New years seems like the perfect to reinvent yourself. New year, new me right?
The cliche saying is the main motto for people as they seek to meet their health goals for the coming year. Just as common as the motivational statement is the second week realization that reaching those goals is going to be a lot harder than originally thought.
That's where lessons from health psychology come in to help people stick to their health goals.
Natalie Keirns, a graduate student specializing in health psychology, describes how the motivation can wane as the year goes on.
“Sometimes a person might not be in a place where they’re ready to make a change when they start,” Keirns said. “You really start when your motivation is at that peak, so some people just started early, like, ‘It's the new year, and I made this resolution, but I wasn’t all in.’”
Some new year’s resolutions can be vague, looking toward the distant future. That long-term vision can lead to problems.
“It is really important to have those short term, smaller steps that we’re taking,” Keirns said. “They want to lose 30 pounds, but instead of saying, ‘I want to lose one to two pounds a week,’ they just say, ‘I want to lose those 30 pounds,’ and that can be kind of overwhelming because that’s a big goal. They don’t know where to start and what the small steps they need to take to help them get to that goal.”
Setting the goal can be the hardest part. Keirns said to focus on making them specific, measurable and achievable. Transitioning from not going to the gym to trying to go six times a week will likely not happen.
“Goals should push you beyond where you are but also be realistic and achievable for where you're at,” Keirns said. “I push myself from where I’m at, but I should set myself up for success versus setting myself up for failure by trying to take too big of a step at once.”
Even with the breakdown of smaller steps to take, it can still be overwhelming with the overall goal for this year looming overhead as the weeks go on.
“If you start to feel overwhelmed by the big goal, bring yourself to think, 'What is the next step, and can you take that step this week?'" Keirns said. "Focus on the, ‘Yes I want to get there, I will get there with time,’ but focus your attention on thinking the most is just the next step.”
Now, someone might be armed with the perfect plan to get healthy this year, but life happens. Tests begin or work becomes hectic, and those goals become harder and harder to keep. At this point, it’s all about keeping the focus.
“Something that can help maintain progress when motivation does start to dip is really focusing on your values and what is most important to you in life," Keirns said. "Remember why you started to make this change in the first place, why did you want to get healthier?”