Most Resolutions End Up Broken by January 17th. Here’s How to Start Fresh
The 17th of January, exactly 2 and 1/2 weeks into the New Year, is D-Day for resolutions. They are about to crash and burn if they haven't already. Don't be crushed. Instead, turn around and re-up your resolve, but this time with a more effective strategy, one that is sure to lead you to long-term success and meaningful change in your habits, your health, and your outlook.
According to data from fitness trackers, January 17th, is the day when most of those well-intentioned end of year pledges and New Year's promises will end in the trash heap, or at least slightly chipped or cracked. The reason it's so hard to get to 3 full weeks and beyond is that many of us started off too ambitious in the first place. Here is the best way to get back on track and achieve your long-term health and well-being goals.
Strava, the fitness tracking app for sharing activity among athletes, monitors the activity of more than 108 million entries and found that the 17th is the date when most fitness resolutions crash and burn. Other data indicates 80 percent of resolutions to eat healthily and lose weight are over and done by February 1st, and only 20 percent of people who make resolutions manage to stick with their new-found healthy habits, and they have learned the secret to keeping their resolutions. Here's how to reset your goals from now through the rest of the year, so that you experience a lasting lifestyle shift.
The Secret to Resolution Success: Be SMART about it.
You may have learned this acronym back when time management was taught to students, but research has pointed to the fact that when outlining goals, the people who are successful approach them using the SMART model of learning. (SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based.) Each one of these SMART goals setting attributes works together to make it easier to reach your ultimate goal. Think of it as a learning segment: Every time you successfully achieve a measure of success, your brain learns that success is possible. This positive feedback loop reinforces the positive habits, so you keep going. The opposite is true when you fall off a vague goal path: you believe your efforts don't work so you give up. Instead of throwing in the towel, first, reassess how to frame your goals into measurable SMART segments so you can instead see yourself in terms of success.
So the first thing you need to do if you are one of the majority who has broken one or more of your best-intended plans is to reassess and reboot, using these specific measurable segments to redefine success.
First look back to your resolutions and assess: Did you add on too many vague or broad-strokes goals, meaning they were neither specific, achievable, nor measurable? If so it's time to prioritize. Going dry for January is fine (time-based, specific, measurable, etc) but doing it at the same time as switching to a plant-based diet, while trying to get up every morning at 6 a.m. to exercise while also attempting to get organized and save money and be calm and focusing better, while living stress-free ... it's too much! If you're feeling overwhelmed, your goals are neither specific nor attainable. Instead, let's look at the best strategy for goal achievement that is proven to work because it allows you to also measure success.
Reframe your goal so that it is Specific. The vague goals are the ones to recast
Too general is "I want to lose weight." Instead, try something more specific like "I want to lose five pounds in six weeks." Then map out how you plan to achieve it (cutting out junk food and alcohol) and measure your success week by week (don't try to hop on the scale every day) and know your why, or relevance (because I want to go skiing and be lighter by then). The goal is now SMART: Specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based.
Make sure your goal is Measurable. But don't drive yourself crazy measuring it
When I told myself I wanted to be more organized, that was too vague and hard to measure. Instead, I am now measuring my success in easy-to-track terms: I will pay my bills on the first of every month, I will write 1 to 2 news stories before lunch and edit three more, and I will be on time for all my Zooms. Much more measurable. So far I am feeling like this is now attainable, which brings us to the next attribute.
Only set yourself goals that are Attainable. That means being realistic with yourself
It's not possible or healthy to try to lose more than 2 pounds a week and keep it off. Don't tell yourself you're going to lose 10 pounds by Friday, or write your book proposal on a Sunday, or clean the whole house in one hour. Things have their integrity and their time and trying to rush is a way of doing everything badly and ending up feeling worse than before you started.
Make each new goal Relevant. Skip someone else's goal & focus on your authentic one
Does it really matter if you are a size 2 if you are strong, fit, healthy, and have boundless energy? Maybe it's your friend who wants to fit into a sample dress size and that's influencing your outlook. Is being financially secure something you feel is important for sleeping well at night? Your friend wants to live in a big fancy house and drive a luxury car, but for you, banking your paycheck feels more like a long-term life plan. Relevance means it has to be authentic to you, not to some other person's dream or goal.
For some people, looking around at your peer group, it's tempting to temporarily adopt their goals, but the happiest people are those who know what is important to them and then prioritize that. Want a relationship? Make that a priority, says Dr. Poonam Desai, emergency medicine specialist, in her TED Talk on how to prioritize happiness to be your healthiest. So don't set someone else's goal distract you, or an irrelevant one that you never really wanted in the first place, get in the way of what is authentically, personally your most burning desire. Something that is important to you is in your heart. Don't let the outside noise divert you from focusing on your highest priorities, such as your long-term health and happiness.
Time-Based goals succeed better than open-ended ones. Athletes know this.
Dry January is clearly time-based, as is losing five pounds in six weeks. Training for a marathon or 5K or 10K road race is also time-based (remember those?), or for me a half-Ironman triathlon, since the race day was a deadline that made getting the work done in the pool or on the road a priority and got me out of bed in the morning. Then they canceled all the races and now the amorphous "get up and run every day" seems like a good idea until you try to do it. It's cold and dark in NYC at 5:45 am, people!
By day 5 of this nebulous resolution, you're so over it. And you should be. The bed is warm and you can lie in and read. That's good for you too, right? But consider this: Most coached training plans take you through intense training cycles (getting harder and longer for several weeks with days off to rest and recover) and most athletes cycle through workouts, so one day they focus on running, the next strength, then biking, then swimming (to give your joints a break from pounding) and then starting over again with running and strength training again.
Not having a plan to vary your workouts and just trying to blindly "get up and exercise" every day is a recipe for injury since you can overtrain more easily than undertrain. Instead, make a fake deadline: I am going to train for an imaginary race on March 1st. Get a program and stick with the coached plan. Do yoga some days, or better yet, nothing at all to allow your muscles to recover. Time-based training works at every level, from newbie to elite athletes. Invite your friends to join the program and have them keep you company, even virtually. You may just find you've created a new running club!
While those are the secrets to attaining new success in reaching your goal, there is a secret sauce: Resilience. So if you have fallen off, the other study that is relevant is that optimism is helpful in achieving any long-term transformation. telling yourself: Every little step I take to be healthier, eat better, skip the junk food and actively move more day by day is adding up and while I can't see the directional arrow from standing here, I know I am on a journey and every step takes me closer to my healthy body goals. believe that by doing good you will have good results. They don't call it a "New Year's" resolution for nothing. (It's not a new week or month, but a full year to achieve your healthy lifestyle goals.) Think of the last 2 and a half weeks as practice. You still have 50 more weeks to get it right. Keep going!