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A 5-Step Guide to Achieving Your New Year’s Resolutions

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By Dr. Sarah Hall UVU

Doctor’s orders: New Year’s goal setting takes consideration

The New Year is almost upon us! Reflecting on the previous year and setting goals for the upcoming year can be both exciting and overwhelming. Today, I’d like to bring in some health behavior change theory to explore how you can increase your chances of keeping your resolution.

Step 1: Create a goal

Choosing a goal can be overwhelming! We can’t change everything at once, so it’s best to start with a small, attainable goal. Consider the categories below. Each category has a few examples to get you thinking.

Physical health: Eat more fruits and vegetables. Reduce soda intake. Give up energy drinks. Drink more water. Exercise more. Get more sleep.

Social health: Spend time with friends. Try a new club or activity. Limit social media time.

Psychological health: Meet with a good therapist. Replace alcohol use with a healthier coping mechanism. Practice a stress management technique yes, your New Year goal can be taking bubble baths! Keep a gratitude journal. Spend time in nature. Clean, declutter and paint that room. Hire household help. Make a playlist of inspirational songs.

Environmental health: Swap out unhealthy products like household cleaners, cosmetics and sunscreen with healthier alternatives. Save water by reducing shower length. Purchase reusable bags for grocery shopping. Pack lunches in glass Tupperware instead of plastic bags.

Spiritual health: Take time to reflect on what is important in life through prayer, writing or meditation. Engage in service.

Intellectual health: Read books. Learn a new hobby like guitar, auto repair, cabinet making, dancing, or pottery. Try something new like writing a song or poem. Use an app to learn a new language, do a crossword puzzle or play an intellectually stimulating game to keep your memory sharp.

Financial health: Make a budget and stick to it. Invest or save a certain amount for emergencies.

Small, steady changes are generally the most successful. Once you’ve thought about what you would like to change, create a specific, measurable, attainable behavioral goals. For example, “consume two or fewer 12-ounce sodas each week,” “meet up with friends for lunch or dinner at least once a week,” or “enroll in a pottery class and attend at least twice a month.”

Step 2: Analyze your goal

Now it’s time to bring in some theory! The Health Belief Model can help you determine your perceived threats, benefits, barriers, self-efficacy and cues to action.

Threats: What negative results can occur if you fail to change your behavior?

Benefits vs. barriers: What positive things are likely to result from your behavior change? What negative things can result from the behavior change?

Self-efficacy: What specific things make it easy and difficult for you to change your behavior?

Cue to action: What can you do to remind yourself to engage in this behavior?

If my goal was exercise, my analysis might look something like this. My threats are cardiovascular disease, loss of strength and body dissatisfaction. My benefits are increased strength, muscle tone, overall health and body satisfaction. My barriers are potential for an old injury to reoccur, having to wake up earlier and missing some social events with friends. Factors relating to my self-efficacy could be the cost of a gym membership, finding childcare to allow me to exercise or lack of motivation. My cue to action could be setting a phone alarm to exercise or finding a gym buddy to meet up with.

Before implementing your goal, think about how to reduce your barriers and increase your self-efficacy. If the cost of a gym membership is prohibitive, look for free community fitness classes. If childcare is likely to get in the way, see if you can do a childcare swap with your neighbor. If motivation is the problem, find an exercise buddy.

Be sure to set up your cues to action in advance. This can be entering your goal into a digital calendar, setting phone alarms, having a spouse or friend send reminders, or posting a note on a bathroom mirror.

Step 3: Make a plan

Be sure to make a specific plan. How will you implement your goal? What will you do? When will you do it? Personally, I can have every intention to exercise three times a week, but without having a day each week to plan out and calendar when and how I will exercise, I am unlikely to follow through.

Another behavior change theory called the Transtheoretical Model is useful for long-term behavior change. Think about which of the following from the model will be the most useful to you to help you achieve your goal. Pick at least one to help you with your New Year’s resolution.

Counter conditioning: Use substitutes; swap unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones. You may want to swap social media time with calling someone on the phone. Or swap out ice cream for smoothies or chocolate bars for nuts.

Helping relationships: Get support from trusted family, friends, therapists or others in your life. You may challenge a friend to do the same goal and be accountable to each other.

Reinforcement: Use rewards to reinforce good behavior. You could put money toward a vacation fund each time you perform the behavior, reward yourself with a professional massage once you have accomplished your goal for at least a month, or eat a piece of chocolate after each time you perform the behavior.

Environmental control: Restructure your environment so you are less likely to perform the negative behavior. If you don’t buy sweets, you’re unlikely to eat them just because you’re bored. If you are trying to cut down on alcohol, you may need to stop attending events with people that influence you to drink too much.

Step 4: Set up a tracking system

How will you track your behavior to see your progress? Will you use a planner or calendar? A phone app? An excel spreadsheet? Set up your tracking in advance. Change your tracking system if it isn’t working for you. Set up a few reminder dates to “check in” with your goal. This could be weekly, monthly or quarterly.

Step 5: Be kind to yourself

Don’t give up! Some days, weeks or months will be more successful than others. Remember, behavior change takes time. It might be one step forward, two steps back for a while. Treat yourself with the same encouragement that you would treat a friend. Learn from failure, and be flexible to modify your goal if it isn’t working. One small step at a time makes a journey, one brick at a time makes a cathedral and one little success on another makes you great. You’ve got this!

Dr. Sarah Hall is an assistant professor of Public Health at Utah Valley University.

© Copyright (c) 2019 The Daily Herald

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