How to set attainable health goals for the new year

| Steve Bieler

Three of the things you can count on as the old year ends and the new year begins are parties, the countdown to midnight and New Year's resolutions. If you've been thinking of challenging yourself to live better and healthier, you may be wondering, “Where do I start? How do I do this?”

We turned to Dr. Will Meek for advice. Meek is a counseling psychologist in Vancouver, Washington, who has written extensively about motivation and goal-setting. Here are his top four tips to help you get up and go:

Setting goals

1. Pick a limited number of goals to work toward.

Pumped up about a whole new year in front of you? Don’t let your enthusiasm get the best of you. “Research shows that two to three goals should be your maximum,” Meek says. “People who narrow their goals down are more likely to succeed than people who try to do it all. This is why we so often fail at New Year’s resolutions. Ten resolutions are overwhelming. Two are doable.”

Which goals should you choose? “The ones that are most needed, or the ones you’re most likely to do,” Meek explains. If your main problem is being overweight, for example, start by eating differently and getting more exercise. Or if you don’t like exercising alone but you do like working out in a group, stick with a group.

2. Make your goals achievable. 

"Be honest with yourself,” Meek says. “Are you more likely to hike a hundred miles a day or just try to get outside and move more?” He also suggests being as specific as possible. For example, “I will go to the gym three times a week for 30 minutes each time.” If you decide at the start that you’re going to go jogging twice a day every day, or some other overly ambitious plan, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Achieving goals

1. Keep going, no matter what.

Did you suffer a setback or miss a target? Don’t give up the ship! Sure, today you blew your diet with those donuts, or you messed up your workout schedule because you had too much to do. “Immediately recommit after a slip-up,” Meek says. “Tell yourself, ‘Yes, I could’ve done better today, but I’ll do better tomorrow.’ ”

Remember: If your goal for the month is to lose 5 pounds, but you slip up here and there and instead you lose 3 pounds, it’s still a win. “You still achieved something. Your life is better,” Meek points out.

2. Your attitude is your biggest ally.

“Research on attitude all points to the value of ‘positive self-talk,’ ” Meek says. Examples of positive self-talk are “I can do this” and “This is good for me.” “Make something like that your mantra,” Meek says. “A goal-focused attitude is important for sustaining effort. You are, in effect, internalizing the support your best friend would give you.”

Celebrating your progress

If taking this wellness challenge seems like too big a burden, consider this: You don’t have to achieve all your goals to become happier. Meek says that at mid-month or even after a full month you won't have hit all your goals yet, “but if you're still trying, you'll be happier. You'll be changing your life and sustaining that change. You’ll most likely end up happier, too.” And, we hope, healthier!

Looking for someone to help you boost your health? Contact our Patient Navigation Center for free, personalized advice and support.

 


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