A typical New Year’s resolution is doomed to fail – that is, if you believe in statistics alone.
Research shows that around 80 percent of people who make resolutions on the first of the year have already fallen off the wagon by Valentine’s Day. That includes two of the most popular resolutions made throughout the U.S. each year: to work out more and to lose weight.
“Setting small, attainable goals throughout the year, instead of a singular, overwhelming goal on January 1, can help you reach whatever it is you strive for,” said Lynn Bufka, PhD, a psychologist with the American Psychological Association (APA). “Remember, it is not the extent of the change that matters, but rather the act of recognizing that lifestyle change is important and working toward it, one step at a time.”
One way to achieve “resolutionary success” is to mirror the process of goal setting and achievement long held by the disciplines of physical therapy and rehabilitation. Why?
Because physical therapy is a health profession that’s results-driven based on processes that depend on setting individual goals that are specific, clear and personal to each patient.
Even the most earnest and motivated person can fall into the trap of setting goals that are too vague. So, in physical therapy, clinicians opt for and practice a method of goal setting that focuses on being incredibly specific.
The method often advocated by physical therapists is the SMART method of setting goals.
“When setting goals, think about process and outcome,” states the Mayo Clinic, which advocates setting SMART goals for health-related issues such as exercise, weight loss and healthy eating. “Process goals are most important because changing your habits (processes) is key to success.”
The Mayo Clinic offers the following guidance for setting your own SMART goals:
Specific: Don’t just throw out a general goal; be sure to include all the important W’s in your goal: who, what, where, when and why. Rather than saying, “I’d like to lose weight” be more specific by stating, “I want to lose 30 pounds by summer so I can go backpacking without experiencing joint pain.”
Measurable: Always set concrete marks that allow you to measure your goal. Include a long-term mark (e.g., lose 30 pounds by summer) as well as benchmarks along the way (e.g., lose 8 pounds by the end of January, 13 pounds by the end of February, etc).
Attainable: Your goal shouldn’t be easy to achieve, but you must have the attitude, ability, skill and financial capacity to achieve it. Starting with a solid foundation, attainability is something that can develop over time.
Realistic/Relevant: Anyone can set a goal, but are you willing and able to work toward this goal? In other words, are there any irrefutable roadblocks that can and will hinder your progress? Typically, if you believe it, then it’s more than likely realistic.
Timed: Don’t just set your goal for “whenever.” Set a challenging yet realistic timeline, be it to lose a specific amount of weight by your sibling’s wedding or to be in shape by the spring’s first 5K race. Make your goal tangible.
And of course, before beginning any new exercise regimen or weight-loss program, consult your physician or a physical therapist.
“Lasting lifestyle and behavior changes don’t happen overnight,” said Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, executive director for the professional practices of the APA. “Willpower is a learned skill, not an inherent trait. We all have the capacity to develop skills to make changes last.”
Mayo Clinic: Be SMART about weight loss
APA: Americans Report Willpower and Stress as Key Obstacles to Meeting Health-Related Resolutions
APA: Making your New Year’s resolutions stick
Statistic Brain Research Institute: New Year’s Resolution Statistics
Medical News Today: Training Yourself To Have More Willpower