The Dose25:37How can I stick to my new year’s resolutions better?
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Every year, Dr. Taslim Alani-Verjee makes the same new year’s resolution: to be more organized.
“Every year, I fail,” the psychologist told Dr. Brian Goldman on CBC podcast The Dose.
Whether it’s about fitness, mental health, relationships or finances — sticking to the goals we come up with on Jan. 1 can be a challenge.
Often, goals can be vague or too grand, and we can put too much pressure on ourselves to meet them, said Alani-Verjee, the founder and director of the Silm Centre for Mental Health in North York, Ont.
And yet, she still suggests making resolutions at this time of year is a good way to think about what we want for the future.
“I try to do a little bit of that — with the recognition that sometimes it’s going to work out and sometimes it won’t,” she said.
Though creating new habits is hard, experts say there are specific ways to craft your new year’s resolutions so they are more likely to lead to success — as well as a few approaches to avoid.
When trying to achieve our goals, it’s easy to fall prey to all-or-nothing thinking, experts say.
“If we have resolved to go to the gym every single day and one day we slept in, we may be more likely to think that now we failed in our goal,” said Alani-Verjee.
That attitude could lead us to abandon our goal at the first obstacle.
This is common with eating-related goals, said dietitian Anar Allidina.
“Like, ‘I’m not going to have any fast food or processed food,’ or, ‘I’m going to cut out all the sugar,'” said Allidina, who is based in Toronto and specializes in blood sugar management.
Instead of cutting things out of your diet, think of foods you can add such as more fruits and vegetables, she said.
Don’t set unrealistic goals
It’s easy to get caught up in the momentum of the new year and pick goals that aren’t achievable, experts say.
When it comes to fitness-related goals, “we try to accomplish way too much, way too soon,” said Leigh Vanderloo, scientific director at ParticipAction.
When setting goals, take an honest look at your schedule, suggested Vanderloo, and figure out the best times of day to fit in more physical activity.
If we want to move more, Vanderloo recommended this mantra: Something is better than nothing, and more is always better.
For adults under age 65, the Canadian guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week.
Vanderloo suggested breaking that down to 20 minutes a day, or even into two 10-minute chunks.
“It can really be any type of movement that gets our body moving, our heart rates up,” she said.
Another common pitfall is making the goal what you’re not going to do, rather than what you are going to do, said Laura Cavanagh, a registered psychotherapist in Toronto and a professor of psychology and behavioural sciences at Seneca Polytechnic.
In psychology, this is referred to as avoid versus approach goals, she added.
Someone might decide to never fight with their partner, which is unrealistic, she said, since any relationship has conflict and compromise.
“Rather than saying, ‘I won’t fight,’ I would say, ‘I’ll spend more quality time with my spouse,'” said Cavanagh.
Find the why
So what are the best strategies for setting goals that are more likely to succeed?
“Before we start to make our goals, it’s helpful to think about what we want our year to look like,” said Alani-Verjee.
That can help us focus on the kinds of goals we want to make — and why we are making them.
“Is the motivation some sort of external validation or gratification, or is it coming from some sort of internal need that we have?” she said.
It can help if the “why” behind the goal is linked to our values, said Cavanagh.
“When we can connect something to our values, it helps us persist in times when the activity itself perhaps is not super enjoyable,” she said.
For Vanderloo, her new year’s goal of prioritizing physical activity connects to her value of having good mental health.
“I’m inherently a more anxious individual and so it really is important to help keep me grounded,” she said.
Focus on process over outcome
If you choose goals that are about outcomes, such as getting a promotion, you’re more likely to fail, said Alani-Verjee.
“It’s more about the process and the small steps rather than just achieving this thing that is often quite out of our control,” she said.
A common new year’s goal is to lose weight, but it’s important to focus on other changes as well, said Allidina.
“So many people are so fixated on that number on the scale. And I get it — it’s so hard to move away from that,” she said.
Other goals could include having more energy and being more in control of emotional eating, said Allidina.
“These are all massive wins that are going to lead to better health.”
Barrier-proof your goals
When making resolutions, you need to plan for the unavoidable hard days, experts say, when you just don’t feel like doing the thing you set out to do.
“Motivation is not going to be consistent every single day,” said Allidina. “You’ve got to plan for those tough days.”
Much of that preparation is around mindset, experts say.
“I think oftentimes we think that if we do take a couple days off that it’s going to completely derail everything that we’ve just been doing — and that’s not the case,” said Vanderloo.
“Even if we have to take a break, that’s OK. It’s going to be much better in the long run.”