New Year’s resolutions are notoriously difficult to stick to, with many abandoning their efforts and goals before the end of January. David Creel PhD, a clinical psychologist, exercise physiologist, and registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic, explains how the problem could be the way the resolutions are formulated, rather than a lack of willpower.
The good news is, even if individuals have already broken their resolutions, they can reformulate these in a way that supports a successful outcome.
Focus on behavior-oriented goals
A useful approach could be to reframe outcome-oriented goals as behavior-oriented goals.
Sometimes people start out with an outcome goal such as wanting to lose 10 kg, whereas it could be more effective to identify behaviors that need to change to achieve this goal. For example, if one of the obstacles to losing weight is a tendency to eat fast food frequently, then the resolution could be reformulated by aiming to do meal prep for the whole week every Sunday.
Before reformulating existing goals or setting new ones, find motivation by carefully considering the reasons for wanting to make a lifestyle change, and being as specific as possible. To support a successful mindset individuals also review their work-life balance and commit to prioritizing self-care alongside other focus areas such as work success.
Set SMART Goals
Start by applying the concept of “SMART goals” when formulating resolutions, in other words, ensure that they are specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-bound.
A good example is, “I am going to get up at 7 am four days a week to take a 30-minute walk.” Build in a timeframe for the reevaluation of goals is also important, especially when overarching goals have been broken down into short-term, measurable goals.
For example, the aforementioned walking goal could be reviewed at set periods and tweaked if the person finds that the number of steps is not helping to achieve the expected longer-term goal of lowering blood sugar or losing weight.
Support, Rewards, and Preparation
Once SMART goals have been set, there are a number of steps individuals can take to increase the likelihood that they will stick to them. One is to seek external support in a form that people know will work for them.
This could be asking for support from a loved one or joining a common interest group that holds individuals accountable or keeps them motivated.
This has to be well-thought-out, so your choice of an accountability partner is not counterproductive. For example, if you are new to exercising and decide to exercise with a friend who doesn’t enjoy exercising, you could easily end up talking to each other out of any activity.
Another helpful step is the judicious use of rewards. In general, internal motivation is more powerful than external motivation. However, when it comes to starting something new, judicious use of rewards can be really helpful. A non-food reward, such as a massage, after a certain number of weeks, can keep you motivated as you head towards achieving your overall goal.
Prepare for challenges
A further step to success is to prepare and rehearse for temptations and challenges.
For example, if you want to commit to taking an exercise class every second day, but have previously found that some days leave you too tired to exercise, you could decide beforehand that on days like these you will at least do 10 minutes of exercise. And which you can easily fit in while watching a TV program.
The bottom line
A person can identify obstacles such as moods that interfere with good intentions, and then think about what has helped to overcome these obstacles in the past.
For example, socializing might help if someone feels down. Likewise, if people normally “stress-eat”, they could prepare for this by having a pre-packed calorie-controlled treat at the back of the cupboard to reach for. This will help eliminate the ‘all or nothing’ feeling that could lead to overeating.
If there are specific mood disorders that get in the way of success or a person is experiencing an ongoing struggle in an issue such as managing their weight, they could consider seeking support from a psychologist specialized in that area to help them explore and manage the issue.
About Dr. Creel
Dr. David Creel (PhD) is an expert from the global health system Cleveland Clinic. Among his colleagues, Dr. Creel has lightheartedly been referred to as a “triple threat” against obesity. He is a licensed psychologist, certified clinical exercise physiologist, and registered dietitian. Creel is also credentialed as a certified diabetes educator.
Dr. Creel has over 25 years of experience helping individuals manage their weight. He also works for St. Vincent Bariatrics in Carmel, Indiana, where he counsels bariatric surgery patients as well as individuals who choose to lose weight without surgery. He is an active researcher, helping design and implement clinical trials. He has published scientific papers and presented findings at national conferences.
Creel is the author of A Size That Fits: Lose Weight and Keep it off, One Thought at a Time (NorLightsPress, 2017).