Too many of us tend to overindulge during the holidays, knowing that the New Year – and the chance to start working towards some healthier habits – is right around the corner. But there's a good reason most people abandon their goals before the end of January: they set goals that are too ambitious and think they can (and will) make major changes that will impact too many aspects of their everyday lives. Instead of setting yourself up for disappointment and failure, why not take a different approach this year and aim for smaller goals that you can more easily turn into lifestyle habits? These tips can help.
Write down why your goal is important to you. If you can't articulate why or how achieving this goal will improve your life, chances are it's not very important to you. You may be following along with the latest trends or trying to embrace goals your family and friends think are important, but if that's the case you're not likely to succeed. Ask yourself what's most important to you and the healthy life you want to live, and then set your own, personal goals accordingly.
Prioritize and set one at a time. Putting your full attention on just one goal for at least three weeks is the very best way to start off with a win. Research shows that it takes about 21 days for a new behavior to become a habit, so give yourself every chance to succeed by keeping it small and focused. Then, after you’ve got one success under your belt, it’s much easier to tackle another one!
Make it measurable. Being able to objectively determine success is critical. How else will you know if you've truly achieved your goal or not? So whether it's exercising for 30 minutes or walking 10,000 steps a day, avoiding sweets 6 days a week, or meditating for 15 minutes a day, make sure you have a clear and distinct goal that you can track and measure regularly.
Narrow your time frame. Remember that it takes about 21 days to establish a new habit, so try to set the time period for your initial goals to a month or so. That way you can see immediate success, and then set your next goal. You may want to lose 30 pounds overall, but you can start with a goal of losing just 5 pounds in one month. That’s much more attainable -- and more likely to keep you motivated!
Schedule time for working on your goals. It's all well and good to say you're going to exercise daily, spend 30 minutes planning and preparing healthy meals, or even meditate for a few minutes before bed every night, but unless you actually schedule it – and block it out on your calendar – it's way too easy to let lose track of it when your day gets chaotic (and you know that it will!) Your health is as important as any other appointment on your daily calendar, so why not block out the time and give it the focus and attention it deserves?
Reward yourself. When you set a goal, make sure you also define a reward for achieving it. The smaller your goal and the shorter the time period, the more modest your reward should be. Maybe you treat yourself to a new body lotion after meeting your goal of exercising for 30 minutes a day for a solid month. But if your ultimate goal is running a half marathon, make sure you have a bigger reward in mind for achieving that – such as a sleek new running outfit and shoes.
Be kind to yourself. Even smaller and short term goals can get derailed in the stress of our everyday lives. If you mess up, don’t beat yourself up. And in most cases, you probably don't need to go back to day one and start over. Simply shake off a bad day, and resolve to get back to your routine tomorrow. Making a mistake isn’t the end of your journey -- but giving up certainly is!
This article first appeared in the December 2021 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.