Expert: New Year’s resolutions need specifics, realistic goal-setting

COLLEGE STATION – Whether it’s resolving to exercise, lose weight or save money, taking certain specific steps will give that New Year’s resolution a better chance of succeeding, said Nancy Granovsky, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service specialist in family development and resource management, College Station.

There are certain specific steps people can take to help ensure they keep their New Year's resolutions, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

There are specific steps people can take to help ensure they keep their New Year’s resolutions, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

“January is always a busy time for gyms due to people resolving to exercise and take better care of their bodies,” Granovsky said. “But it usually doesn’t take long for people to fall off the exercise wagon due to a lack of focus. It’s the same for people making financial resolutions that are not backed by a plan and specific steps to be taken.”

Granovsky said setting specific quantifiable goals is vital to maintaining a New Year’s resolution.

“Committing to a specific outcome, such as working out three days a week or saving X dollars per month, gives you a baseline for forming a habit,” she said. “It gives you reachable goals that you can track as a way to sustain your willpower and hold yourself accountable.”

Granovsky said it is important to write down or “memorialize” goals and keep track of progress, including milestones that are set and met.

“The key to keeping resolutions is to set smaller goals that can be gradually built upon,” she said. “Don’t think you’re going to be able to make big changes in a short time frame. Break things up into small steps so you can gauge your progress. Start by setting goals that are neither too far out into the future nor too far out of your comfort zone.”

Keeping resolutions is a matter of changing habits or behaviors, she said. When something hasn’t yet become a habit, it is harder to remain committed to making a change.

“It may take a while to break an ‘unsuccessful’ habit and substitute it with a better one, but taking small initial steps is the key to improving your chances of success. You can start by choosing to have a healthy salad for lunch once or twice a week instead of something less healthy — or to go to the gym once a week and then extend that to three times a week once you get into the habit.

“It’s also important that you don’t overwhelm yourself and remember to forgive yourself if you fail to meet your goals from time to time. Plus, you need to remember to reward yourself when you have reached a milestone in your progress.”

Granovsky said using technology or automation can also help keep resolutions.

“If you want to invest or save a certain amount of money over the year, setting up an automatic monthly transfer into a fund or savings account eliminates having to remember to save because that decision has essentially been ‘outsourced’ by automating it,” she said. “You can use technology to set up a family budget or use your computer’s calendar or your smart phone to remind you when you’re supposed to work out.

“There are also lots of gadgets and apps from an old-fashioned pedometer to more complex electronic activity trackers that can help you reach even more specific health-oriented goals. Technology can be a great help in reminding you to keep your resolutions until the new behaviors become second nature.”

Granovsky said finding others with similar goals can also improve the chances of keeping those resolutions.

“Find a walking or running partner who is equally committed to exercising more and make plans to walk or run together,” she said. “Or find an exercise class at the gym that meets at a regularly scheduled time that doesn’t conflict with your family or work obligations so you’ll have a better chance of making that class. If you have a friend you know who is good at saving money, you can ask if there are specific things he or she does toward budgeting or managing household finances.”

Granovsky said free informational materials on health, wellness, food and nutrition, money management and other topics are available from AgriLife Extension at http://fcs.tamu.edu.

“It’s okay to ask for help in reaching your New Year’s resolutions,” Granovsky said. “Often people fail in their resolutions because they don’t have adequate support or have trouble setting specific, attainable goals. Having support and encouragement is vital in reaching your goals and keeping your resolutions. So is making sure that you set specific goals that are doable and hold yourself accountable.”

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