Resolutions: A Science-Backed Way to Succeed at an Age-Old Tradition

new years resolution

It’s that time of year again — time for New Year’s resolutions. Statistics show that only 9.2 percent of people ever achieve their New Year’s resolutions. So, are they worth it, and if so, how do you achieve them?

Certified Health Coaches Corey Cenate and Sarah Yandow from the Employees Wellness Department at the UVM Medical Center answer those questions and more.

If so many people fail at New Year’s resolutions, does it make sense to do it?

Sarah: I encourage people to create New Year’s resolutions. It’s a great time to start fresh and turn over that new leaf. Think of this as an opportunity to create new lifestyle habits that can sustain you throughout the year.

Corey: Take time for yourself. Make goal-setting more of a long-term plan, not just a one time per year occurrence. Think about your goals throughout the year, re-evaluate them and change them when they are no longer relevant.

It sounds like maybe we’re just doing it wrong. How do you make a resolution or a goal that you can keep?

Sarah: The biggest thing that we talk about with our clients is creating SMART goals. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time bound. Instead of saying, “I want to be healthier this year,” find out what that really means to you, and how are you are going to go about doing it.

It comes down to being as specific as you can as to how you’re going to work on that goal. Who’s involved? Plan for the environment, the resources you need, create something, and then write it down. That last point is the biggest thing that we emphasize with clients. It’s making a pact with yourself of, “I’m going to write this down. I’m going to continuously come back to it, see it, and commit to it.”

Corey: When you write your goals down it really puts an emphasis on the goal. Some tend to say their goals to themselves: ” I’m going to start going to the gym more, or I’m going to start walking more,” and more often than not it’s just a thought, but when you put it down on paper then that’s when the rubber really hits the road.

Sarah: I tell my clients: “Post it on your refrigerator. You go there multiple times a day to get something. Put it on your bulletin board at work. Put a sticky note on your water bottle.”

How do I make my resolution into a SMART resolution?

Sarah: We hear this a lot with our clients. I start with, “Well, how are you going to do this? Are you going to start with physical activity? Are you going to really look at your nutrition? What’s realistic for you? Is that getting to the gym every day? Is that doing some sort of workout program at home? Is that utilizing resources within your work place in terms of taking time during the day to exercise?”

Corey: It’s about small wins in your day and small little habits that you can get into the routine of changing or adding to your day in a healthy way. There’s a lot of great research from MIT that talks about creating habits and how they snowball into what’s called a keystone habit.

So, if you create a habit of packing your shoes and your workout clothes in your car and have those readily available, there’s going to be other small habits that happen consciously or subconsciously throughout the day. Starting your day with a nice, healthy breakfast, not necessarily to improve weight management, but just to create that snowball effect of good healthy habits throughout the day. If you start your day with a healthy breakfast, more often than not your next meal or snack is going to be a healthy choice versus if you started your day with a  donut.

It sounds like setting small goals is more achievable than big goals. Yes, or no?

Sarah: I think that overarching goal of saying I want to lose 50 pounds is great. Think of that for the entire year, and then break that down into smaller, more attainable goals.

Think on a monthly basis “OK, if I want to lose 50, 60 pounds in a year, what does that look like per month, and really thinking about, okay, so for the month of January my goal is going to be 10 pounds. So, I’m going to start by going to the gym four times a week on my way home from work. I’m going to have my clothes packed the night before. I’m going to take this class Tuesday/Thursday and I’m going to work out with a friend on Monday/Wednesday and really committing to that and saying, “Every Friday morning I’m going to weigh myself.”

So, you do have this large overarching goal, but yet you’ve broken it down into smaller steps to get yourself going and see those small successes to increase your motivation, and again, keep you going and keep you feeling good about yourself that you can attain that bigger goal.

What’s your suggestion to help people who might have a barrier come up?

Sarah: Barriers and obstacles are inevitable. I think it’s important for people to realize that number one, you should anticipate some sort of setback or obstacle that could come your way in terms of your goals, and be ready to stay positive and start fresh from that obstacle. Make a plan for tomorrow, and we’re going to start right back up again. It’s not time for an excuse to say, “Oh, that’s it. I failed, so I’m done. I’m back to sitting on the couch, and I’m not even going to work towards my goal.”

I think it’s a great time to recommit. Realize that challenges come up. We have barriers, and we just have to roll with them and recommit to that goal we set for ourselves.

Are there strategies and tactics that people can use to stay accountable to their goals?

Corey: Yeah, absolutely. So, getting a partner, whether it’s a family member, a co-worker, a friend involved in your goals, maybe joining you in a goal or even just having them check in. “Hey, I know you said you were going to try to go for that walk. How’d that go?” It’s going to hold you to some sense of accountability.

A lot of people have had failures in the past, and that fear of failure really prevents them from reaching out and asking for support. I would say embrace the failure and use it as a learning experience. Find that person who is supportive of you and supportive of your goals and that will help to create that sense of accountability and may help overcome some barriers and obstacles that you may have.

What are your suggestions for diet-related resolutions or goals?

Sarah: It could be as simple as “I want to increase my fruit and vegetable consumption, and I’m going do that by increasing the amount of fruit I eat by one piece every day.” So, whether you’re starting at two pieces of fruit a day or five, just saying I’m going to add an extra serving of fruits and/or vegetables to my diet, I think that’s a great place to start.

A lot of people find themselves eating out and away from home around this time of year just with the business and the chaos. So, planning ahead and thinking: “I’m going to cook one more meal at home this week.” That’s huge. That’s not only going to save you money, but you’ve also cooked a wholesome meal.

Create a list and do some meal planning. Yes, it takes some time, whether that’s on a Sunday or maybe a Wednesday for you depending on your work schedule, but sitting down and mapping out the week and saying, “What are some nights that I need something quick and what are some nights that I have a little bit more time to prep and plan some stuff?” Make a grocery list and commit to getting to the store at least once a week.

Another thing that people forget is thinking about how much water they consume in a day, and especially with it being cold, we don’t get as thirsty as we might in the summer. So, make a goal for yourself that you’re going to increase your water consumption by another, say 20 ounce bottle every day, and how are you going to do that? Are you going to carry that bottle with you every day, all hours with you during work? Are you going to have different bottles at home, at work, in your car just as that easy, quick reminder, that visual reminder?

It could be as simple as eating breakfast every day. So, getting up and committing to a healthy breakfast and starting your day on a fresh start. I think those are some great, small changes that people can make to kick start their nutrition for 2019.

What about resolutions or goals for decreasing stress?

Corey: Are you taking the time to take a deep breath during your day? When’s the last time you stopped and took a deep breath because it’s really vital to just make sure we’re taking those deep breaths, calming our nervous system down, and letting our body know, “Hey, we’re OK. We’re going to be OK,” and staying positive.

Sarah: There are 24 hours in a day. I always tell people you have five minutes at the beginning and the end of your day to just sit in either a quiet, dark place alone and take a few deep breaths. That can help tremendously in times of high stress and anxiety or situations where you’re unsure of things. So, whether that’s right when you get up in the morning to restart you for the day and then again in the evening to calm down to get ready to sleep. Five minutes is really all it takes.

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