Creating Smart Resolutions

In two weeks after the champagne has been popped and we’ve rung in a new year, people will wake up with New Year’s Resolutions to finally lose those 20 pounds or get in shape for the summer.

You may set a goal to lose weight and have grand plans in your head about working out everyday and eating healthy 100% of the time. You’ll probably be super motivated that first week or first month, and you may even lose a few pounds. It’s the second month where you may find yourself skipping the gym or going back to your old food habits. All the sudden the 10 pounds you lost is back on, with a little extra.

Losing weight was the top New Year’s Resolution of 2012, and 75% of people are able to maintain their resolution for 1 week. However, only 8% of people are actually successful in their resolution.

Why do resolutions fail?

Firstly, resolutions tend to be very vague or general. “Losing weight” or “getting in shape” are dreams, not a goals. Both are important, but goals are the road to reaching your dreams. Goals imply action and a plan.

In order to be within the 8% who achieve their resolution, you need a SMART goal and a plan. A SMART goal is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. Instead of “lose weight,” a SMART goal would be “I want to lose 10% of my weight in 4 months.”

smart goal setting concept

Why 10% instead of 10, 20, 50 pounds? The research shows that a modest weight loss of only 5-10% can lead to health improvements in blood sugars, blood pressure, and lipid markers. It’s also an attainable goal for many people. For someone who is 5’6″ and 200 pounds, a 10% weight loss is 20 pounds. It would drop their BMI from 32.3 (obese) to 29 (overweight), which is a huge deal! It can also be a stepping stone for further weight loss. If you lose 10% of your weight, then by all means keep going, and set a new goal.

Once you have your goal, you need to think about WHY you want to achieve it. Do you want to lose weight to be healthy or to look good? Are you committed to it, or do you think you “have” to or “should” lose weight? Reflecting on why you want to lose weight, your motivation, commitment, and confidence to achieve the goal are important. Once you’ve reflected, write it down. You can come back to your list of reasons when you’re struggling to reestablish your commitment and build motivation.


You also need to make a realistic plan to achieve your goal. When patients come in for weight loss counseling, I assess their readiness to change. Some patients come in very motivated and ready to get started, so I may provide education and we’ll create an action plan together. Other patients come in because their doctor sent them and may be skeptical. These patients are not ready to make a change, so we’ll weigh the benefits and costs of losing weight and discuss barriers.

Losing weight is a big commitment, and you will have barriers and setbacks. Identify your barriers, which may include co-workers who bring cookies into the office, working long hours, financial reasons, and stress! Create an action plan to deal with these barriers. If you work long hours and are too busy to make dinner at night, brainstorm ideas to get in healthy meals. You could prepare meals on Sunday and eat leftovers after work, or freeze meals and re-heat. In order to break through the barriers, you could use an accountability buddy. You could find another friend who is trying to lose weight, or you could visit a Registered Dietitian to provide motivation, education, and support.

The good news is people who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to reach their goals compared to those who do not explicitly make resolutions. Just making goals gets you in the right, positive mindset. However, it’s best to set only 1 or 2 resolutions. One of the biggest reasons people fail is they try to do too much at one time.

Instead, focus on 1 or 2 mini-goals at a time. Start with a goal you know you can achieve, such as walking 3 times per week for 30 minutes. Telling yourself that you want to workout at the gym everyday for 1 hour is just setting yourself up for failure. Start slow and build momentum. Once you are walking 3 times per week, add another day. Pretty soon, it will become a habit and part of your lifestyle. The next month, set a nutrition goal, such as creating balanced dinners with at least 2 different vegetables. Using mini-goals will help create habits and a healthy lifestyle. This is important for weight loss but extremely important for weight maintenance. Losing weight is not usually the hard part; it’s keeping the weight off. Make lifestyle changes rather than being on a “diet.” Dieting doesn’t work.


Lastly, have a positive attitude. You may have days where you eat too many sweets or don’t touch a single vegetable. Understand that it’s okay, and start again tomorrow. On the flip side, celebrate your successes. When you achieve mini-goals, be proud of yourself.

Notice how you feel along the way. Yes, losing weight may prevent diabetes or heart disease, but you’ll also feel better. You may notice increased energy levels, a clear and focused mind, and symptoms such as heartburn or knee pain may improve. These are motivating reasons to continue, and you probably won’t find these when you’re on a “diet” and feel hungry or tired all the time.

If we survive the “end of the world” this weekend, then people will be all set to make their 2013 resolutions. This year, create SMART goals and focus on setting mini-goals in order to create habits and ultimately a healthier lifestyle.


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