Happy New Year!!
By this time of 2015, I’m sure you are already formulating your New Year’s Resolutions to be instated at midnight tonight. If you’re anything like the other 66% of resolution-makers, you’re including a health or fitness goal. And if you’re anything like most of those people, that goal will be long forgotten by February 1st. Maybe you’ve already (subconsciously) decided that you will “fail” at said goal… most people do! That’s just setting yourself up for failure. And while I’m all for being healthy, giving yourself goals that you know (at least, your subconscious knows) that you will not be able to complete is not going to help you, and may even hurt you. Crash diets, yo-yo diets, and even the most well-intentioned diet overhauls and new gym memberships can be too much to handle. That will be frustrating, overwhelming, and may even backfire as you throw all your goals to the wind and just go for that 5th (row of) Oreo(s) after a too-hard (or under-fueled) workout. Well, I’m here to help. I have some tips that will help you through the resolution-making process so you’ll actually end up healthier when 2017 rolls around.
1) Make SMART goals. Normally, I’m not one for corny acronyms. Usually, when used in a clinical setting, the client just ends up feeling diminutized, and I don’t like that! But this one seems to really help people examine their goals and make them possible. Here’s how it works:
- S- Specific. “I want to lose weight” won’t cut it. Why do you want to be healthier? For whom (hopefully yourself!)? How would you like to go about it? Do you need supporters, advice, counselling, etc.? Is there a specific part of your body/lifestyle that you want to work on (muscle tone, cholesterol level, produce intake, hydration status, sleep schedule, etc.)?
- M- Measurable. There has to be a way to know whether or not you are working towards your goal. I don’t really like using weight, but maybe try using body fat percentage, muscle tone, cups of vegetables eaten, or calorie-dense snacks resisted as a way to track your progress
- A- Attainable. Do you have steps planned out for how you will achieve your goal? If not, it’s not attainable. You have to know, step-by-step, how your future will become reality. And if you don’t know, Hey! There’s step one- go find someone who can help (like a dietitian!).
- R- Realistic. Are you really going to look like Misty Copeland, Hilary Knight, or Martin St. Louis by the end of next month? Unless you are suddenly getting paid to be an athlete, probably not. Set a goal that is actually attainable- for weight loss, 1-2 pounds a week with allowance for muscle gain is a good starting point.
[Hey, if you can do this, go for it. But this shouldn’t be your immediate target. Start much smaller (maybe with a leg workout twice a week.)]
- T- Time-bound. Have an end point in mind. That way, you can track your progress as you go and know how you’re measuring up to where you want to be at the end (since your goal is also measurable, this should be easy!). You know if you have to do more or if you’re right on track, and, if the end-date is getting close and you’re not at your goal yet, you can take that time to re-evaluate and set a new, more attainable goal. And, in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle, once you get to one endpoint, create a new one with new goals (even if that goal is to maintain your current level of health) so you never get a chance to slack off.
2) BABY STEPS. Don’t think you’re going to be able to maintain a new daily workout plan, cooking a full meal every night, shopping only at the Farmers’ Market, and waking up earlier to meditate/pray every morning before work if these things are not already part of your daily routine. Choose one. Actually, choose part of one. Start with that, make it habitual, then add on a new component.
- For example, if you want to work on your mental/emotional health this year, start by waking up without hitting snooze (which may also involve getting to bed earlier). Then, set your alarm clock 5 minutes earlier each day for ____ days until you are habitually getting up when you want to. Then, you’ll have time to practice yoga, do some reading, or enjoy time with a loved one over a cup of coffee before starting your work day. Eventually, this part of your day will become so important to you that you’ll easily resist hitting snooze one more time so you don’t miss out.
3) Stay motivated. When your goals are small and attainable, one change becomes habit, and you become excited to start on the next goal because you’ve already seen how success is possible.
4) Intertwine your goals with other aspects of your life. That’s what we mean when we say “lifestyle change” not “diet.” It’s fine to start small- maybe you’ll feel more radiant at your sister’s wedding if you can fit into the bridesmaid’s dress without alterations. But once one area of your life works smoothly, other things will fall in place.
Let’s put all this together:
If your goal is cooking every night*, start with meal-planning. You’ll feel more prepared to cook each night depending on what other activities you have. Since you’ve planned ahead, you won’t go to the grocery store hungry. You’ll be more likely to stick to buying healthy ingredients, and you’ll spend less on impulse buys, so you’ll save money. Then, you’ll feel better because of your healthier diet, so you’ll be more likely to wake up early and prepare for your day in a relaxed manner. Because you’ve gotten to work on time and feeling good, you will be more productive. You’ll leave work on time, and then you’ll have time to go to the gym. You’ll get a better workout in because you planned to bring a snack with you for after work. Going to the gym raises your endorphins, so you’ll be happier at home, and it will help you fall asleep on time… I think you see where I’m going with this. And, hopefully you can also see how creating a SMART goal around each of these aspects of your life (one at a time) will keep you motivated and moving continually from one change to the next. By this time next year, your resolution for 2017 may just be to keep being as healthy as you’ve become!
And now I’m going to stop giving advice before I put all dietitians out of business.
*Ok maybe I won’t stop yet. In case you haven’t gotten it yet, if you are one of the millions of people who get take out every night, start small- maybe plan to cook twice a week and make enough to take to work for lunch the next day. Once that’s a habit, it’ll be easier to size up to making dinner, and then other meals, more often.