Healthy new year resolutions
Dr. Heather Leisy, director of preventive medicine
New Year’s Eve is a fresh start of the year that many individuals use as an opportunity to create resolutions to achieve a goal. In a Statista survey, many of these resolutions relate to health:
- 51% want to eat healthier
- 50% want to be more active
- 42% want to lose weight
- 38% want to improve mental well-being
Being able to achieve these resolutions would have substantial health improvements as modifiable health behaviors potentially contribute to around 40 percent of deaths in the United States according to data from the National Research Council Institute of Medicine. So, what are some ways to be successful in achieving your goals?
One evidence-based technique for health behavior change is SMART goal setting. Each letter of “SMART” refers to how to formulate your goal. One version of acronym is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
Specific means be as exact as possible with your goal which instead of saying, “I want to lose weight” you should say something like, “I want to lose 5 pounds.”
The goal has to be measurable, which for weight is self-explanatory, but for the more abstract goal like ‘wanting to be more active’ this could be a count of the number of times you walked or the number of minutes exercised.
The goal also has to be achievable, so, small, manageable changes are best. For example, setting a goal of losing 20 pounds in a week is both specific and measurable but is not realistic. A more reasonable goal would be to lose 4 pounds this month.
Placing your goal within a timeframe, the meaning of time-bound, is the next step. Making an internal deadline for yourself helps keep you on task. The timeline is up to you and can be a specific date or more general guideline such as each week or this month. Ordinarily, I prefer patients to set either weekly or monthly goals as one lofty year-long goal may become overwhelming. Weekly goals also allow for easier progress monitoring and provides the flexibility to adjust as needed towards a larger goal.
The now detailed formulated goal also has to be relevant to you so that it has meaning and assists you in getting to your overall endpoint goal.
Questions to ask yourself while deciding on your goals may include: “Why do I want to make this change?” and “How will this change improve my life?” Behind every resolution should exist a personal motivating factor and confidence in being able to be achieved when set.
Another technique in keeping that health resolution is problem-solving barriers. When you set your goal, keep in mind some of the barriers that may get in your way. If you want to exercise for 20 minutes after work three days a week, are you going to be too tired to go? Make arrangements so that you will be successful like asking a friend to go with you to the gym to help hold you accountable even when you may feel tired. Planning for various hurdles or temptations to quit will give you tools to use to overcome that potential roadblock and triumph.
A third technique is to self-monitor your goals through tracking by keeping a diary or log. For example, if you want to cut down on cigarette smoking, a useful tool is to write down how many cigarettes you are smoking a day and even the triggers that caused you to reach for the cigarette. The diary or log can be a helpful tool that you can reflect on where you had your successes or any patterns of obstacles that will aid devising a solution. Logging will provide a baseline and also be a more accurate account of your progress than memory alone.
Have patience with yourself and the time it takes to change a health behavior needed to achieve your resolution. Psychologists estimate that it takes about 10 weeks on average for a new behavior to become automatic. Repeat the healthy behavior many times in the same context until it becomes easier and, eventually, hopefully, routine.
Finally, do not get discouraged over any relapses or lapses in the healthy behavior. Just try again. Keep yourself attentive and motivated and hopefully that resolution becomes a habit!
Dr. Heather Leisy is the director of preventive medicine at the HopeHealth Medical Plaza in Florence. She provides preventive medical care and researches and implements methods to improve patient outcomes.