Many of us are beginning the New Year with a list of resolutions. But despite our best-laid plans, such resolutions more frequently fail than succeed. Why?
It’s important to realize that some intentions never lead to sustained action because they aren’t really intentions, but are instead merely desires. If you are ready to develop a resolution, create a self-concordant goal that matches your values. You’re less likely to stick to goals imposed by external or internal pressures (say, if somebody else wants you to do it or you would feel ashamed if you didn’t set a resolution) than to goals that match your own interests and values.
It’s also critical to create a S.M.A.R.T. goal. That’s a goal that is Specific (not vague), Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, and has a Temporal component. Goal-attainment research shows that just developing a goal (even if it is a smart one) is usually not sufficient for long-lasting behavior change. It is pivotal to develop strategies (or processes of change) to help initiate and sustain goal-directed behaviors:
Recruit a supportive network of friends and colleagues. First, identify what you need help with. Next, identify an appropriate person who can help facilitate your behavior change. Then, have the courage to ask him or her to help support your behavior change. Finally, reward the supportive individual so he or she will continue to facilitate your behavior change process (for example, take them to the movies once a month).
Self-monitor. Use a diary or a calendar to keep track of your progress. This will also demonstrate behavior patterns, which may help you realize that even small lapses in behavior are often followed by continuous behavioral engagement, allowing you to recognize the difference between a lapse and relapse.
Set a plan to prevent relapses. For example, you may have realized that when the in-laws are in town you often do not adhere to your goal(s). Create a set of solutions to help you adhere to your behavioral goals in such situations.
Reward yourself. Celebrating the achievement of your short-term goals is very important. Consider developing creative awards, such as a night at a bed-and-breakfast or a trip to a local museum. Also, consider creating rewards that facilitate future behavior engagement (e.g., purchasing a new pair of walking or running shoes or signing up for a fun trail race).
If you remember any of this advice, I ask that you remember one idea: the I.D.E.A. approach to solving a problem. That is, Identify the problem; Develop set of solutions; critically Evaluate your solutions; and then after you have implemented a few of the solutions, Analyze how well your plan worked.
Remember, behavior change is a process, with the desired outcome often being the last thing to occur; therefore, focus on some of the immediate effects of the behavior-change process. For example, if your goal is weight loss through diet and exercise, instead of focusing on your weight, focus on the more immediate effects, such as increased energy and reduced stress.
Dr. Paul D. Loprinzi | firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Paul D. Loprinzi is an assistant professor of exercise science in the Lansing School of Nursing and Health Sciences.