Let’s say, for example, you want to be able to run a marathon but haven’t exercised since your primary school physical education class 25 years ago. Setting the long-term goal of being able to complete the marathon is fine, but you need to recognise that this will take a lot of time and effort. Setting some smaller goals to work on in the meantime can help make your ambitious goals more achievable. For example, you may want to set a goal that involves walking a certain number of steps each day. Once you’ve achieved this goal, you can then set another goal which may involve more steps or even trying to work your way up to completing a brisk walk or jog on a regular basis. By slowly working your way up, you’re edging closer to your overall goal while also being realistic with your own capabilities. Remember, you don’t have to achieve everything at once, there will be plenty more resolutions in the years to come!
Making sure your goals are relevant may seem straight forward, but often it’s a bit more complicated than just picking something you need to work on. You need to have a strong grasp on why you set the goals that you have. What is your motivation? Maybe you’re getting married in a few months and want to be looking even more incredible on your big day, or perhaps you want to have the energy to be able to play with your children or grandchildren when they ask. Little things like this can make a huge difference to whether or not you stick with your goals, so it’s important to recognise what it would actually mean to you if you achieved them.
The last, and perhaps most important, part of the acronym is to make your goals time bound. You need to have a due date for them. If you don’t have a due date, it’s all too easy to just put things off until tomorrow, again, and again, and again. In this step, it’s important that you weigh up your timeframe with the other parts of the acronym, particularly the achievable aspect. If you don’t give yourself enough time, the goal won’t be achievable, but if you give yourself too much time, you won’t be making enough progress. A great way of setting due dates is to break your goal down into smaller goals. If you want to lose 12kg, think about how much weight you would realistically be able to lose in a week or a month. Let’s say you know you can lose 1kg per week, so it would take about 12 weeks to get to your goal weight. This also gives you a great way of tracking your progress to make sure you stay on course to achieving your goal.
So if we look at everything as a whole, it’s easy to see how going from, “improve fitness”, to something like, “lose 12kg of weight in 3 months so that I can feel more confident on my wedding day”, can make New Year’s resolutions feel a little more achievable. If you make your goals SMART and stick to your resolutions, you’ll be running that marathon in no time.