The New Year is upon us! You don’t need to be a statistics expert to observe that an overwhelming number of resolution-makers fixate on some kind of health or fitness goal in their plans for the upcoming year. And that’s not a bad thing – anyone who aspires to self-improvement deserves support. The problem is, the vast majority of resolutions seem to fizzle out. How can you make a New Year’s fitness resolution that sticks?
Thanks to the latest research in psychology and motivational science, we know that changing your thinking around health and wellness goals leads to more successful resolutions. More than willpower, discipline, or anything else, the way you approach the goal-setting process affects how likely you are to make your resolutions a reality.
One aspect of our services is coaching guests through the process of identifying the changes they need to make to become the version of themselves they want to be. Everyone is different, but when it comes to making health resolutions that translate into real-life changes, we start with this three-step process.
Step 1) Take A Life Inventory
Where, exactly, is your starting point? Before you get started on your health and wellness goals, take a holistic life account. How is your life going now? When answering this question, don’t just focus on your health or weight. Take a look at everything. We like to start by addressing “the 5 Fs”:
- Family/Friends – What is the status of your relationships? Do you have a supportive community around you?
- Fitness/Food –Here’s where you acknowledge the building blocks of your physical health, such as your relationship with food, what you actually eat on a day-to-day basis, and your level of physical activity.
- Financial – Consider your work life and your finances. Is your employment providing the things you need and want? What changes need to happen in order to realize your professional and financial goals?
- Faith – Do you feel at peace in your spiritual life?
- Fun – Being hard-working is a good thing, but it’s possible to do so to a fault. Do you have enough time and energy available to enjoy the recreation that brings bliss into your life?
Take some time to journal or jot your self-evaluation of each of the 5 F’s. This should take a while, so don’t rush it. You may wish to carve out an entire day to devote to this process. You could also complete a journal entry a day for five days, followed by reflection.
This step is often skipped, but it’s where big things can happen. When you examine all aspects of your life, you may discover connections that you weren’t aware of. You will also have a better sense of what is feasible in the grand scheme of things.
It’s also possible for this process to usher in a shift in your priorities. For example, if your job prevents you from putting enough time into your family life, your recreational activities, and meal preparation, your resolutions might be better spent focusing on revamping your professional life than focusing on building an extremely ambitious exercise routine. Once you take care of the most problematic areas, you can tackle the rest.
Step 2) Craft Your Wellness Vision
Now that you’ve taken into regard an interdisciplinary life account, you are prepared to examine what you want, and more importantly, why you want it. In this step, you define the macro-vision that is going to guide the micro-steps you take on a daily basis.
It’s helpful to shape your wellness vision with a statement that outlines what you want (“I want …" ) followed by why you want it ("So I can have ….”):
“I want to lose 100 pounds so I don’t need to ask for a seat belt extender when I fly for business travel. I also want to be an active parent and a good role model for my kids.”
"I want to be 20 pounds lighter, prepare my own meals, and take time for regular physical activity, so that I can finally feel confident in my own skin."
When evaluating your goal, think of it in the present tense, as if you’ve already achieved it. How does it make you feel? If it feels more like something you should do than something you truly want for yourself, that could be a sign that it’s not a sustainable goal for you.
Change The Habit Loop
The previous steps established your starting points and outlined your intentions. In this planning step, you define actionable strategies for making real, lasting change.
40-45% of our daily lives can be chalked up to habit. That means that almost half of the things you do everyday are automatic. The trick to lasting change is to turn your new activities into one of these things you can do without even thinking about it.
Understanding the habit loop is crucial for making this change. Each of our habits involve a cue, a habit, and a reward. When you are faced with a certain circumstance (the cue), you fall back on your habits in order to achieve a certain outcome (the reward). If we always react to the same cue with the same habit, nothing will change. So, examine ways to get the outcome you’re looking for – the reward – by changing the cue and/or the habit. Let’s take a closer look with an example.
Jenny works a 10-hour day. At the end of the workday, she arrives at home starving and totally drained. So she grabs a snack – and maybe a glass of wine – and puts her feet up. Soon it’s dinner time, and she’s been pleasantly zoning out on Netflix for a show or two (or five). Feeling much more relaxed, she indulges in comfort food for dinner and goes to bed.
Here, the cue is a long day at work, and the physical/mental fatigue that goes along with it. The habit is the combination of screen time and a little self-soothing with food and drinks. The reward is relaxation and feeling removed from the concerns of the work day.
Jenny wants to lose weight. She knows she needs to eat differently and get more active. What could she do to change her cues and habits while still ending the day feeling blissed out and relaxed?
- Change the work day. Jenny might decide to quit her job, but it doesn’t have to be that drastic. For example, having a frank talk with her employer could lead to a more favorable work environment. She could also add some stress management practices (like breathwork or an outdoor walk) to her work breaks, to help alleviate the tension of the day as it builds.
- Stop somewhere on the way home from work. The couch is oh-so-tempting in times like these! Jenny could try stopping at the gym, park, or yoga class on her way home to generate those feel-good endorphins and up her activity level.
- Introduce a healthy “just got home” routine. Carving out an at-home workout, meditation, or yoga space is one way she can introduce positive new habits to her home life. These activities can all enhance her sense of wellbeing (i.e. offer the reward) without food or alcohol.
Now, it’s your turn. In this step, your task is to identify the habits that you want to change and do a similar brainstorming session around your cues, responses, and rewards.
Everyone is different, so your lifestyle and goals may look much different than our example. Regardless, the habit loop is an inherent aspect of human psychology. The idea is not to overcome it, but to make it serve you.
Final Words of Advice
If this seems like a demanding process, you’re not wrong! It takes real and sustained mindfulness to make real and lasting changes – and you are totally capable. As you work on your resolutions, Fitness Director Jeff Ford offers a few tips to navigate your ongoing efforts:
- Set your intentions for three months at a time. It’s daunting to think about making lifelong changes all at once. Instead, set mini-goals and intentions three months at a time. With this duration, you can still keep up a sense of urgency (read: you’ll be less inclined to slack) but it’s still long enough to make powerful progress.
- Plan down to the specifics. Structure is your friend. Don’t be wishy-washy when it comes to planning. If you leave it to chance, you’ll flounder. Structure helps you develop competence and confidence, especially in the beginning.
- Don't freak out if you have to adjust the plan. Even the best laid plans will need to grow and evolve. Be aware of the fact that the “all or nothing” mentality trips so many people up. The people who are most successful in maintaining their health know how to adjust.
Lastly, remember that we are always here for you at Skyterra. 365 days a year, our wellness retreat hosts people just like you that are exploring these concepts and challenges under the personalized, caring attention of our team of experts. Make an investment in your self-care and visit our intimate, nurturing environment dedicated to your long-term wellness.
- The "5 F's" life inventory approach described here is adapted from several sources, such as Dale Partridge's Startup Camp podcast.
- The habit loop concept is pioneered by Charles Duhigg, productivity researcher and author of The Power Of Habit.