Five Keys to Reaching Resolution Goals

It’s that time of year again – look in the mirror, get on the scale, see the dietary damage you’ve done to yourself since Thanksgiving, and make those promises, promises, promises!

When it comes to our annual rites of resolution, the best way to pursue success, according to psychologist Stephen Kraus, PhD., is to focus on five techniques. Kraus is the author of Psychological Foundations of Success: A Harvard-Trained Scientist Separates the Science of Success from Self-Help Snake Oil, and he offers the following advice for achieving your personal goals.

Adopt a realistic vision of success. “No one can safely lose 50 pounds in a month,” Kraus says. “Yet these and other unrealistic expectations about weight loss abound.”

Adopt an effective strategy. “Focus on relatively short-term goals,” he says. “Instead of focusing on losing so many pounds over the coming year, tell yourself, ‘I’m going to eat vegetables four times a day and do at least 20 minutes of cardio a day for the next two weeks.’ A lot of research shows the benefits of such short-term goals.”

Renew your commitment. “I think if there’s a problem with resolutions it’s that people don’t make them often enough,” Kraus says. “Once a year is not enough for you to step back and take a look at your life and say, ‘this is working well,’ or ‘this is not working well.’ Do this at least quarterly, and better yet, once a month.”

Don’t despair. “People are much more likely to overlook their success and to beat themselves up over setbacks,” Kraus says. “Instead of saying, ‘I did pretty well for two weeks so I’m going to forgive myself for this one little setback,’ people start to think, ‘I’ve failed.’ That sets them up for the snowball effect where one little setback snowballs into a complete collapse.”

Learn from your mistakes. “As if the failures in the first four steps weren’t bad enough, a lot of people then repeat the entire process,” Kraus says. “They return to their unrealistic vision, pursue the same strategy without modifying it, and give up when things go badly. That’s why by March, all those gyms and health clubs that filled up with new members in January are pretty much back to normal.”

Benefits of Long-Term Strategy vs. Short-Term Fix

Diane Vives, owner of Vives Training Systems in Austin, Texas, tries to avoid working with clients who have made New Year’s resolutions because their enthusiasm wanes so quickly. “New Year’s resolutions are a short-term fix, not a lifestyle change,” said Vives, a strength and conditioning specialist. “They create a false sense of urgency. People tend to be more successful when they make the decision at some other time of the year.”

To help her clients remain motivated, Vives tries to break down their long-term goals into weekly goals. “For example, if the long-term goal is weight loss, I help them create weekly goals regarding their weight and percentage of body fat. Or maybe we’ll focus on preparing for a 5K race in the community.”

Ultimately, the best advice about getting healthy is, “just do it … and keep doing it.”

“Set well-defined and achievable goals, and then focus on participation rather than performance,” says Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise. “People should make exercise like punching a clock — they should focus on doing things on a regular basis. Don’t worry about reaching your target heart rate. Just focus on doing so many minutes of exercise a day for 30 consecutive days. Develop the habit of being physically active, and then readjust your efforts.”

And if you need more motivation, Kraus suggests the technique known as the deposit and refund method. “Give a good friend $500,” he says. “That’s the deposit. Then have the friend refund the money at the rate of, say, $50 for every pound you lose, or $5 for every visit to the gym. That way you reward your own progress and make instant gratification work for you.”

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