Article by Kelly Webb, Intern
How many times have you made a new year’s resolution, committed to reaching your goal, only to be three weeks into the new year and it feels like the wheels fell off the bus? Has that goal to lose weight fallen by the wayside because a guy in front of you on the road cut you off or your partner still wants to eat late night snacks?
A lot of times we struggle with sticking with new year’s resolutions because we do not have a sustainable plan to reach our goals. It can be particularly hard when resources, such as time and money, are limited and those closest to us may not feel the same need or interest in joining us in our journey to bettering ourselves.
While the past couples of years have certainly proven to test our resolve and have given us many challenges, the new year still offers that opportunity of a ‘blank slate’ where we can once again focus on improving ourselves. So, how do we do that?
The first thing to understand is that our brains respond to rewards in the form of dopamine. When you want something and you get it – your brain says “Hooray! Let’s do that again!” By giving yourself attainable and achievable goals, even if they are tiny will lead to a feeling of a BIG win when you reach those results. When we have vague, unclear goals, it can potentially lead to anxiety and depressed feelings because we’re often wondering how to reach a goal when we do not have a plan.
Let’s say losing weight is your goal. But in order to reach a goal, we need to have a sustainable plan:
- Set clear, specific goals: “I want to lose weight” is not very specific. Instead, try: “I want to lose 20 lbs in 3 months.” This is a realistic, specific, measurable goal.
- Take small steps: If your goal is to lose 20 lbs., then identify ways to reach that goal. Does that mean reducing or eliminating your sugar intake? Ditching the late night snacks? Maybe dialing back the Grande Mocha, triple pump vanilla, with extra whip to just a Tall latte with skim milk? Start by tracking what you eat whether in a journal or phone app, and get a sense of what and when food is the culprit, and adjust. But go small – don’t eliminate EVERYTHING that you believe as ‘bad’ from your diet. Start with one thing, and see how it goes. Again, small steps.
- Get support! Whether that is from a friend, partner, family member, online or in person group, or phone app. Think about what support means for you and seek it out.
- Share your Goals: The more people you tell in your life about what you are committed to doing, the more you are going to feel accountable to sticking with it.
- Track your Successes and Challenges: This is important! Make sure you track what is working for you, and what is not. Remember that dopamine response? Our brains LOVE rewards, so write those successes down, and celebrate them. And those challenges – those are important, too. Where are you getting stuck? Is it time, money, support, an emotional reaction? Identifying the ‘why’ for the setback can help you figure out how to overcome that challenge.
Another similar, easier way to remember how to reach goals is to be SMART:
- Specific (simple, sensible, significant)
- Measurable (meaningful, motivating)
- Achievable (agreed, attainable)
- Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based)
- Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive)
You say “I’ve done this before – so what will make this year different?” Sometimes just understanding how our brains work can give us the ‘work around’ we need. Our brains are naturally going to lean toward routine over change. Change can feel hard, scary, frustrating, and therefore, we want to fall back into our old habits and routines. Our brains are wired to avoid pain, discomfort and fear. Setting small, attainable goals, even on a daily basis, can help our brains feel more receptive to those small changes out of past routines and help us set up new routines. When we reach those small goals, the dopamine response tells us “let’s keep going!” Regardless of what your goal is, using these tools to set a plan will help you stay the course.
So, as we say goodbye to another year, and welcome the new year with renewed vows to lose weight or exercise more or spend more time with family, remember to set clear, specific goals, tell someone, find support, take small steps, and to be SMART, and enjoy the journey along the way! Happy New Year!
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