Setting sustainable goals for healthy habits all year long
As 2023 draws to a close, many of us are thinking about what resolutions we want to set for 2024. Some estimates show that up to 95% of new year’s resolutions are health related. But sadly, only around 9% of people accomplish these goals. Why not? The top two reported reasons are that they are too busy or have lost motivation. But this doesn’t have to happen.
As a health coach, I help people not only set goals, but co-create sustainable, actionable plans to accomplish them. An understanding of behavior change models and how to personally apply them makes all the difference (and makes you up to 9 times more likely to reach your goal). Below, I’d like to share certain elements of the process I use with clients to help you set realistic, meaningful goals and build the habits that lead to lasting change.
To design meaningful and sustainable goals, it’s important to get clear about what you want. Get rid of all of the “shoulds” (i.e. I should exercise, I should cut caffeine, I should lose 20 pounds, etc) and instead start with a wellness vision exercise. This is not a vision board or manifestation, though it could be if that’s your jam. Instead, imagine your ideal day, as your ideal self. Do you wake up refreshed? Do you have energy all afternoon instead of grabbing a coffee and sugary pick-me-up? Do you have the energy to hike or play tennis with your loved ones? Ask yourself who you want to be, then identify the habits and lifestyle that that person does. Behavior change is rooted in identity.
Focus & Define
Once you’ve identified your vision for your future self, reverse engineer the behaviors that will get you there. Start small – the smallest change you feel is worthwhile – and focus on one or two areas at a time. Imagine your vision is to wake up refreshed instead of groggy and exhausted. Your focus is on resting well, so this may mean setting a clear bedtime and creating a sleep hygiene routine that fits your schedule and optimizes your rest. Then, frame this as a SMARTER goal (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time bound, and then evaluate and readjust as necessary) Make sure to frame these positively (i.e. “I wake up feeling refreshed” instead of “I’m not tired in the morning.”)
Leverage your greatest asset – YOU!
If you’ve struggled to make healthy changes before, you may feel like you are your greatest weakness, but everyone has strengths they can leverage. It just takes skill to find them, catalog them, and find ways to leverage them. It can be helpful to list your perceived strengths and weaknesses, then theoretically apply them to scenarios in which you are acting on your goal. Awareness, intention, and creativity are key here. Leaning on your strengths can give you some quick wins – which does great things for motivation.
Examine your environment
Another huge pressure for goal success or failure comes from the environment – social, physical, current habits, and your cognitive environment. It can be helpful to look at your social circle and identify who can support you in your goal. Physical environment design can look like removing processed snacks from your fridge and placing fruit on the counter instead. Also, list your current habits – positive, negative, and neutral – and analyze how you can stack new habits on top of them or swap out negative ones for new positive ones. The cognitive environment, which includes your self-talk and self-judgements is often overlooked. It’s imperative to ask yourself what these anticipated self judgements may be (i.e. I have no self-control) and reframe them into a positive coping statement (i.e. I’m feeling overwhelmed right now, but I’ve made a plan for this situation.)
Putting it all together
The insights and reflections you’ve discerned above will inform the final step in making your goals a reality – a well-designed system tailored to your life, your desires, and your abilities. Overall, lasting change requires a mindset shift. Changing your life is about changing your identity. Don’t think “I want to be healthy. I should eat an apple instead of a candy bar” Instead, think “I am a healthy person, and a healthy person would choose an apple over a candy bar.” You don’t suddenly become healthy when you hit a goal weight, never eat “junk” food, or make movement a priority every day. You become a healthy person by making daily choices that embody your chosen identity. The good news is those choices don’t have to wait until January 1st. Why not start today?
For the bibliography of sources and full-length article, please visit http://www.elementshealthandwellness.com/setting-sustainable-goals. All rights reserved by the author.