How to be SMART about your New Year’s resolutions

December 30, 2021 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

The new year often brings resolve and determination to change some aspect of our lives.

It’s a tradition that can be traced back as far as the ancient Babylonians, who celebrated the start of a new year in mid-March when crops were planted. During the week-long celebration, they reaffirmed their loyalty to the king and would promise to pay off debts in the coming year and return any borrowed items.

If they made good on their promises, their gods would show them favor. But if they did not hold true to their word, the ancient Babylonians would fall out of favor of their gods.

Today, thousands of years later, we’re still making promises for our new year. We may not be pledging to a deity that we will pay off debt or running off to return that ladder we borrowed from a friend months ago, but we do still use the time to take stock and make a promise to ourselves to change/give up/start doing something — even if we have no idea how we’re going to do that thing we resolved to do.

“New Year’s resolutions have become so ingrained in our collective consciousness that we may feel a pressure to find something, anything, that may be wrong with ourselves and then seek out a quick fix,” says Robert Allanson, LCPC, clinical therapist for Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

But too often we aren’t prepared to carry out our resolution. In fact, a Gallup survey reveals that 80 percent of people who make resolutions on New Year’s Day have abandoned those goals by February.

“If we’re not realistic about the change we’re trying to make, we’re asking for it to fall apart pretty quickly,” Allanson says.

Allanson recommends giving some thought to your resolution and making it a SMART goal:

  • Specific: Be as specific as you can about your goal. Instead of saying you want to lose weight, define what that means, how you will achieve the goal and why it matters to you.

  • Measurable: List some ways you will measure your success. If the goal is to be healthier or lose weight how will you measure that? While there may be some obvious measures, delve a little deeper to help find other ways that will show your success. For example, if losing weight is a goal, the scale is often the most obvious way to measure your success. But there are other ways to show success. Do you feel better? Did your doctor take you off a medication because you no longer needed it? Can you participate in activities you couldn’t do before?

  • Attainable: Ask yourself how you can achieve this goal and if it’s realistic. For example, if you say you’ll go to the gym everyday for two hours, but haven’t seen the inside of a gym in years you might want to reframe your goal to a more reasonable expectation as you begin your exercise regimen.

  • Relevant: Does your goal matter to you? Why is it important to you? Finding your “why” will help motivate you when others are dropping their resolutions.

  • Timely: Give yourself a time frame to achieve your goal. You may even want to set goals for steps along the way to the big goal. For example, if your goal is to complete a home remodeling project, you may want to set dates to complete certain parts of the project.

Allanson reminds us though that January 1 is not the only day of the year we can make resolutions. A New York Times article notes that many Millennials and Gen Zers aren’t waiting until January 1 to make their resolutions.

“If you want to make an April 4th resolution, that’s fine too,” Allanson says. The trick, he says, is to make your resolution based off values that are important to you rather than shame.

“Everyone can rattle off all the things that are wrong with them,” he says. But rather than “giving up” something or saying you’re going to fix some part of your life you don’t like, try to approach your resolution setting from the standpoint of adding things you want in your life.

“Then it becomes about enhancing your life as opposed to ‘I must change, I must change, I must change,’” Allanson says. “We’re making a resolution based on value rather than shame.”

Instead of using the start of a new year to reflect on what is wrong, Allanson suggests taking an honest inventory of your successes from the past year and celebrating your strengths.

“From there, you can start to explore and identify areas you would like to improve or grow that can further bring meaning to your life by building upon your strengths,” he adds.

Lastly, when making your resolution, leave room for compassion. You may slip weeks into the new year, but don’t let that spell an end to your goal. Reassess and adjust if needed, get back on track and don’t beat yourself up.

“There needs to be room for human error,” Allanson says. “No one is going to be perfect every week. We need to practice self-compassion.”

Learn more about Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

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