Every year on New Year’s Day, you swear you’re going to give up cookies or go to the gym five days a week. And every year, you end up loving cookies even more or you ghost the gym by the start of February.
Why do we do this to ourselves year after year? We set goals that are tough to reach, then beat ourselves up when we can’t achieve them. It’s like being on a pretty vicious hamster wheel.
But given the many ups and downs of 2021, and how many of us are still processing the events of the past 12 months, would it be wise to ease up on those 2022 resolutions? In other words, cut yourself some slack?
Psychologist Adriane Bennett, PhD, has some sage advice for helping you set realistic goals to make 2022 a success. If you’ve already made your resolution, her tips could help you make it more achievable.
Small changes are OK
There’s nothing wrong with trying to accomplish something new during these “interesting” times. In fact, focusing on a goal might help take your mind off what’s going on at home or out in the world.
However, Dr. Bennett suggests opting for smaller goals that you can build on. Don’t fall into the trap of making a resolution that’s too big, too vague or framed in all-or-nothing terms regarding success or failure.
“Instead of focusing on one big or drastic change, it could be more helpful to focus on smaller steps or smaller indicators of change that are more concrete,” notes Dr. Bennett.
For instance, making a resolution to “lose 25 pounds” sets a far-away target without a clearly identified route to reach the goal. “You’re not establishing how it’s going to happen,” says Dr. Bennett.
The solution? Resolve to eat more fruits and vegetables or walk for 10 minutes during your lunch break. These are smaller — and more tangible — goals that can be built into your daily routine. You can also build upon your progress.
“Once eating more fruits and vegetables becomes routine, you can add on eating three nutritionally solid meals a day,” says Dr. Bennett. “Once walking for 10 minutes a day becomes comfortable, you can gradually add time and bump it up to 12 minutes.”
The best part? Weight loss will likely be a beneficial side effect of these lifestyle changes, meaning you can work toward that larger goal of dropping 25 pounds.
Set realistic goals
If you’ve never really exercised much, vowing to run a marathon by the end of the year may be a bit ambitious. Instead, take things a step at a time. Targeting a charity event with a shorter race distance — say a 5K — is a more reasonable and achievable goal.
Try avoiding vague resolutions like “being healthier,” too. Instead, define what being healthier means to you and set a specific goal. Maybe it’s signing up for a yoga class, walking your dog every day or finally scheduling a healthcare visit postponed due to COVID-19.
“These are all smaller, more realistic steps toward one’s overall health,” says Dr. Bennett.
One final tip: Stay away from resolutions that hinge upon factors outside of your control. “We cannot change other people’s behaviors or emotional responses,” says Dr. Bennett. “We can, however, decide to make changes in ourselves and choose how we respond to others.”
Is it possible to keep your resolutions?
Definitely! But it all comes down to setting more achievable goals from the start.
Despite good intentions, many people end up breaking their resolutions because of a lack of planning, says Dr. Bennett. To overcome that, think about the steps to reach your goal and if they’re realistic.
And if it takes a while to even get started with a goal, then it might not be the right one for you.
Another thing to consider is if you’ll need motivation throughout the process. If that’s the case, buddy up so you have a partner on your journey. They can help you keep going when things get tough.
“Sometimes, the end goal is so far in the future, people need reinforcement to maintain their motivation,” says Dr. Bennett. “If you have someone who will keep you accountable, they can celebrate the milestones with you.”
What if you fall short of your goals?
Here’s a realistic expectation regarding your New Year’s resolution: There may be times when you break it. “It is not a question of if a person is going to fall off the rails,” says Dr. Bennett. “It’s more about when and by how much.”
Accept it — and once it happens, focus on how to get back on track. Just don’t beat yourself up. “We will need to be kinder and more patient with ourselves, especially as we try to make these changes more permanent,” cautions Dr. Bennett.
If you need motivation to keep going, think about the advice you would give a friend working toward a goal. “Apply that advice to your situation and move forward,” says Dr. Bennett.
She also suggests examining what went wrong, so you can set yourself up for future success. Perhaps your goal needs to be tweaked. Or maybe it’s just a matter of finding ways to better work a new activity into your daily routine.
“Take into consideration if it’s difficult to remember when to do the new task or behavior,” says Dr. Bennett. “Sometimes, linking a new behavior to something that you’re already doing makes it easier to remember.”
For example, if your resolution is to take a daily vitamin, add that into your routine with your morning coffee if you’re a java drinker.
Tracking can be a valuable tool for health-related changes to keep you on course, too, says Dr. Bennett. That can be as simple as marking the days on the calendar when you practiced a new skill. You can also find apps to track many activities.
“Behavior tracking can be helpful for motivating or reminding you to do the behavior and self-monitoring your progress,” says Dr. Bennett. “In addition, tracking can reveal additional information about major patterns and behavior that can help you adjust throughout your journey.”
So here’s to a new you in a new year. Good luck!