Did you know that the second Friday of January is known as Quitter’s Day? How did it get that name? It’s because that’s when many people give up on their New Year’s Resolutions.
It’s easy to see how that happens. Everywhere we turn, we see messages of “New Year, New You!” We may start to feel like we really do need to be someone new, and decide we’re going to change everything we don’t like about ourselves. We make all these grand resolutions about how we’re going to make ourselves better, and start out great. The problem with those big, aspirational resolutions is that they can give us a rush of motivation initially, but that motivation doesn’t last long.
Sooner or later, real life steps in. All those big things we said we were going to accomplish seem further and further away. We’ve set impossibly high expectations for ourselves, or we have scheduling issues, or we’re not seeing results quickly enough…. The list of reasons we quit could go on and on.
That’s why it’s so important to actually take some time to work on figuring out what we really want, and what we need to do to get there. Doing a little extra work at the front end of the process can help us avoid becoming one of the ‘quitters.’
Here are some tips to help avoid becoming one of the ‘quitters’ this Quitter’s Day.
Set SMART Goals
Instead of relying on the emotion and temporary motivation of resolutions, taking the time to sit down and do the work of setting goals can help us succeed long-term.
Goals, rather than resolutions, are what move us forward and help us make lasting changes. They are what give us the ‘roadmap’ to get us where we want to be. Not only that, they help us keep going when that initial emotional rush of motivation subsides.
Maybe you’re familiar with the acronym SMART when it comes to setting goals – Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic, and Timed. This is a great little tool to help us make sure we set ourselves up for success when it comes to our goals. Our goals need to be:
What exactly, do you want to attain with this goal? It’s important to be clear on exactly what we hope to achieve by meeting our goal. If we don’t know where we’re going, how will we know when we get there?
Let’s start with what we call Outcome Goals. What specific outcome do you want? For example, rather than a goal of “I want to get healthier” something like “I want to improve my cholesterol numbers, lower my blood pressure, lower my glucose” etc.
Once we have those Outcome Goals identified, we also need to set Behavioral Goals or Action Steps. These are the specific steps or behaviors we need to do in order to meet our Outcome Goals. For instance, “I will eat 4 servings of vegetables each day” or “I will exercise 3 times per week” etc.
We have to be able to measure how well we’re doing toward our goals. It’s really hard to determine whether we’re making progress toward our goals if we don’t have some way to measure it. Using the example above, this is where we’d decide where we want our numbers to be; for example “I want my total cholesterol under 200 and my LDL under 100” or “I want my glucose to be under 100” (based on what your doctor recommends).
Our goals need to be action-oriented. As we talked about earlier, having those Behavioral Goals or Action Steps can help us make a plan and actually plan out the actions we need to take to meet our long-term goals.
This is important because we can’t always control the end result, but we can control the things we do. As we talked about in When Motivation Isn’t Enough, when we concentrate on completing the new, positive behaviors instead of outcomes, we can see immediate success.
When we’re setting goals we can be tempted to set some big ones. While it can be helpful to set goals that stretch us a little, making them too much of a stretch can actually set us back. We need to be realistic about what we can actually achieve. If we set our goals at an impossibly high level and then don’t meet them, we can end up feeling like we’ve failed.
There’s plenty of middle ground between “extremely unwell” and “perfectly healthy.” For most of us, especially those of us who live with a chronic illness, being “perfectly healthy” is an unrealistic expectation. When we’re setting our goals, we need to make sure they’re something we can realistically achieve.
We have to have some sort of timeline or we may be tempted to just keep pushing them down the road. Time can also refer to the sequence of our actions. What do we need to do first to move down the road? Second? Third? As John Berardi says in his book Change Maker, “Do the right things in the right order and success is a reliable outcome.”
As we set our goals, if we run them through this process, we’ll be much more likely to set goals that we can actually be successful with.
Make sure you’re clear on your ‘why’ for any of your goals.
Your ‘why’ is your ultimate reason for wanting to accomplish whatever it is you want to accomplish. It can really help to connect your ‘why’ with your values. What do you value most? How will reaching these goals help you live out your values? For example, maybe you value spending quality time with your family. Your ‘why’ for setting an exercise goal might be “being able to do physical activities with my children (or grandchildren).”
Your ‘why’ has to be powerful enough to keep you moving toward the goal even when you don’t feel like it. Making lasting changes is tough. It requires hard work, perseverance, and sometimes sweat and tears. If we don’t have a good reason for making the change, it’s easy to just give up.
Start from a positive.
People who start any kind of health-improvement efforts with a negative mindset (for example, I’ve got to stop eating so much junk food) are rarely successful. Because of the way we humans are wired, these ‘avoid goals’ are psychologically unproductive and often cause us to do the exact thing we want to avoid.
Rather than concentrating on what we don’t want to do, let’s concentrate more on those things we do want to do. There’s something about framing things positively (for example, I want to eat well so that I’m fueling my body to be the best it can be) that makes us want to succeed.
Instead of using those ‘avoid goals’ let’s make sure we use what Dr. Berardi calls ‘approach goals’ instead. These ‘approach goals’ are the things that we want rather than the things we don’t want. When we set these new ‘approach goals’ we give ourselves something new to do rather than reverting to our old, unhealthy habits.
Identify potential roadblocks and build in some ‘wiggle room’.
As we all know, life doesn’t always go perfectly. Stuff happens. And sometimes that ‘stuff’ may be the things we have to deal with on a daily basis, such as health issues, financial issues, etc. If we can identify the things that have the potential to act as roadblocks for us, we can also identify some ways to deal with them.
It can be tempting to skip this step because we don’t want to think about all the things that can go wrong, but it’s a vital part of our long-term success. Knowing ahead of time how we’ll deal with problems keeps us from getting derailed when they come up.
We also have to give ourselves some ‘wiggle room’. If our plan is too rigid, we may not be able to stick to it. Building in some flexibility can help us get right back on track if we do run into those roadblocks.
Leave the ‘all or nothing’ mindset behind.
This goes hand-in-hand with building in some flexibility. The “all or nothing” mindset is what trips people up on their way to their goals more than anything else. Too often, people start out well but when they can’t keep up with the pace they’ve set, they give up. Remember, something is better than nothing. As long as we’re taking even one step forward, we’re making progress.
Build your support system.
Your support system is what (and who) is going to support you toward fulfilling your goals. As we talked about in 8 Ways to Make Healthy Behaviors Convenient, it’s important to set up our environment to support our healthy behaviors. In addition to these environmental supports, though, it’s helpful to have people in our corner who can support us.
Having someone who can encourage us and provide some accountability can often make all the difference with whether we’re able to succeed.
Don’t be afraid to adjust.
So maybe you’re a few weeks in, and you’re starting to realize that you overestimated what you could accomplish, or underestimated the time/energy requirements of the goals you set, or maybe you realize your timeline isn’t realistic. Guess what! Your goals aren’t set in stone. You can adjust them if you need to. That doesn’t mean giving up on the goal completely, it just means tweaking it to make sure it really does fit into the SMART parameters for you. If we don’t make it easy for our health improvement efforts to fit into our lives, we’re much more likely to give up on them.
We don’t have to be one of the millions of ‘quitters’ this Quitter’s Day. When we set SMART goals, make sure we’re clear on our why, and take the steps we need to in order to ensure we can stick to our goals, we’re much more likely to have success. We don’t have to depend on how we feel from day-to-day to be successful because we have a clear plan.
What are some things that help you stick with your healthy goals and behaviors? Please share!
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