How to make resolutions that stick
Tired of making - then breaking - New Year's resolutions? This year try setting SMART goals to create authentic change in your life.
New Year’s resolutions are fun to make, but they can be oh-so-easy to forget when we hit a stumbling block. To help us get going and not give up, three experts offer tips for making changes that truly satisfy.
Goals to inspire
Gary P. Latham, PhD, is an international expert on the psychology of goal-setting. A professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, he studies how workplaces can use goals to inspire better performance.
If your New Year’s resolution is work-life balance, Latham has some great tips.
First, prioritize goals that are based on your personal values and needs. “My kids came first on weekends and evenings until 8 pm when they went to bed,” he writes in an email. Although highly successful—he’s won numerous awards for his work—Latham disputes the idea that anyone can “have it all.” “I know no one who ‘made it to the top’ and in addition never missed a child’s soccer game,” he says. “Something has to give.”
What if your employer expects you to work weeknights and weekends? “Smart companies that don’t want to lose the brainpower of high performers take work-life balance into account,” Latham says. Seeking a workplace, or advocating for one, that offers flex time could make all the difference.
For a step-by-step formula that will help you achieve just about any goal, Latham recommends SMART goals (see sidebar).
A critical factor for the attainment of any goal is a sense of self-efficacy. “This is the belief that says, ‘Yes, I can,’” Latham says. His research shows that positive self-talk can help overcome doubts, but if we have a strong belief we can’t do it, he advises that success is unlikely without a coach or counsellor’s help.
Who are you really?
As a certified professional life coach and skills trainer, Nellie Vieira has a somewhat unorthodox view of goal-setting. “Some people set and achieve goals easily,” she says over the phone from her office in Toronto. “But sometimes people use goals to avoid what it is they never really figured out in the first place, which is who they are when they’re not trying to win acceptance from the world.”
Vieira’s voice has the full-bodied, husky intensity of someone who’s passionate about her work. Her impressive client list includes Air Canada, CIBC, and Rogers Media, but she also works with private clients. In either case, she says, “Self-actualization, authenticity—this is what makes real, satisfying change.”
“Our true sense of self is actually already [within],” she says, “but we’ve learned to trust things from outside of ourselves rather than from inside.”
Find your key change
Prior to the first coaching session, Vieira asks her client:
What would you change if you could change one thing about who you are; what you do; how you live?
What do you consider to be the most difficult challenge you are facing?
Vieira believes the key to making authentic change is first accepting what is. Those five pounds you say you want to lose? “Accept them. Love them,” she says. “Reframe shame, as in ‘I’ve been able to carry my children with these hips.’”
From here, she recommends her clients use journalling to record instances of difficult challenges and the ways in which they respond to them. Other clients create a “Who I Am” portfolio to raise self-awareness and acceptance. Others simply go for walks with Vieira and engage in a dialogue.
Why are these methods helpful? While we set our goals logically, we may abandon them when an emotional reaction is triggered, Vieira says. She offers the example of people who remain silent in work meetings for fear their ideas will be rejected. Her coaching method involves helping them to become aware of what activates their silence, working through that reaction, and then learning to assert themselves, in order to move toward greater participation and sense of purpose.
Experience the journey
Jana Finkbiner shares a vital principle with Nellie Vieira: she believes authentic goals come from a foundation of self-respect. But as an athlete and registered holistic dietitian with the Ntegrated Health Group, Finkbiner also knows how easy it is to miss what she calls the “good juicy soul stuff” that happens on the way to achieving a goal. This “juice” can keep motivation strong.
Finkbiner is a boxer and when she’s practising drills, sometimes her trainer manages to get in close enough to tap or “tag” her. “Getting tagged reminds me where I am and what I’m doing when anxiety or adrenalin is running away with my head,” she says over the phone. “There is no greater sense of being in something when you’re conscious of every bump or calculated successful move.”
If diet changes are on your resolution list, she similarly recommends tuning into “the feeling and view of yourself that is beginning to emerge as you go through the process.”
When a client wants advice on how to lose weight to shape their body, Finkbinder encourages them to explore a variety of whole foods, as close to nature as possible. It’s especially important to check in and see what kind of diet feels right. “Some people will thrive on the Paleo diet,” she says, “but some won’t last three days.”
A new experience for some clients is to sense which foods boost or deplete energy.
Try a holistic view
“I look at the body as a functional whole,” Finkbiner says. “… as a spiritual, emotional, and physical working unit.” If a client is interested, she asks about stress levels, sleep patterns, and dietary habits to find out how organ systems are working, and if toxicity is contributing to fatigue or insomnia. “When people are tuned into the fact that their diet affects them in more than one way,” she says, “lasting changes are made.”
Because feedback is essential to accomplish a goal, Finkbiner recommends looking online for free apps for easy-to-use food diaries and daily calorie and nutrition summaries.
The evidence is overwhelming that we get energized when we set specific goals. When the goals are true to who we are, that energy can carry us through.
To use this formula, make sure your goal is
Specific: I will do a 30-minute relaxation exercise every day to help lower my blood pressure.
Measurable: I’ll mark each successful session on my calendar and get my blood pressure checked after four months.
Attainable: My partner will support me by taking over bathing our daughter in the evening.
Relevant: This goal is aligned with my overall health plan and challenging enough to keep me motivated.
Time-bound: Four months gives me enough time to establish a new habit, but not so much time I’ll put off doing it.