Getting Back On Track: Keeping Those New Year Resolutions
By Graham Reynolds, Ph.D.
We are now into February of 2019, and that means it may be time to check in with your goals and resolutions for the year. Keeping those resolutions can be difficult – Data collected from U.S. News indicate that around 80% of people give up on resolutions by the second week of February. Here are some tips to avoid common pitfalls and keep your goals in mind throughout the year.
Set Manageable Goals
Sometimes, keeping a year-long resolution can be a challenge, so instead, break your goals down into more manageable steps. For instance, if your desire is to lose weight, set a goal for the week or month, rather than one for the entire year. If you are hoping to go from not exercising to working out seven days per week, you may very quickly burn out and give up on the goal all together. Instead, start with low-impact, easy workouts three to four times per week to make it more sustainable.
Once you have your goal in mind, pick a small step in the service of that goal. If your plan is to read more, choose one book and begin with just the first chapter. If you are still struggling, you may need to break down goals even further. In the past, I had an exercise goal to exceed my previous workout each time I went to the gym. After only a few days, I found it extremely difficult to manage. Instead, I chose the very simple goal of putting on my workout shoes. I knew that once I was dressed to exercise, it would help me get to the gym and I was able to have more long-term success without the additional pressure to be better every single time.
Share your goals with friends and family and recruit their help and encouragement. Sign up for a class or use a consultant. Sometimes having the additional support can increase accountability. For example, meet with a personal trainer to help in creating a personalized workout plan. Meet with a dietician or nutritionist to create a diet that works for you. Talk to a financial advisor who can provide insights into spending habits and ways to save.
Many of the popular goals people set have apps and websites you can use to help assist your progress. If you are hoping to lose weight, track your exercise and food intake. If you have a goal to save more, track your spending with an app linked to your bank account that can give notifications about your spending habits.
- Weight loss, exercise, and health apps include My Fitness Pal, Studio, Lose It, or the built in steps tracking apps like the Health app included on the iPhone.
- For tracking finances, top rated apps include Mint and You Need a Budget
- In Moment and Freedom are apps that can help to limit screen time
How you think about goals can be an important factor in whether you can keep them in the long term. Be on the lookout for these unhelpful thinking styles:
- All or nothing thinking – Remember that one event does not define the year and you may be able to recommit again the next day. Long-term goals are more like a marathon than a sprint. If you stumble, hold off on judgments and criticism and try again the next day.
- “Should” thoughts – Telling yourself that you should have done something differently ( ex. “I should have been exercising this whole time!” or “I shouldn’t have eaten so much for the Superbowl”) may lead to increased feelings of guilt and shame. Instead, acknowledge the thoughts and try to stick to the goal moving forward.
- Mental Filtering – It is important to give yourself credit where it is due. Even if you have not made the progress you would have liked thus far, try not to minimize the successes you have had.
- Permission giving – There is often a permission giving thought that comes directly before an undesirable behavior. Telling yourself that you are allowed to skip a workout or spend that extra money may increase the likelihood that you go through with the unwanted behavior, so try to catch the thought and remind yourself of your long term goal.
Graham Reynolds, Ph.D., practices as a full-time clinician at the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy and specializes in working with adolescents and adults struggling with anxiety, OCD, social phobia, PTSD, personality disorders, depression, and mood disorders. Dr. Reynolds approaches treatment with an emphasis on creating meaning and collaborates with clients to help them live a valued life while helping to foster change in problematic behaviors.