‘Tis the season for making broad and sweeping resolutions in the upcoming year. This year, try something different. Consider setting reasonable short and long term goals with measurable action steps that lead to successful execution.
Narrow Your Focus
Choose one thing and decide how to make it manageable. If you need to lose a lot of weight, instead of focusing on a goal weight, start with something you can see yourself doing successfully. Some weight loss companies recommend 10% of your body weight to begin. If you weight 200 pounds and want to weigh 125, begin with the short-term goal of losing 10% - 20 pounds. Once you reach that goal, set another goal of 10% - 18 pounds.
Those who find it too stressful to weigh, but want to improve their health might focus on specific actions, ie. exercise 3-5 times per week. Using a range with a minimum and maximum helps relieve some of the pressure that can result in giving up. If you don’t reach your ideal of working out five times, you still have a chance to meet the minimum. This psychological shift in expectations makes a huge difference for some people. We are less likely to give up on exercise for the week if there is still an opportunity to reach the minimum. The same may be true for calories. If you have a range of 1200-1500 calories per day, you aren’t as likely to give up if you overeat early in the day.
If you want to return to graduate school but you work full time, perhaps your short-term goal is to explore your options. You may need to pay off some bills so you can work part-time. If so, the next step for you is paying off the bills. That becomes your focus with graduate school as a longer term goal.
Write it Down
Many people believe that writing down your goals helps you envision success and sets in motion the positive energy required to make lasting change. There are some who believe that we create reality by doing this. Louise Hay is famous for her work about affirmations. She says we should write our goals as positive statements as if they have already happened (affirmation). Instead of focusing on losing a specific amount of weight, you might affirm “I make good food choices that support a healthy body” or “The food I eat is efficiently burned as fuel for my body and brain”. If graduate school is your ultimate goal, your affirmation may be “Each choice I make supports my return to graduate school.”
Make it Doable
Goals need to be accompanied by actions to be successful. Whatever your focus, decide on the reasonable action steps to effectively reach your goals. Someone with a weight loss goal of 10% will need to decide how they plan to reach that goal. Will it entail exercise? Specific food choices? A certain calorie range? Recall times in the past when you successfully lost weight or maintained a weight you desired. What were you doing that worked then? Can you recreate that now? If you are returning to graduate school, map out the course to get there with specifics. What bills need to be paid off first? How much extra can you pay each month to get it paid off? Will you earn extra money to pay off the bills, or adapt your budget? How will you do that? What will you do hourly, daily, weekly, monthly?
Develop action steps for each goal that you can measure. How will you know you are successfully moving toward your long term goal? Put these actions on your planner or organizer. It is helpful to create rituals that you do at the same time each day. If you exercise in the morning before work, do it at the same time each day. If you eat three meals and three snacks, set a reminder on your phone for the times you will eat these. Make them a top priority. It is easy to sabotage your diet by skipping meals or snacks. Don’t set yourself up for failure. See the article Weight Loss Over the Holidays for more specifics on that goal.
Review and Monitor Daily
Take five minutes every morning to review your goals for the day. If you have affirmations, say them aloud – write them daily for even better results. This sets the tone for success each day. At the end of the day, review your progress. Track it somehow so you can see your results. Reward yourself for a job well done. Some people need frequent rewards and others longer term. Develop a list of short-term and long-term rewards. Celebrate!
Align Your Behavior and Intentions
There will be days when you do not want to do the necessary actions to reach your goals. On those days, visualize yourself at your goal. Remind yourself of why you want this. If weight loss is your goal, perhaps the reason you want to lose weight is to be more involved in your children’s lives. I know someone who had a baby later in life and soon realized that unless she lost weight she could not enjoy her daughter’s childhood. She used that desire – to be actively involved with her daughter – as her motivation to stay the course. Figure out your motivation and remind yourself when you are struggling. See yourself in your new career after completing a graduate degree. Imagine yourself riding bikes with your daughter. These are the greatest motivators.
Use Visual Cues in Your Environment
Write your affirmations on note cards and put them in your environment. Some people keep a copy in their pocket. You can make a vision board or collage with images and words that support your success. If your daughter or son is your motivation, keep photos nearby. The visual imagery helps support your goals.
Get Support if Necessary
Your goals will be easier to reach with a good support network. Recruit people to help you who have the resources you need. Ask for help and receive it gracefully when offered. Maybe a walking buddy or workout partner will help you stay on track. If your goal of going to graduate school seems too difficult, talk to someone at the college or a friend who has attained this goal under similar conditions. Find a support group, personal trainer or therapist if you need something more formal.
Remember, success is measured by your ability to regroup and refocus when needed – just keep moving forward.
Dispenza, Joe. "New Years Resolutions: 7 Tips On How To Make Changes Stick." Wisdom Magazine, Web. 04 Dec. 2013.
Richardson, Cheryl. "Fall in Love with Exercise? Youre Kidding, Right?" X. Heal Your Life, Web. 04 Dec. 2013.