Anatomy of an Effective New Year’s Resolution

Have you ever made a New Year’s resolution? Better yet, have you ever kept a New Year’s resolution?

Right about this time of year the anticipation of a clean slate, in the form of a new calendar year, prompts many of us to make declarations to better ourselves, learn something new or spend more time with special people in our lives; better known as New Year’s resolutions. According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, only 8% of people who make a New Year’s resolution actually achieve their goal.

In my experience, I have learned that there is nothing like unfavorable odds to bring out the best in athletes. So as 2016 approaches, I challenge you to make AND achieve one, just one, New Year’s resolution.

Most resolutions that people make are quite positive and stem from excellent intentions so why is it so very hard to follow through? I think that the way a New Year’s resolution, like any goal in fact, is stated is the key to its eventual success or failure. When you set a goal, you are designating what is important to you and motivating yourself to achieve a desired result. The way in which you set a goal, and especially how you phrase it, is crucial to the achievement of that goal.

In order to increase our chance of success this year, let’s transform a common (and according to statistics unsuccessful in 98% of cases) New Year’s resolution into a recipe for success using the SMART method.

The SMART acronym is a useful guide for creating achievable goals and represents the qualities your goal should have:

  1. Specific
  2. Measurable
  3. Achievable
  4. Relevant
  5. Time-bound

Considering my area of expertise, let us use this example:

New Year’s Resolution: “I want to exercise more this year.”

First, let’s make our example specific. There are several ways to look at this, so to start, I will revise my goal as such: “I want to exercise 7 days a week.” The current recommendation from the American College of Sports Medicine is that adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, divided into 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise 5 days per week or 20-60 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise on three days per week. A gradual increase in duration, frequency and intensity of exercise is recommended for best adherence and least risk of injury. We will come back to this crucial idea of slowly increasing one’s level of activity later on.

Along the lines of being specific, I need to define “exercise.” My favorite things to do are biking, running, elliptical and playing soccer so I will choose one of these activities to do for 30-60 minutes. Picking something you like to do either alone or with others will make it more likely you will stick with it.

New Year’s Resolution: “In 2016 I will do 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (bike, run, elliptical or soccer) 7 days per week.”

Second, we need to make our goal measurable. Keeping track of your progress toward a goal creates accountability. This can be done on your own or with a group. Several fitness trackers and applications allow you to create groups for support and even friendly competitions. I will keep a log of my activities on my favorite fitness mobile application. If you are a pencil-and-paper person, you can create a form, log book or checklist to keep track of your activity.

New Year’s Resolution: “In 2016 I will do 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (bike, run, elliptical or soccer) 7 days per week and I will track my progress on my fitness app.”

Third, you will be a more successful goal-setter if your goals are achievable. If you set an unrealistic goal for yourself you will only end up feeling discouraged. Be honest about the time you will be able to devote to achieving your goal and assess your life for any other limitations that may interfere with your success. Then adjust your goal so it is attainable. Thinking about the other commitments in my life, I think that exercising 7 days per week is an unrealistic expectation, so let’s change that to 5 days per week.

New Year’s Resolution: “In 2016 I will do 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (bike, run, elliptical or soccer) 5 days per week and I will track my progress on my fitness app.”

The fourth aspect to consider when you are setting a goal is its relevance. Why is this goal important to you? Will achieving this goal really give you what you want? For our example, I like to be active most days of the week because when I exercise I sleep better, feel better about myself and I feel a great sense of accomplishment because I know I am taking charge of my health. Take a look at the goal you want to achieve this year and ask yourself just how well it aligns with your life. If you are not sure, then consider revising it; or if it seems to gel with your life, move on to the last point.

New Year’s Resolution: “In 2016 I will do 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (bike, run, elliptical or soccer) 5 days per week and I will track my progress on my fitness app.” (no revisions)

Finally, choose a time frame. Imposing a deadline creates internal pressure that will keep you on track. I want to reach my goal of exercising 5 days per week within 4 months. As with any goal, but especially one that involves an increased activity level (or new activity), it is unrealistic and unsafe to expect yourself to achieve your goal right away or to maintain your commitment to your goal for a significant period of time.

Part of creating a time frame for achieving a goal involves using benchmarks, or smaller and more manageable goals. For example, I propose that we look at my goal in smaller pieces leading up to the larger result. Setting short-term goals, or benchmarks, in this manner within you long-term goal is essential to success. I like to set a weekly exercise goal that I know I can accomplish. When I achieve my goal for the week, I make sure to reward myself. From week to week, this positive reinforcement keeps me motivated to continue setting weekly goals.

Rewarding yourself for achieving a goal can be something as simple as knowing you were successful or it can be something more tangible like watching a favorite movie one night or ignoring the dishes in the sink. How you decide to celebrate your success is up to you; just make sure you take the time to do it as recognition of your achievement!

In summary, our original New Year’s Resolution was:

“I want to exercise more this year.”

Using the SMART method, we have created an exercise goal for 2016 that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound:

“In 2016 I will do 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (bike, run, elliptical or soccer) 5 days per week and I will track my progress on my fitness app. The first month I will exercise 2 days per week and every subsequent month I will increase my exercise frequency by 1 day per week.”

I challenge you to use the SMART method to create AND achieve one New Year’s Resolution for 2016. It does not have to be related to physical activity, so be creative and choose a goal that is important to you and relevant to your life. Since accountability is an important component to achieving a goal, I encourage you (if you are comfortable doing so) to share your New Year’s Resolution for 2016 in the comments below. Remember to be honest with yourself, recruit support and above all reward yourself for a job well done. Good luck!

Happy New Year!




5 Responses

  1. Dr. Preiss-Farzanegan
    I usually drink a diet coke with lunch 4-5 days per week and since I want to decrease my caffeine intake this year, here is my resolution: "Within 6 weeks I will stop drinking diet coke with lunch. For the first two weeks I will limit myself to three diet cokes per week, then two for the next two weeks, and finally one for the final two weeks. After that, I will only drink diet coke when dining out for lunch." What will you do for yourself in 2016? Good luck!
  2. After having baby #4 in March, my goal is to begin running again. To help attain this goal I will begin my running training schedule I have used in the past and signup for a 10k this summer! Running in a fun race helps keep me accountable!
    • Dr. Preiss-Farzanegan
      What an admirable goal Kristin!! Sounds attainable, and using a training program creates tracking and accountability all in one. Thank you for sharing and good luck!
  3. I always seem to throw out some lofty statement-type resolutions that I forget about a couple weeks into the year. I'm going to run a marathon or I'm going to lose weight or something like that. I've never done anything more with them than that, no plans, no anything. This year, instead of focusing on abstract goals, I've chosen a bunch of "habits" I want to develop. Walking 10,000 steps a day, stretching or doing yoga for 30 minutes a day, 15 minutes of meditation or breathing. I have a notebook with a monthly grid where I can color in the days I meet my goal, and make notes about what helps me meet them and what gets in the way. After just one day, I can't say whether it's working or not, but I think I have a better chance of success this year!
    • Dr. Preiss-Farzanegan
      I love this idea, Kristin! Measurable and attainable goals that are meaningful for your life. And what a great way to visually keep track of them! Thank you for sharing and I wish you success in your mission this year!

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