For many of us, the New Year is the perfect time to start improving our lives by, exercising more, becoming vegetarian, volunteering, or other resolutions. Given the difficult year that has just passed, we may feel even more of an impetus to take control of our lives and really think about what we want for the coming year. This is a good thing.
However, for many of us resolutions either never really get off the ground or tend to tail off rather quickly. Unfortunately, 80 percent of us will fail by February – this can be because we are telling ourselves the things we want to do less of – eat less junk food, watch less TV. This focuses our attention on what we are doing wrong and is quite self-critical and punishing which doesn’t lead us to feel inspired or motivated. Resolutions are also hard to keep at any time of the year if they involve unrealistic or vague goals. To be successful, we need a SMART approach.
The SMART approach refers to goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time scaled. For example, applying the SMART approach to one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions – exercise more – would look like this:
- Specific – It’s not enough to say you will exercise more. You need to be specific: “I will cycle for an hour three times a week.”
- Measurable – Now you’ve set a specific goal, you need a way to measure your progress as you move toward a larger goal. For example, “I will measure progress using a cycling app.”
- Achievable – Can you achieve this goal? Setting a goal of cycling 60 miles a week from the outset may not realistic or healthy – especially if you haven’t exercised for a while and will result in you giving up or getting frustrated. Aim for an attainable goal that fits in with your other commitments.
- Relevant – How is your resolution relevant to your life and goals for the coming months?
- Time framed – Give yourself a time frame for your goal. How many miles do you aim to build up to and by when – months? A year?
So your SMART New Year’s exercise resolution would be, “Because I want to improve my physical fitness I will cycle for an hour 3 times a week, aiming to cycle 20 miles per session by the end of the year.
- Focus on one thing at a time. Don’t set yourself up for frustration and failure with too many resolutions. Concentrate on your number one priority. The rest will come in time.
- Take small steps. Make a step-by-step plan. For example, instead of becoming overwhelmed by the prospect of cycling 60 miles a week focus on three miles at a time. Taking small steps will help you stay focussed and on track – and feel a sense of accomplishment.
- Reward yourself for small success. Don’t wait until your goal is reached to give yourself a pat on the back. If your New Year’s resolution is to cycle 60 miles a week by the end of the year, reward yourself when you reach three, five, 10, 15 and 20 miles.
- Be kind to yourself. You’re only human and things will happen that will temporarily derail you. Learn from the situation, shrug it off and focus on tomorrow.
- Create a support system. It’s easier to exercise on a regular basis if you have someone waiting there for you or when the whole family is trying to improve their health.