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Revolutionizing New Year’s resolutions

Why paint yourself into a corner with a resolution you’re half-hearted about keeping? Consider different kinds of goals and ways to make real change happen.

New Year’s resolutions aren’t a new thing. They date back to the Babylonians, who reportedly made promises to the gods in the hope they’d earn good favor in the coming year. 

Similar to years past, the most popular resolutions for 2021 were to exercise more, eat better, lose weight, and save money. But, for many, these resolutions dwindle as quickly as they’re made. Is there a secret to making them stick?

Okeema Polite, a marriage and family therapist at Kaiser Permanente in Sacramento, California, believes in setting resolutions, or goals, that are “realistic and actionable.” Read on to learn more about goal setting — and keeping — as well as advice for a fresh take on resolutions.

What is the best overall approach to resolutions or any goal?

A good approach is to make goals SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-limited. I’ll give you an example. Someone may say, ‘I’ll get healthy in 2022,’ which is too vague.

To make this a SMART goal, you would apply specifics, such as ‘eat a salad for lunch 3 days a week.’ You’d make it measurable; for example, ‘reduce soda intake by 1 can a week until I eliminate soda.’ Making the goal achievable is also important. Don’t commit to losing 60 pounds in 2 months. Instead, work with a physician to set a sensible goal.

Think about what’s realistic for you to accomplish, given time constraints and competing priorities. Perhaps you set a goal to work out 7 days a week, but on 3 of those days, you’re on the road in the early morning, have a class after work, and don’t get home until 10 p.m. Given this schedule, it seems more realistic to start with 20-minute walks, 3 days a week.

Finally, time-limited means that you can adjust your goals. Perhaps in February, you swap out that exercise goal for learning to swim at the local pool. By March you’re swimming 3 times a week. By April, you have a new exercise goal.

What’s a way to stay on track?

Reward yourself when you meet a goal. It might be something as simple as treating yourself to a pedicure or a special meal if you hit your goal for 4 consecutive weeks. The truth is, humans like rewards and praise, and we can do these for ourselves.

For some, accountability really helps. That could mean taking an exercise class with a friend. Then you have someone looking for you.

What are some alternative resolutions?

Consider a goal that benefits others. For example, regularly express gratitude to family members, teachers, colleagues, or community members by sending a card to someone every 2 weeks. Studies show that giving and receiving expressions of gratitude results in the release of 2 neurotransmitters — dopamine and serotonin — that make us feel happy.

You can also create and share goals with others — make it a group effort. I heard of a family recently that plants a tree once a month in their community. Another family I know joined an organization to help feed homeless people monthly.

Consider creating simple self-care goals. For example, take 10 minutes after you arrive at either work or home to sit in the car and listen to music to relax. Give yourself some extra minutes in the tub or shower.

For 2022, set resolutions knowing that our environment is stressful right now. Think of intentional, doable goals that enhance your happiness and quality of life.

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