I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions.

This may seem surprising, given my line of work, but hear me out. I’m going to explain to you why and the mindset I prefer instead. 

Before I dive in, I want to preface this by saying that this is not meant as a criticism. If you have a New Year’s resolution (or several), I am not trying to call you out for it. Everyone should approach their health and lifestyle in a way that works best for them. 

That said, here are some reasons why I’m really not a fan.

New Year’s resolutions are often filled with broad, sweeping statements with very far off end-dates. If you’ve worked with me, you can probably guess what I’m going to say about why these sweeping statements are problematic. They are problematic because they don’t tell you anything. Let’s use the example “I want to get in shape”. If this is your goal, how will you start? What do you mean by “get in shape”? What does that look like to you? How will you know when you’ve accomplished it? 

You are making things much harder on yourself chasing a resolution like this because you aren’t leaving yourself with any directions on what to do. Starting this resolution probably feels overwhelming, which makes it difficult to translate your intentions into action. Action needs direction, and sweeping statements don’t give you that.

Resolutions also encourage the idea that we can neglect our health at the end of the year because we’ll get it together on January 1st. How many times have you heard someone say, or said to yourself, “Whatever, I’ll start eating better/exercising/quitting smoking/mediating in the New Year” in November/December? I take issue with this because it puts people in the mindset that: a) they can neglect their health now and deal with it later and b) have to wait until the New Year to get started. 

To the first point, if anything you should really be trying to prioritize your health more not less at the end of the year. It is one of the most stressful times of the year due to the holiday season, which is really not the time to ignore the things your body needs to stay in good condition. Not prioritizing your health can also make holiday stress more exaggerated. 

To the second point, any time is the right time to start working on your health. As a type A person, I totally understand that it just feels good to start working on your health at a beginning: the start of the week, the start of the month, the start of the year. But you don’t have to wait until the perfect time. You can start working on your health in the middle of the day on Thursday if you want. Don’t let the perfect start time delay you from making it a priority.

I also think sometimes the idea of waiting until the New Year can cause us to go a little wild during the holidays, because we’re going to really cut out all of the good (bad) stuff on January 1st, so we feel the need to pack it in while we still can. You’re just setting yourself up for failure with that mindset, because after an extended period of time of ignoring your health goals, it’s going to be that much harder to make them a priority again.

So, what can you do instead of the traditional New Year’s resolution: set SMART goals and aim for incremental change.

Let’s start with SMART goals. The SMART framework is an approach to goal setting that helps you get more clear on what you’re trying to achieve. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. 

Specific: The goal is detailed and clear

Measurable: The goal can be tracked to show progress or success

Attainable: The goal is doable given your resources and current life circumstance

Relevant: The goal is meaningful and aligns with what is important to you 

Time-based: The goal has an end-date by which it should be accomplished

To use our earlier example of “I want to get in shape”, we’re going to use the SMART framework to make accomplishing this easier on ourselves.

Specific: I want to start strength training

Measurable: I want to start strength training three times per week

Attainable: ask yourself, “Is strength training three times per week” reasonable to me right now? If not, what would make it more attainable? Once per week? Twice?

Relevant: ask yourself, “Will starting to strength train three times per week help me achieve what I really want to get from this goal?” 

Time-based: I want to start strength training three times per week by the end of March

Using the SMART framework, we’ve moved from “I want to get in shape” to “I want to start strength training three times per week by the end of March”. That’s a BIG difference, and that second statement feels much more clear and easy to start, doesn’t it? Like I said, action needs direction, and this second statement provides much more direction.

Now, let’s work in the incremental change piece of this. With our SMART goal, we know where we want to go and by when. But the devil is in the details, so let’s think about how we’re going to get there. 

Any time you’re introducing a new habit, behavior, or routine into your life, the key to making it both achievable and sustainable is to approach it incrementally. What I encourage clients to do is to action plan – think through every step you’ll need to take to accomplish your goal (no matter how small). Then consider what obstacles might get in your way and set plans for how you might handle those obstacles. Once you have the action plans listed, think through the order in which you’ll need to complete those steps. Then, map out when you’ll begin and when you’ll complete each step. I like to do this weekly, as it allows me to reassess progress each week and make adjustments to my action steps and timeline, as needed.

How is all of this different than a resolution? This might just be semantics, but to me resolutions are talking about a big idea or change you want to make that spans the whole year. What I’ve laid out as the alternative is to think critically about your goals (health-related or not) and don’t stretch the timeframe over the full year. Make yourself get specific about what you want and be honest about the amount of time it will take to get there. Be clear about what your end result will look like. Once you accomplish your goal, you can start this process all over again for a new one if you want! And you don’t need to wait until the start of the next year to build out a new goal – you can do it any time using this approach. To me, the way we work on our goals should be iterative and evolve as our lives evolve. 

How does all of this sound to you? Feel like you might need a little help in upgrading those resolutions? Well, you’re in luck! Over the holidays, I created the MB Wellness Healthy Habits Guide, which will take you through the process of setting your goals, planning for action, handling set-backs, and more! Subscribe to our newsletter (link at the bottom of the page) and I’ll send you a free copy! I promise I won’t spam you – the newsletter is once a month and will have more coaching, health, and wellness content in a short, digestible format. 

As always, feel free to shoot me a message if you have questions! 

Sending you happy, healthy vibes!