With 2015 well underway, it is very likely that many of us have already dropped the ball on our New Year’s Resolutions. The hustle and bustle of life throws at us many challenges and opportunities that are more appealing than hitting the pavement for that two mile run or swapping that juicy Omaha steak for a salad (my Midwestern roots are showing). Let’s step back for a moment and reflect. Think about those New Year’s Resolutions that you so carefully (or not-so-carefully) crafted for 2015. Do you remember what they were? Did you set a plan for how you were going to achieve those resolutions? Are you following through?
If you are following through and successfully implementing those resolutions as planned, way to go! Taking control of your own behavior is rewarding and boosts self-efficacy, the ability to believe in your capacity to complete tasks and achieve goals. Self-efficacy plays a critical role in how we recover from setbacks, overcome obstacles, and perceive our ability to succeed in a given situation. Imagine that strong-willed little blue engine from the classic children’s book, The Little Engine That Could. The little blue engine was designed for basic tasks in the switchyard, but when an engine pulling freight cars needed assistance to get over a high mountain, only the little blue engine was willing to face the daunting task. Rather than doubt his abilities, the little blue engine utilized positive self-talk and demonstrated belief in himself as he repeated, “I think I can! I think I can!”
For those who have not been so successful at carrying out your resolutions, don’t give up – there’s still plenty of time to breathe some life back into them! Before diving in to the revitalization process, let’s explore a few reasons why New Year’s Resolutions tend to die out:
The timing is terrible
I don’t know about you, but I have zero motivation to roll out of bed in the middle of winter to head to the gym first thing in the morning. Now this was way more of an issue when I faced the sub-zero, bone-chilling temperatures back in Nebraska, but I’ve acclimated to South Carolina winters, okay? About the only positive thing regarding the timing of New Year’s Resolutions is that they will indeed begin at the start of a new year. Otherwise, the timing is just all wrong. You’re coming out of the holiday season and you’re used to filling up on the most delicious home-cooked meals and delectable desserts, lounging around watching football and Christmas classics, curling up by the fireplace with a good book and a glass of wine, and prioritizing other tasks over work that keeps piling up. It’s very challenging (and downright cruel) to wake up on New Year’s Day with the self-discipline and motivation necessary to start those resolutions off on the right foot.
They are often unrealistic
Many of our New Year’s Resolutions take us from zero to 100 percent overnight. The non-gym dweller vows to work out five days per week, the smoker quits cold turkey, the ice cream addict rids her home of all evidence of the delicious treat (I speak from experience), the red meat fanatic dives in to a vegetarian diet, and so on. These unrealistic expectations placed on yourself set you up for failure. Not too long ago, I read a great article about Chiara Petrillo, a beautiful woman who, with her husband, faced some serious difficulties. She never lost faith and maintained the courage to joyfully live out her life by taking little doable steps, piccoli passi possibile (literally translated to “little steps can”), each day. Piccoli passi possibile is now taped to my computer screen at work and engraved in the back of my mind to remind me that when faced with any challenge and while pursuing goals, small, feasible steps are essential. We must develop realistic goals that help us to achieve the desired outcome by taking little steps at a time.
They are not specific enough
If we examine a list of the most popular New Year’s Resolutions you’ll find examples such as “get fit,” “save money,” “lose weight,” and “eat healthier.” These are very broad goals, and the problem is that most people stop here. They identify a broad goal, but they leave out the specifics. How much weight do you want to lose? Does eating healthier mean exchanging a Big Mac for a Filet-o-Fish sandwich, or giving up fast food altogether? How are you going to go about achieving those goals? It is absolutely necessary to develop highly specific, realistic goals so that you don’t set yourself up for failure. How, you might ask? Allow me to help you revitalize those New Year’s resolutions.
Operation Resolution Revitalization: 5 Essential Elements of a Well-Developed Goal
I’d like to introduce (or re-introduce) you to SMART goals. SMART is an acronym to help you remember the essential elements of a well-developed goal. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. Here’s a breakdown of each element, all of which should be included in your goal:
Specific – Narrow down your goal from one that is broad to one that is more specific. Identify what will be accomplished, when it will be accomplished by, why it is your goal (the overall purpose), and how you are going to achieve the goal.
Measurable – You need to be able to receive feedback as you strive towards your goal. Measuring your goal along the way provides you with concrete evidence of your progress and illustrates areas in need of improvement. This feedback allows you to adjust accordingly so that you stay on track towards attaining your goal. It should answer questions such as: “How much?” “How many?” “How will I know when I accomplish this goal?”
Achievable – This element may be interchanged with the term “attainable”. While we want to challenge ourselves and push ourselves to the limit, it is important to not set the bar too high. Your goal must be achievable, not far beyond reach, but not too easy to accomplish. Find a happy medium.
Realistic – While this element seems similar to the previous element, the criterion necessary for a realistic goal include 1) that you are willing to work towards the goal and 2) that you are able to work towards the goal. There’s no point in pursuing a goal that you are not interested in working towards, and if you don’t have the means to work towards the goal (lack of desire, finances, resources, etc.) then maybe consider developing a new goal or adapting it accordingly. If you truly believe that you can accomplish the goal, then you’ll be more motivated to find a way to get there.
Timely – All goals must have a set time frame. This time frame holds you accountable for accomplishing the goal by a set date or deadline. It helps you to prioritize the tasks needed to achieve the goal over other day-to-day activities. Time frames can be weekly, monthly, annually, or until a specific date.
Now let’s apply these elements to popular resolutions:
“To save money this month, I will stick to my budget, allow myself $30 of spending money, and review my budget every Monday evening to make sure that I am on track.”
“To improve my health, I will lose 10 pounds by June 1st by working out at the gym three days per week at a high-intensity and walking 20 minutes every morning.”
“To improve my eating habits, I will prepare meals for the week on Sunday afternoons, eat out one time per week, and drink water instead of soda pop for the next three months.”
To revitalize your New Year’s resolutions, take some time to sit down, apply each of the five essential elements, and draft a game plan. Don’t waste time; do this right away.
Remember: “If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got.” – Henry Ford
Piccoli passi possibile.