How to make and keep resolutions: goal making and change model
Since we are nearly a month into 2016, it is a common occurrence this time of year to make new year resolutions. You know, the goals to lose weight, to not do this and to not do that.
It is so unfortunate that 85 per cent of these resolutions fail by Valentine’s Day, a mere 45 days or six weeks into a year with 52 weeks or 366 days (in this leap year). That’s not a great success rate.
One reason goals are not successful is that they are simply not made properly. We just identify one single item and don’t make a plan, or do anything about it.
There is a common acronym that is used to help with goal setting, and that is SMART, or SMART goals. Which means make your goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
Specific — what exactly will you accomplish? Measurable, — how will you know you have reached this goal? Attainable — is achieving this goal realistic with effort and commitment, plus do you have the resources to achieve the goal, if not, how will you attain them? Relevant — is this goal attainable and of value to you? Last is time bound — when will you achieve this goal?
It is really important to use SMART correctly. If just parts of it are used, chances are the goal will not be successful. For example, we may want to do an activity, have it done by a certain date, but what we fail to take into account is the A and R, attainable and relevant. Usually, because these goals do not fit in with our current value and belief system and it is not a priority for us to commit effort to achieve them. The best example I have experienced with this is someone who was pregnant and wanted to lose weight, not really a congruent goal given life’s current situation.
Another reason goal making is unsuccessful is that the stages of change are not understood.
It’s important to know that making changes are difficult. There are stages of pre-contemplation and contemplation before you even consider making the plans to change. There is thought preparation before action is taken to implement the change and then to be able to maintain it.
What is annoying is this thing called relapse. It’s not bad. It is crucial to making change. It helps find areas of weakness that need to be strengthened in order to maintain changes.
But at times we can be more vulnerable to relapse than at others. Alcoholics Anonymous uses an acronym called HALT — hungry, angry, lonely and tired. If you are experiencing any one of those you are more vulnerable for relapse and returning to your pre-resolution habits. Imagine experiencing all four, how much more vulnerable you would be.
Consider the brain like a forest. As we have grown from infancy we have built pathways from one section to another. Some of these pathways have become four-lane highways, while vegetation has grown over the less used pathways. When we are making changes, especially drastic changes, we are forging a new path, or using a less travelled path, and trying to travel on it enough to become a sidewalk, then a gravel road, then a paved single lane, to eventually a four-lane highway. It takes time.
This also means that when implementing a new goal, or making changes, it is sometimes, if not often, things become worse or chaotic before they become better, because of the effort needed to make a change.
So it makes sense when one is hungry, angry, lonely or tired it is just much simpler to travel on the four-lane highway of thought instead of forging a new path.
As you use SMART goals and remember the change model and the importance of relapse, you will be more effective at keeping your resolutions.