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Avoiding New Year's Resolutions Pitfalls

Of all the resolutions made at this time of year, less than 25% of people stick with them past mid February, and less than 10% actually achieve them. So where do things go wrong? Based on my experience, these are the major pitfalls:

Non-Specific Goals

You can increase your chances of success by having clearly defined goals. Let's look at the top 4 resolutions from 2018: eat healthier, get more exercise, save more money, get more sleep. Use a SMART goal approach - specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound. If you apply these to the "eat healthier" goal, it might look like: "I'm going to eat 7 fruits and vegetables every day, starting with 3 a day for the first 2 months, then adding 1 more each month, so that by 6 months, I'll be up to 7 per day.

  • Specific - eating fruit and veg daily

  • Measurable - 3/day for 2 months, working each month to add another 1 until I've reached 7

  • Attainable - I enjoy fruit and vegetables, so I have high confidence that I can attain this goal

  • Relevant - eating more fruits and vegetables positive impacts health

  • Time bound - 3/day for the first 2 months, 4 for the next month, 5 the next, 6 the following, and adding a 7th the following.

Relying Solely on Willpower

Relying on willpower is a short term solution, at best, because it means you ignore the multiple other factors that influence your behavior. Going back to our eat more vegetables example, you face daily challenges like not knowing how to prepare vegetables you like, your loved ones don't like veg, you've got a negative association with vegetables from your early years, you find it hard to get to the grocery store to pick up fresh food. This strategy is an uphill battle.

Focusing On the Outcome

Another common goal is weight loss. You may even have a smart goal, like "I'm going to lose 30 pounds over the next 12 months by losing between .5 and 1 pound per week. It hits all the SMART goals criteria, right? But this is an outcome goal. Besides energy balance (calories in/calories out), there are other factors outside our control that influence weight loss like genetics, stress, hormones, and others. Focusing on the behavior goals that you can control - plan healthy meals every week, create a bedtime ritual to help you get to sleep - gives you the power to make positive changes.

Not Adjusting the Goal

This is where the "all or none" approach often leads us astray. Let's say you've haven't been to the gym since the summer, so you set a goal of going 5x/week, starting in January. Various life events get in the way, and you put off getting started, then don't make it as often as you planned. You start to feel discouraged and impatient for change. You start talking yourself out of going to the gym more often. So what's missing? Assessing the plan. If the plan isn't working, dial it back until it's a goal you can meet. Building a solid foundation of success helps maintain momentum.

Too Many Restrictions

Have you ever given up a certain food or food group? Unless you did this because of allergies or intolerances which were more painful than the giving up, it probably didn't last. Adding, rather than subtracting, is a much more sustainable approach. For example, instead of giving up sugar entirely, try adding fruit.

Going it Alone

Social support is a big predictor of successful behavior change. Taking stock of the support you have and harnessing it, as best you can, will help you maintain momentum. You can read all about strategies to increase social support here.

Not Adjusting Your Environment

This can be a challenge, if those who surround you don't have the same goals you do. In our eat more veg example, you may have a family of vegetable haters. (I have some helpful suggestions on how to handle that here.) Maybe your coworkers' idea of an office celebration has more to do with happy hours/burgers/birthday cakes than vegetable platters. If vegetables aren't convenient, it makes it that much harder. Finding ways to have more veg on hand will help a lot with this goal.

Not Developing the Skills You Need

Yes, you're a grown up, and you know lots of stuff, but you can't know everything. If you're trying to eat healthier but don't know how to cook, it's going to be a rough road. Learning some basic cooking skills (a class, youtube, a cookbook) will go a long way to support your efforts at better eating. Likewise for fitness. You may be an experienced runner, but feel like a fish out of water in the weight room. (If you're thinking of hiring a trainer, read this first.). Figure out what skills you lack and come up with some ideas on how you can begin learning them.

I hope you found this information useful! Have burning questions about your health & fitness? Email me here. Sharing is caring, so please share on social media, or forward to friend. Thanks!
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