Set Yourself Up for Success in 2017 and Beyond

Published on January 13, 2017

With 2017 upon us, it's time to start looking back over the past year and planning for what's to come. For about 45% of Americans, New Year's resolutions are a rite of passage. After a season of excess, the start of the new year usually invites a self-imposed sense of asceticism. We vow to eat only healthy foods, imbibe only on special occasions, forgo all sugar, exercise every single daily and only say nice things. Sound familiar?

What was your resolution last year? How long did you stick with it? Did you set one for this year? Is yours one of the most common resolutions? Does the word "resolution" make you cringe? (We can relate.)

2016 and 2017 written on beach with wave washing away 2016

Resolutions don't work for most people, despite the best of intentions. In fact, only about 20% of resolutions actually succeed. That's why we're looking at how you can set goals that are right for you (and share the secret on how to know whether you'll succeed or fail at your resolution), then look at how we can make simple, lasting changes in all aspects of our life.

First of all: Know that you don't have to set New Year's resolutions. While January 1 marks the start of a new calendar year, it's not the only natural transition during the year, and it might not be the right time for you. You may feel called to change your life at the start of spring, the season of rebirth and growth. Or, perhaps the end or start of an academic year - whether you're a student, teacher or parent - inspires you to evaluate your goals. Whatever time feels right to you for change, that's the right time for you. And it will help you ensure your long-term success.

The Science Behind New Year's Resolutions

The science behind why resolutions fail is fascinating. Some experts say it's because we set them in the throes of "holiday remorse." We let the healthy living pendulum swing too far to one side, so we give it a push but overcorrect. Other researchers cite cultural procrastination and false hope syndrome. We may use resolutions themselves as a way to motivate ourselves instead of relying on intrinsic motivation, which is a more successful way to encourage any goal (more on that later). Or, we set goals that make us feel good but are too big or lofty for us to actually reach. We start out motivated and excited, but as time passes and we fail to achieve what we intended, we lose hope and revert to old habits.

The Secret to Sticking to Your Goals  

There's a secret way to determine whether you're actually going to stick with your resolution this year. It's called the transtheoretical model of behavioral change. Whether you want to lose weight, quit smoking, plant a garden or stop complaining this year, the TTM can be a useful tool to evaluate how ready you really are to change your life. In short, it helps you learn to start where you are, not where you think you should be. If you haven't ever run a mile but set a resolution to run a marathon, it will show you how ready you truly are to achieve that.

The TTM is not intended to discourage you from setting big goals; however, it allows you to assess your desires from a realistic perspective. This concept has successfully been used to help those new to exercise learn to stick with it, by designing programs that meet them where they are.

The Stages-of-Change Model

So what is the transtheoretical model of behavioral change? Also called the stages-of-change model, it looks at your readiness to change and identifies five phases:

  1. Precontemplation: You're not thinking about changing and are content with where you are.
    • Ex:
      • You're a smoker, and you have no plans to quit.
      • You don't exercise and don't want to start.
  2. Contemplation: You're considering making a change.
    • Ex:
      • You're a smoker, and you're thinking about quitting but haven't taken any steps.
      • You don't exercise, but you think maybe you should start.
  3. Preparation: You're not changing yet, but you're making plans to do so.
    • Ex:
      • You're still smoking, but you talked to your doctor, set a date to quit and stocked up on gum and hard candy.
      • You haven't started exercising, but you bought new shoes and signed up for a gym membership that starts next month.
  4. Action: You're doing it! You're taking the steps necessary to change and practicing your new behaviors/habits.
    • Ex:
      • It's been three weeks since your last cigarette!
      • You went to the gym twice this week and three times last week.
  5. Maintenance: Your new behaviors are becoming a part of your lifestyle, and you don't have to think about them as actively and often as you did at first.
    • Ex:
      • You can't remember the last time you craved a cigarette.
      • You have a routine: Zumba on Mondays, walking on Wednesdays and yoga on Fridays. You love it!

Any time that you set out to change a behavior, consider where you are on this model first. If you're still in stage 1 (precontemplation), you have to be realistic with yourself: Your behavior won't change. However, at any time, you can motivate yourself to shift to stage 2 (contemplation), which increases your likelihood for success. Once you're on the road to a new you, know that you may backslide into a previous stage - it's perfectly normal and doesn't mean you've failed. You can always start over.

What Motivates You (and Will That Be Enough)?

What motivates you to change? This is the other key component of success when it comes to goal setting. There's another theory, called the Self-Determination Theory, that breaks motivation into five types:

Intrinsic motivation: This is the most effective type of motivation, because it comes from within. You want to change because you genuinely are interested in doing so. You find the activity or new behavior fun or pleasant.

  • Ex:
    • You like the taste of vegetables, so you eat more of them.
    • You enjoy the feeling of working out, so you do it almost daily.

Integrated regulation: Your goals become a part of your personality. You see yourself as part of them.

  • Ex:
    • You call yourself a yogi and feel like a part of the yoga community.
    • You see yourself as a health nut, so you shop for nutritious food and easily skip the processed stuff.

Identified regulation: You do something because it's helping you achieve a goal, but you might not like it very much.

  • Ex:
    • You go to yoga because you know it will help you destress, but it's a bit "out there" for you.
    • You eat your broccoli because you know vegetables are nutritious, but you still secretly dislike the taste.

Introjected regulation: You feel like you should do something, so you do it out of obligation or to avoid feeling guilty.

  • Ex:
    • You do not want to quit smoking, but your partner has been begging you for years, so you're giving it a try.
    • You really don't think yoga is for you, but your BFF coerced you into doing it.

External regulation: You only do something to avoid punishment or for an award.

  • Ex:
    • You agree to quit smoking because you otherwise will have to pay more for your insurance.
    • Your workplace is sponsoring a weight-loss challenge, and you join because you could really use the money.

As you might have suspected by reading this list, it's in order from most effective to least effective. Armed with this info, you can determine how ready you are to change and what's motivating you to make a shift in your behavior, then set some goals that will really work for you.

Once you decide you're ready to take on a goal, read this blog to learn how to set S.M.A.R.T. goals so you're truly setting yourself up to succeed.

17 Goals to Consider in 2017

Beyond the usual goals, here are some that might be worth considering this year (after determining whether they're right for you, of course):

  1. Plant a garden, or commit to buying more of your food from farmer's markets.
  2. Go organic, or start by learning the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen.
  3. Green your cleaning products, by making your own.
  4. Commit to bringing your own bags when you shop. Think beyond the grocery story, and take a reusable bag when you go to clothing, gift and household stores.
  5. Stop complaining. Decide to put yourself on a positivity and pro-active mindset "diet."
  6. Unplug earlier. Turn off all screens two hours before bed, or set a tech-free day each week.
  7. Offer gratitude before you eat or before going to bed.
  8. Exercise daily for at least a few minutes. A 10-minute walk with the dog counts!
  9. Get outside. Commit to spending more time in nature.
  10. Give back. Find time in your week to formally or informally help others.
  11. Never stop learning. Sign up for a language class, join a knitting circle or take a gardening class.
  12. Be still. Start small with a meditation practice to focus on the here and now.
  13. Eat more vegetables. No matter what type of diet you follow, we can all certainly add more plants to our plate.
  14. Clear the clutter. Set aside a few minutes a day to keep your working spaces neat and tidy.
  15. Try new foods. Whether it's a new-to-you recipe or an exotic fruit, experiment with healthy eats to keep your palate happy.
  16. Find time for self-care. As caregivers, we have to take care of ourselves first. (Here are nine self-care techniques that take 10 minutes or less.)
  17. Check your breath. Deep breathing keeps us out of the "fight-or-flight" response and in the "rest-and-digest" response. Aim to consciously check in with your breath daily.

As you consider whether to implement these or any goals into your life, be sure to set a "SMART" goal and periodically review what's motivating you.

Selected Sources:
"ACE Health Coach Manual." American Council on Exercise. San Diego, California. 2013.