Resolution Tools for Lasting Change
The resolutions list: It makes us feel great to make a list of all the things we want to improve about ourselves. We feel confident and empowered.
The usual outcome: Those feel-good lists create unrealistic or vague expectations that we can't possibly achieve. When we don't achieve the ideas on our list we feel bad, engage in poor behaviors for while, and begin another round of resolutions because it makes us feel good. Researchers call this the "False Hope Syndrome."*
The problem: The list is probably full of ideas, not goals. That list is like a big road map with "you are here" pinned on one side and "your destination" pinned clear over on the other side, with no roads or distances marked in between.
The list itself isn't bad - you just need to turn those ideas into SoSMART Action goals that can help you achieve real, lasting change.
Print out the SoSMART Action Goals Worksheet and follow these step-by-step instructions and the example to learn how to create achievable goals that will lead to lasting change.
1. Write down all the things you want to change.
2. Go through the items on the list and sort out Actions from desired Results. This may be a bit of a challenge. For example, "lose weight" is a result. It's what happens if you do many smaller things over a period of time. If you get stuck, ask yourself, is this something I can do right this minute?
3. Set the Results aside. Go through the Actions and put them in order of most important to least important. This step is important, because you have a better chance of success if you work on one change at a time. This task may be difficult, because they're all important to you or they wouldn't be on the list. Try thinking of the list in terms of what you will change first, second, third, etc.
4. Here's where you get to brainstorm! Focus on the one item you ranked as most important and write down everything you can think of related to that item. Don't worry about right or wrong answers, just get everything out of your head.
5. Go through that list and identify one item or behavior - just one - that you want to work on.
6. Now, turn that item or behavior into a SoSMART Action goal, by following each of the bulleted items:
S = Specific. This is the behavior you want to change.
Stop eating candy bars.
M = Measurable. How will you measure your success?
I will keep track of any time I eat a candy bar. I will also record what I was doing and how I was feeling.
A = Achievable/Attainable. Make sure this is a realistic goal.
Giving up candy bars is something that I can commit to.
R = Relevant. What is the purpose of making this change? Will it take you one step closer to the Results you identified in step 2?
Candy bars are full of calories and have no nutritional value. Eliminating those calories will aid in weight loss.
T = Time bound. Choose how long you will commit to this goal before evaluating.
I will eliminate candy bars for 30 days.
Actions = These are your specific things you can do to implement your goal. Make this list as long as you like.
I won't carry pocket change to make it easier to avoid using vending machines.
I'll keep fresh and frozen fruit and other healthy, non-sugary snacks stocked at home to eat instead of candy bars.
I'll take an apple to work and eat it during work breaks.
If I eat a candy bar, I'll make a note on the calendar to record the date, time, and how I was feeling (happy, sad, frustrated, etc.)
So = Social support. Identify a trusted family member, friend, online group, etc. who can provide encouragement to help you meet your goal.
If you want, use all this information to turn your SoSMART Action goal into a statement that's easy to share with others:
For the next 30 days, I am going to eliminate candy bars from my diet. I'm sharing this goal with my Facebook friends so they can follow my progress.
Tip for Success: Don't take on too many goals at once. Small changes equal lasting changes. And lasting changes are the ones that bring you real satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment.
*J. Polivy, "The False Hope Syndrome: Unrealistic Expectations of Self-Change." International Journal of Obesity, 2001, 25, Suppl.1 S80-S84.