When we look to set a goal or a behaviour change, whether it be sometime throughout the year, or the inevitable "New Year New Me" Resolution, we want them to succeed. This gives us a sense of achievement and fulfilment, as well as a positive behaviour change that may support our lives, health and wellbeing.
The struggles with resolutions can range from setting a goal unattainable with your life and work commitments, to facing obstacles and not being able to overcome them. With this, a 5 step process has been suggested as a way to SMASH your Resolutions - that can may I add, be made any time of the year, not just January 1st!
Before you start with a resolution, goal or action, it’s important you set the foundation of want you actually want to achieve. By preparing for the action both psychologically and mentally sets the foundation for success. Choose important, realistic, and achievable goals making small and specific changes within your everyday life. By choosing a positive over a negative resolution, will help to make those manageable steps to a positive mindset. Consider the potential pathways to achieving your goal and any think that could hold you back. By understanding the potential risks and challenges to achieving your goals, you can plan how you will overcome these.
Form a practical and realistic strategy to make your behaviour change possible. Research shows that setting goals increases the success of achieving in both short and long term. As such, using SMART goals are a great way to measure your goal and see success; Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. So instead of I’m going to go to get fitter, try at least 3 times a week I will set my alarm 30 minutes early and get up and do a fitness video before I start my day. Many resolutions may start too large, such as, I’m going do a fitness video every day, if something then gets in your way and prevents you from doing it for one single day it may feel like a failure and less likely to continue onwards. Positive plans are also important here, instead of ‘I’m going to stop smoking’, try ‘I’m going to be smoke-free’. We all have slip ups in our habit formation, but by looking at the positive mindset helps to continue on the behaviour even if we have small set backs.
Activate and engage
We’ve made plans, we can see our barriers and we how to overcome them. Now it's time to activate and engage, put your resolution into practice. Do this by exchanging any negative behaviours for positive also known as counter-conditioning. Every time you want a snack, go for a walk, or have a drink of water. If you want to watch TV instead of going to the gym, put it on record - watch it after as a reward. Rewarding yourself for small changes make a huge difference, and more likely to achieve what you set out to do. Write down one positive thing you’ve achieved each day that you can look back on and see how much you have already changed.
We’ve all played snakes and ladders, and life is no different. There are times when we feel like we are doing amazing, climbing the ladder in success actions and behaviours, and times where we slide down the snake and feel that we are going wrong. With this it is always important to look forwards. Yes there may be times where we take 4 steps forwards and 1 step back, but all in all, we’re still 3 steps further forward when we started. Looking at the positive steps you’ve already made will help to show how far you have come. Breaking your goals up in to easy to manage, small but successful steps, known as sub-goals, will allow us to feel the benefits of achieving them. Remember, all of us have set backs, it’s how we deal with these, stepping forwards when we can and take a breathier when you need.
It takes 3 weeks to form a habit, remember this when you find it hard after the first weekend, or when someone tells you how long you have left. Research shows that it takes 21 days creates a habit, 66 days before one can do it automatically without thinking, and 90 days for it to be engrained within your lifestyle. Resolutions are not just for Christmas, they are long term and should become automatic within your everyday life. This is why it is so important to choose a resolution that is achievable, manageable and beneficial for you to continue on long term. Once this new habit is formed, it’s important to continue practicing your behaviours, and keep a focus on the benefits of that behaviour change. Think about how fitter you have become by doing that exercise, how much clearer your mind is after practising yoga, how much healthier you feel after going smoke free - seeing the practical changes in yourself will help to sustain that healthy change.
Dr Rachael Molitor