January is on the horizon, and it’s safe to assume a few goals for the coming year have at least flitted through your subconscious. Before you know it, the confetti will fall, the clock will strike midnight, you’ll raise a glass to 2015—and, suddenly, a fresh 12 months of promise will be ahead.
Ah, resolutions. Every year, well-meaning people want to get healthy, learn yoga, learn to meditate, bike more, hike more, eat more vegetables, eat less sugar—and, generally, those hopes and wishes die by February 1st. Why, exactly? Too many bite off more than they can chew. They’re not realistic. They’re easily discouraged. And they think of resolutions as once-a-year wishes, instead of creating a culture of positive change in their lives to last the entire year (and well beyond, too).
It’s time to reframe New Year’s resolutions by learning to set the right kind of goals and intentions—ones that spark positive steps toward the happy, healthy vision you have for your life. Here, experts spill how they coach their clients toward real change.
The Dietitian Says…
Make sure it’s specific
Keri Gans, RD, a dietitian and author of The Small Change Diet, says she typically has patients who start out the year with big resolutions that don’t last a week—and that’s just it. They’re too big. “It has to be specific and it has to be measurable,” says Gans. “If you want to eat healthier, you need to break it down: ‘I want to eat one piece of fruit everyday as dessert’ or ‘I want to eat a vegetable every night with dinner.’” She recommends recording your progress in a food log, so you can hold yourself accountable.
Make sure it’s realistic
Some resolutions aren’t feasible for every person. “Be honest with yourself,” says Gans. “Cooking dinner at home four nights a week shouldn’t be your goal if you are constantly traveling for work—you want to be able to realistically achieve your goal.” Since obtaining goals creates positive energy, it’ll fuel more success and keep you on track. If you are constantly over-reaching or not being honest with yourself about the type of goals that may work best for you, you’ll miss the mark and get down on yourself. So switch up that goal from nightly meals at home to daily salads at lunch—which you can grab while you’re out, or make yourself when there’s time.
The Personal Trainer Says…
Shine a positive light on your goals
“Doing your time” at the gym shouldn’t sound like a prison sentence. Try not to put such a negative spin on the positive developments in your life, like getting healthier or exercising. “It’s a mindset,” says personal trainer Jimmy Minardi, founder of Minardi Training. “I hear so much, ‘I need to burn the turkey,’ ‘food guilt,’ and so on—if you make negative promises to yourself, they won’t stick.” Walk into the gym knowing that 30 minutes there will lift your mood, not destroy your energy, and look for an activity you enjoy. “I love weight-bearing exercises, and getting outside as much as you can,” Minardi says. “Find fun. Join a class or a league, meet others having fun, and feed off their positive energy.”
Start with small goals, and then build
Let’s say you really want to try yoga, or maybe you’re interested in Crossfit or biking. Although you might be motivated and excited, slow down the train. Don’t commit yourself to five times a week just yet. “Goals are like a thousand-mile walk,” he says. “If you can’t do it once a week for three months, you’re not suddenly going to be able to do it all at once or regularly.” Start small. Try to fit your goal activity in once a week. If you like what you’re doing, and you achieve your once-a-week marker, you can add more days into the mix. “Find super-simple consistency, and you can build from there,” says Minardi. And don’t forget to keep track of your exercise goals and progress.
The Psychologist Says…
Make a plan for your resolution
It’s easy to get pumped about goal-setting, and forget about actual achievement in the hustle and bustle. “Once you have determined what your goal will be, make a plan and post your plan in plain sight,” says psychologist and counselor Karla Ivankovich, PhD, an adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Springfield. “Maybe you hang it on your mirror, maybe your refrigerator—but the visual reminder should include your goal, why you chose it, and a reminder of why quitting on yourself is not an option.” Listing the pros and cons of your choice can help, says Ivankovich. Each time you begin to waver in your conviction to hit the gym, or read that novel instead of vegging in front of reality TV, remind yourself that your personal development is worth the extra investment.
Keep resolutions separate from farther-reaching goals
Resolutions should be like mini goals, or intentions. You can set them at any time throughout the year; think of them as the bite-sized chunks that fuel the larger vision you have for your life. “This is actually very different from annual goal-setting,” Ivankovich says. “At the beginning of the year, choose five solid goals that you want to achieve. Once you have them, set a plan for achieving each one.” Your resolutions, or intentions, fit into that plan—which is why resolutions shouldn’t be restricted to New Year’s. Reevaluate your progress every 30 days to see if you’ve been moving in the direction of your larger goals, says Ivankovich. “Ask yourself questions like, ‘Did I start a path or plan to that goal? If not, what do I need to do? What might my path look like to get there?’” she says. “The more you recognize the presence of your larger goals, and task yourself to work toward them, the greater likelihood that you will remain successful.”
Have you started thinking about your New Year’s intentions? Join the conversation below.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.