It’s January 1st.  Karen wakes up past noon, feeling groggy and bloated from too much drinking and eating at last night’s party.  As she slowly gets up, she stares at her pudge, feeling that it has ballooned exponentially over the holidays.  Disgusted with herself, she vows that THIS will be the year that she finally loses weight, gets back into her skinny jeans (which have long since gone out of fashion) and becomes a fitness buff.

Full of resolve, she vows to eat nothing but celery sticks and carrots when she gets the munchies, to prepare the elaborate meals from that diet book she bought for New Year’s Resolution 2001, and to get to the gym 5 days a week.

That very night, she slips up and finishes the box of Christmas cookies from her mother.  A week later, she finally gets up the courage to go to the gym, which is crowded with other Resolvers.  After waiting 15 minutes for a machine, she feels exhausted after her 10 minute workout (with the machine set to Level 1!).  Defeated, discouraged, and without energy, she goes home to a bucket of ice cream; things were fine just the way they were.

Sound familiar?

What went wrong?

* Her motivation to lose weight was motivated by disgust and fear, not a desire to take care of herself.  This always leads to guilty failure, a sense of disappointing yourself or someone else.

* She didn’t have a specific plan; rather, she went about willy-nilly doing things she thought you’re supposed to do when you’re on a “diet” (my most loathed four-letter word).

* Whatever meagre goals she did have were completely unrealistic; one cannot subsist on carrots and celery, nor can one realistically expect to cut out all desserts and sweets.

* She didn’t have the tools and support to make her goals work.

With a lack of adequate planning, realistic goals, and support from the outside, it is difficult to make any sort of change.  And this scenario doesn’t just apply to weight management; almost any resolution that is poorly planned will result in frustration and failure.  Read on to find out the 10 steps to setting New Year’s resolutions that work.

Prepare for Succcess

First, prepare the groundwork.

1. Create a list of areas you think might need improvement. Be creative, and be ambitious.  As with any other brainstorming activity, any idea, no matter how wild, counts.  Ask yourself, “What do I really want your life to look like?” Be sure to include areas other than the physical (work, relationships, spiritual, etc.).

2. Whittle your list down to 1 or 2 major life areas. Decide what you will prioritize for now.  There is always time for more later.  Is this the year you go back to school, change careers, focus on your health?  By trying to do too much, you’ll set yourself up for overwhelm.

3. Think about why you want to make changes in those areas. What will the benefits be?  Are you motivated by a vision that excites you (being full of energy and vitality), or one that terrifies you (if you keep this up, you’ll eventually weigh 300 pounds)?  Ask yourself who you’re really changing for; yourself, or someone else?

4. Create a list of obstacles that might come up, and find specific ways to handle each one. If you know you eat well all day but can’t stop snacking after dinner, then have a backup plan.  If you never seem to have time to devote to a hobby, then create a time that you hold sacred and stick to it.

5. Ask for support. Let friends and family know about your resolution.  Be clear that nagging and pushing won’t help; instead, ask for specific ways in which they can help.  For example, ask your husband to cook dinner twice a week so you can fit in that workout after work rather than rush home to prepare dinner.

Be Smart About Goal-Setting

Next, use the S.M.A.R.T. principle to create goals that you can stick to. Goals should be:

6. Specific. The more specific the goal, the more concrete your behaviour can be.  Rather than say, “I want to have the same body I did 10 years ago,” say, “I want to lose 10 pounds.” Note that a single vision (focus on my health this year) may generate many, many specific goals (lose 10 pounds, take my vitamins, exercise 3 times a week).  Make a list of as many as you can think of.

7. Measureable. Goals that are measurable are trackable.  And if they’re trackable you can always be on top of your progress.  And when you’re always on top of your progress, you’ll be able to figure out what’s keeping you stuck, and congratulate yourself when you’ve reached a milestone.

8. Attainable. Please, be realistic!  You are never going to wear those skin-tight, acid-wash jeans that you wore when you were 16.  Just admit it to yourself and move on.  Instead, pick a goal that is a bit of a stretch but not something that will overwhelm you.  If your idea of exercise is cleaning the bathroom, then resolving to become a gym buff isn’t going to work.  A more realistic goal would be to try a yoga class and walk for a total of 30 minutes a week (until you become fitter and the goals can increase).

9. Relevant. This brings us back to the previous section.  The goals you set need to fit within the vision you have for your life; they need to be for no one’s benefit but your own.  They have to be something you can feel excited about.  Has it ever occurred to you that maybe those 5 extra pounds don’t actually matter to you?  Maybe what you really want to accomplish this year is developing a new skill or hobby, or improve your marriage.

10. Timely. This doesn’t just refer to setting deadlines for your goals (e.g., “Lose 10 pounds in 3 months”).  It also means focusing on developing new habits.  Resolutions aren’t just quick fixes, things that you’ll do temporarily until “something changes.” True change requires a lifetime commitment.  When you were a toddler, your parents diligently taught you to brush your teeth.  Now, you have to do the same for yourself.  As they say, a new habit takes 21 days to form.  One way to make changes that stick is to develop a new habit every week (or every 21 days).  Take those goals that you listed in Step 6 and set a timeline for when you’ll incorporate each one into your lifestyle.  For example, the first week you might resolve to drink at least six glasses of water each day; the second week, you’ll get 30 minutes of physical activity per week; the third, you’ll try to stop eating when you’re full; and so on.  Slow and steady wins the race!

With these 10 steps in hand, you have a recipe to start 2009 off on the right foot!