New Year, New Me: How to Create a Sustainable New Year’s Resolution
Have you ever created a New Year’s resolution that you were sure would stick and that you were excited about, only to then completely fall off track a few weeks or months later? Well, you are definitely not alone! I’m sure you had good intentions following through with your goal, but chances are, the way you approached the goal was the issue, not the actual “goal” itself. (Note: I’m using quotation marks here as we will get into what a “goal” really is later in this post).
If you are looking to set yourself up for success this year by creating a sustainable New Year’s resolution that will be sure to stick, then this article is for you!
Create Goals That Align With Your Values
Before we get into the mechanics of goal setting, we need to start with a solid foundation- your values. Values are fundamental beliefs that guide and motivate your attitudes and actions in life. Essentially, they determine what is important to us.
Values Vs. Goals
People often confuse values with goals, when in fact, values are not goals. To give an example, someone might create goals like “get healthy” or “have a family.” The problem is that these are not goals, they are values- health and family. You can’t just get healthy or have a family and be done with it; they are long-standing in the sense that there is a lot of time, energy, effort, and resources that go into them on a continual basis.
Think of a value as a direction and a goal as a destination. We will talk more about creating clear goals (i.e., destinations) in the next section, but to help make this distinction clear, here is an example: No matter how far West (or any other direction for that matter) you go, you will still be going West and there is no tangible marker to determine when you have successfully reached “West." This is why goals are like a destination- we might travel West to reach our goal destination of Vancouver, for example.
Many people create goals that are not in line with their values, which makes them hard to sustain. So, when setting goals, you need to create ones that are based on a core value(s) you possess. Consider asking yourself the following questions to determine what you might value:
How do I spend my time and energy? What am I passionate about? What do I need to do more of? What should I cut back on? What is missing in my life? What is important to me?
The SMART Way To Goal Setting
Let's face the facts here, a good chunk of New Year's resolutions fail. In fact, 80% won't make it until the end of February. Why? Well, a big reason comes down to setting goals that aren't actually meaningful to you, perhaps because someone (or society) was encouraging or pressuring you to change. Keeping with my previous example, you were trying to head West for no meaningful purpose.
People also tend to fall short of their goals because the goals are either too vague or not properly planned out. By following the SMART acronym, you can learn how to create goals that are clearly defined, and therefore, easier to follow.
Your goal should be as specific as possible so that it is very clear. Vague goals are hard to accomplish goals. Ask yourself, how will I know when my goal is achieved? For example, vaguely turning the "health" value into a goal might sound something like "I want to lose weight this year." Ok, great! So what does that look like? Be specific here. For example, a specific goal might be "I want to lose 10lbs in the next 3 months."
It is important that we track change and progress when in pursuit of our goals. Not only does this help us determine whether or not we are on the right track, but it helps motivate us and keeps us accountable! The key here is that you need to identify some observable, and therefore measurable, indicator that you are accomplishing your goal.Try keeping a journal or log of whatever behaviour(s) you are doing to reach your goal or even take pictures of your progress.
Arguably, in my opinion at least, this is one of the most important aspects of goal setting. Can you actually achieve your goal? Is it possible to do what you set out to do this year? It is perfectly fine to think big when making goals, but we are trying to set ourselves up for success here, not failure. Take a step back and look at all the factors at play in your life (e.g., time, money, work and family commitments etc.) to determine how realistic it is to attain your goal. Perhaps losing 50lbs in 3 months isn't realistic due to health concerns, or saving 10k in 6 months isn't realistic due to financial obligations, or eating healthy 7 days a week isn't realistic due to your busy lifestyle. Whatever the case, you may need to scale your goal back into more manageable, bite-sized pieces, so that it is a realistic goal.
This aspect of goal setting relates to values, and by now, you probably already have a good idea of what to think about when creating your goal from this perspective. Although this aspect of goal setting refers to how much a particular goal(s) matters to you or is important to you, we need to consider context as well. Is this goal relevant to you right now, in this stage of your life, or is this maybe a goal better suited for some time in the future?
The last step in goal setting is establishing a time frame in which your goal will be completed. You can also consider how often you will perform some action in pursuit of your goal(s) as being part of this step as well. So determine the frequency (and duration, if applicable) of goal-directed behaviour as well as the deadline for your overall goal. Again, make sure your timing is actually attainable or realistic!
Other Tips For Goal-Setting
Now that you have identified your values and created a SMART goal(s) that is in line with them, it is time to talk about some nitty-gritty tips for ensuring that you will successfully reach your goal(s).
Write your goals down! Writing them down not only makes them real, but it helps to remind you of what your goals are. Try putting a physical copy of your goal(s) somewhere you will frequently see it, such as a sticky note on your fridge or mirror.
Plan it out. Outline exactly how you are going to reach your goal. This tip was briefly mentioned in the "Timed" section, but it is worth mentioning again. Let's say your goal is to lose 10lbs in 3 months. What are you going to do to accomplish this? We are now creating another mini SMART goal, so all the steps apply. For example, "I will exercise at home 3-4 days per week for 30 minutes" to reach my goal. Talk about specific!
Ask for support. You are more likely to achieve your goals if you have the support of family and friends. They can help hold you accountable and also provide various types of support to help set you up for success.
Revisit, re-evaluate and revise. Every week take some time to sit down and assess your progress and your goal. Is it still important to you? Are you still motivated to change? Is it still realistic? Are there any barriers preventing you from achieving your goal(s)? Life happens and circumstances change. It is perfectly okay to change your goal(s) as you go along- we need to be flexible sometimes!
Setting goals can be daunting and intimidating. And if our goals aren't achieved, it is common to feel bad about ourselves and to that think we have failed altogether. It may be helpful to speak to a counsellor to help you identify your values, create sustainable, SMART goals, and to keep you on track along the way.