Developing new habits and keeping to resolutions is a matter of persistence, focus, and perseverance. Thinking about making a change is a lot more fun than carrying through with it once resistance sets in. But, with some simple techniques, like using SMART goals and using one key habit to influence all others, we know you’re going to crush 2018’s resolutions. Here’s how.
What are SMART goals, and why are they important for resolutions?
“Get healthy”: does this sound like a fitness goal you might set? Those two words are responsible for more secondhand fitness equipment than any other words in the dictionary. The problem with this goal is that it isn’t very SMART, and when it comes to healthy fitness resolutions, SMART goals are the only way to go.
SMART is a goal-setting acronym used to structure goals so that they are successful. SMART goals are:
Let’s look at how you can use this acronym to set yourself up for success for your resolutions this year. Since the most popular resolutions have to do with fitness and losing weight, we’ll be looking at those in particular. But remember, any resolution can be made into a SMART goal: practicing more relaxation techniques, meditating, committing to a new hobby, or encouraging more mindfulness in the new year.
SMART goals are specific
Let’s say your resolution is to lose weight. If you state your goal that simply, even losing six ounces of weight would count as having achieved the goal. Chances are good that you’d like to lose more than that. An example of a specific goal is, “Lose 15 pounds.” The number might change, but the number is specific, not general, and it gives you something to focus on.
The same thing applies if you are trying to increase your level of physical activity. You could say, “I want to exercise more,” a vague goal that allows you to exercise precisely 15 more seconds a day to achieve it, or you can say, “Exercise 30 minutes daily.” In this example, more is defined and specific.
To make your goals more specific, think in terms of:
So your final SMART goal statement might be “Join a local bike club and go on their weekly ride while also riding my bike for 30 minutes a day.”
SMART goals are measurable
Fitness resolutions include not only physical health but also mental and emotional health. Maybe you reflected on the past year and have decided that you want to increase your level of happiness over the next year. Setting the goal “be happier” will not be helpful because you have no way of knowing whether or not you are actually happier than before. That goal is not measurable. Because research has shown that a gratitude practice can make you happier, your goal might be to cultivate gratitude to increase your happiness. You could say, “Write five things I am grateful for every night before bed.” You can see whether or not you have written five things nightly and extrapolate your increased level of happiness. With more concrete goals like weight loss, a scale is your measurement. For goals related to nutrition, recording the servings of fruits and vegetables daily and checking against recommended daily allowances is measurable. Thinking like a scientist helps here. Try to set a goal that anyone could measure. Don’t base a goal on whether or not you “feel” different: prove it.
SMART goals are attainable
Maybe we’d all like to look like a movie star and have the body of an Olympian. Maybe we want to cook fresh, healthy meals with the ease of a celebrity chef, or bend and twist our bodies in yogic serenity like the yoga stars on Instagram. While these goals may be possible for some, they are not attainable for all. Every body is different, and every person setting goals needs to accept their own body’s strengths, limitations, and pocketbooks. Movie stars have stylists, Olympians have trainers (and no other job), celebrity chefs have prep cooks (and dishwashers!), and some particularly bendy yogis practice daily for hours. For most of us, being a movie star, Olympian, celebrity chef, or rock star yogi is not an attainable goal.
Attainable goals are goals that are steps to the final destination. They are way points that you can actually achieve on your way to the overall end goal. Your overall goal may be to exercise for an hour daily, but if you are just starting an exercise regimen or you are coming back from an injury, maybe your first goal is to exercise for ten minutes daily, gradually adding time and intensity over a period of six months.
The same goes for diet. An attainable dietary goal might be to eliminate soda completely or to add two servings of fruit and vegetables daily. You might set the goal to have one meatless meal a week. Fitness resolutions dealing with diet often fail because the level of deprivation is so high people feel unable to maintain their willpower.
SMART goals are realistic
There is the simple fact that some goals are not realistic. If you are aiming to lose 200 pounds in five months, that goal is not only very difficult to achieve but it is also very unsafe. If you have not exercised at all and try to set the goal of two hours of daily exercise you risk injury. SMART goals focus on what is realistic for you based on where you are starting and what you can safely and realistically accomplish.
According to an article in Shape magazine, a SMART goal would be to lose eight to ten pounds a month following a strict plan: “Losing one pound of body fat is equivalent to 3,500 calories. To lose two pounds per week, you must drop 1,000 calories per day.”
Eliminating 1,000 calories a day may be difficult for you, but safe weight loss is about two pounds a week. Any other goal endangers your health and can lead to eating disorders.
Setting realistic weight loss goals sets you up for success, just like setting realistic fitness goals. Work and family get in the way of training or exercising for five hours a day. That schedule is not realistic. A realistic exercise goal might be to go on a hike every weekend with your family and walk daily for at least 30 minutes. A daily 30-minute walk is more realistic for most people. A realistic goal is also one that you are both willing and able to work towards. If you are setting a goal based on anything else, chances are good you will struggle to achieve it.
SMART goals are timely
Give yourself a deadline. Fitness resolutions to “get fit” and “eat better” are not worth the screen you read them on. Give yourself daily deadlines, weekly targets, and monthly milestones. This will help you break a larger goal into smaller steps and make it seem less overwhelming. Plus, the calendar doesn’t lie. Setting a time frame keeps you focused and on track.
Setting SMART goals doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t aim high for diet, weight loss, and exercise. Your resolutions should aim for optimal health, both mental and physical. SMART goals help you take steps along the way and keep you focused on your ultimate goals with a higher chance of success.
How working out can actually help you achieve other resolutions
So, you’ve nailed the SMART goals and want to make sure you follow through with your 2018 resolutions. How can you make that happen?
One trick is to focus on exercise, a lynchpin for so many other activities we do. Fortunately, discipline learned in one area of life bleeds into other areas of life. That’s how working out can help you achieve other resolutions. Crushing fitness goals is a wonderful way to help you achieve other resolutions. If you already exercise, tap into this resource to fuel your fire to achieve other goals. And if you don’t exercise, consider setting small exercise goals and using the lessons learned to help you achieve your other resolutions.
How you do one thing is how you do everything.
Learning to stay on the treadmill for the entire 30 minutes you’ve decided to walk or run, even when you want to get off after 15 minutes, is an exercise in persistence. Hitting the gym on a Tuesday night when you’re tired is a lesson in dedication. These skills are learned, like any other skill. And once you learn them, you can do anything you put your mind to.
Learning the skills of perseverance and dedication through exercise is a great way to circumvent the brain’s natural resistance that kicks in when making life changes. Build up your store of discipline and perseverance before applying it to your goal.
If you’re not already a regular exerciser, try experimenting. Go for a walk after dinner, and then use the same motivational self-talk you used to go on the walk to get going on your other goal. Sometimes it’s easier to accomplish something you don’t really care about than to work on something that’s really important to you.
Gain more energy
Exercise also gives you more energy, more gusto to live life and attack your resolutions with enthusiasm. It’s an effective antidote to depression, clearing up any sadness that may be responsible for hindering your success in reaching a goal.
Even the difficult accomplishment of quitting smoking is made easier by exercise, researchers have discovered. Scientists at the Concordia University found that people who have an especially difficult time kicking the habit are likely to have undiagnosed mental health issues.
Meanwhile, people who are depressed tend to smoke more cigarettes than those who aren’t. About 40% of people with depression smoke cigarettes regularly. People with depression are more likely to smoke and find it harder to quit. Quitting is tough. It can cause insomnia and lead to food cravings or anxiety. Researchers say people without mental health issues are better able to ride out those difficult times than people experiencing depression.
Meanwhile, the Concordia researchers found that exercise can make those cravings easier to overcome, and it can also help lift feelings of depression. Exercise releases feel-good hormones called endorphins and helps reduce anxiety. Study coauthor Gregory Moullec says: “Our hope is that this study will continue to sensitize researchers and clinicians on the promising role of exercise in the treatment of both depression and smoking cessation.”
Lift your mood
Exercise not only lifts the mood, but it can make you feel healthier. Those healthy feelings can help a person adopt other, healthy habits, according to researchers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT). Professor Debra Anderson says:
“Studies clearly show moderate to vigorous intensity activity can have mental and physical health benefits, particularly when part of broader positive health changes.”
The QUT study specifically focused on the health benefits of exercise for older women. Doctors traditionally recommend 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily, but QUT scientists say that 30 to 45 minutes of high-intensity activity, marked by “huffing and puffing,” five days each week is the best way to promote good health.
Engaging in such vigorous physical activity prolonged study subjects’ lives, but also improved their mental well-being, making it easier to achieve other goals and resolutions.
Although gentle forms of exercise, such as walking, are frequently recommended to older people, Anderson says the women she works with also jog, hike, swim, and ride bikes. Adopting a home-based exercise regimen that’s easy to incorporate every day helps to promote consistency, she adds.
Physical activity brightens the mood and energizes the body, providing extra momentum for making positive changes.
Capture the mind and the body
QUT researchers aren’t the only ones who found that exercise prolongs life. Doctors at the University of Zurich found that people who don’t eat healthy or exercise are 2.5 times more likely to die at any given time. Study author Eva Martin-Diener says:
“A healthy lifestyle can help you stay 10 years’ younger.”
The idea is that by keeping the body as healthy as possible, you’ll be able to achieve other life goals. Fitness dovetails nicely with other healthy resolutions. For example, the desire to eat healthy can be a natural outcome when exercising frequently. The body moves more easily when fueled with easily digestible food.
Exercise has also been shown to improve concentration, according to Harvard Health Publications. Regular, moderately intense exercise causes the brain to release a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor that promotes alertness, sharpness, and improved memory. That means if you’re trying to accomplish work tasks or important personal projects, regular exercise could give you the mental boost you need to excel.
Exercise promotes mental acuity, making it helpful for completing creative projects or work endeavors.
Capture your New Year’s resolutions in 2018
While exercise can be a useful tool for helping you to achieve other resolutions, keep it simple. If you totally exhaust yourself at the gym you won’t have much energy or time left over for other goals. Similarly, we each only have a certain capacity for change at any given time. If you use up all your mojo on exercising, you won’t have much left over for making other positive changes.
Similarly, if you create 20 perfectly-crafted SMART goals, there’s a big risk you’re going to get overwhelmed and quit all of them.
If possible, choose an activity that nourishes you and that’s relatively simple. You might walk, ride a bike, or go for a hike and spend time in nature. Do things that give you more energy and leave you feeling built up and ready to conquer the world.
Hope this was a good read for you.
Dr. Rafe Sales