Weight loss and other health goals perennially top the list of new year’s resolutions, and will again make the list of many people’s 2023 goals. Many people view the new year as a clean slate and feel motivated to make healthy lifestyle changes. Unfortunately, such motivation tends to wane over time, and new year’s resolutions often don’t make it beyond January, let alone last the whole year and beyond.
Taking certain steps can help you stick to your resolutions, including setting “SMART” goals, which stand for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based.
How to Keep Your 2023 Goals
Make your goals specific: “People often have a general, vague goal to lose weight or eat healthier, but they don’t have a blueprint of what that will look like,” said Allison Grupski, Ph.D., a clinical health psychologist who is vice president of behavior change coaching and strategies for WeightWatchers. “If you say you want to lose 15 pounds, great. But what are you going to do to get there? Set specific behavioral goals, anticipate things that might get in the way of sticking to those goals, and plan what you will do to overcome those obstacles.”
Make your goals measurable: “The goals you set for yourself must be concrete enough that you can measure them,” said Matthew J. Mitchell, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who is a senior advisor in Northwell Health’s Employee and Family Assistance Program (EAP). “If one of your goals is to do cardiovascular exercise for 20 minutes three times a week, that’s measurable. You will know by the end of the week if you did it or not.”
Set attainable goals: “With new year’s resolutions, people tend to set big, lofty goals that feel really exciting when they’re setting them – that they’re going to change their lives,” Grupski said. “But when it comes down to doing the steps to accomplish these goals, we fall off. We have the intention, but when it comes to putting it into action, there’s a big gap.” Goals that are too challenging or that don’t fit into your day-to-day lifestyle are unrealistic and set you up for failure right off the bat. For instance, committing to a 90-minute workout every day or planning to eliminate all sweets is not going to be realistic for many people.
Make goals relevant: “Your goals must be something you care about and want to put effort into,” said Adam Gonzalez, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist who is vice chair of behavioral health at Stony Brook Medicine and founding director of the Stony Brook University Mind-Body Clinical Research Center at the Renaissance School of Medicine. “Thinking about why they’re important to you will help build motivation.”
Make your goals time-based: “Map out what the year will look like,” Gonzalez said. “Break it down by where you want to be at the end of each quarter, or at smaller intervals – even each week – and revisit the plan over time.”
Word your goals positively: “Say what you want to start doing – not what you want to stop doing,” Mitchell said. “You might want to stop eating junk food, but what are you going to do instead? Stating what you will do helps with planning.”
Write it down: “Oftentimes, it’s hard to make goals specific and work them out unless we write them down,” Mitchell said. “Putting them on paper puts them out in the world.” Further, keeping a journal to document your wins and your struggles can help you track your progress and maintain motivation, Gonzalez said.
Get support: “It helps to find accountability partners – people who will go on this journey of behavioral change with you,” Mitchell said. “Having a workout buddy or a partner who wants to make healthy changes can help empower you to stick to it.” Also, share goals with family and friends and tell them what kind of support you want, and don’t want, from them, Gonzalez said. “Some friends might nag you, which may not be helpful. Ask for what you need,” he said.
“The research is consistent that most people lose more weight when being supported by other people around them,” Grupski said. “Tapping into social circles with people who will support us can only help. We’re more likely to do something if someone else is counting on us to do it.”
Get back on track: “It’s normal to fall off track and get diverted,” Gonzalez said. “When that happens, coming back to the why you started this is important. Having family members and friends on board can help with encouraging you to get back on track.” And steer clear of the negative thinking that can cause a slip to become a slide. “If you get off track and can’t get back on, think about what you were doing when you were on track. Pick one or two things, such as meal prepping and walking, and just commit to doing those two things for the next week or two,” Grupski said. “If you do those behaviors consistently, the likelihood is you will develop some momentum and realize, ‘I can do this.’”
Be kind to yourself: Last but not least, don’t beat yourself up. “We are our own worst critics, and we can get very frustrated by the intention-action gap. We know what to do, but why aren’t we doing it?” Grupski said. “By having supportive people in our environment, we quickly learn it’s not a ‘me’ problem; it’s a human being problem. We all struggle with making changes. Moving away from self-blame and asking ourselves what will help us reach our goals is a more productive way of approaching any changes we want to make. If we are hard on ourselves, we are less likely to make changes.”