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Steps for Successful Goal Setting in the New Year 

Emily Schmelzer, MS, RD, LD
Nutrition Therapy Supervisor

New Year’s resolutions are often made with the best intentions, but many of us have trouble following through. In fact, research shows resolutions are rarely an effective way to accomplish our goals. According to registered dietitian Emily Schmelzer, MS, RD, LD, this could be for any number of reasons, including:

You’re approaching goal setting all wrong.

While losing 10 pounds sounds like a reasonable goal on the surface, this statement is too general to drive action. Instead, goals should be SMART: specific, measureable, attainable, relevant and timely. Several SMART goals can help you reach your “big picture” goal.

Big Picture Goal: I will lose 10 pounds to improve my health and wellness.

SMART Goal 1: For the month of January, I will walk for 30 minutes, three times a week. I will track my workouts on my Apple watch.

SMART Goal 2: For the month of February, I will include a serving of vegetables with dinner daily. I will track my servings with a chart on my fridge.

When you reach the end of your SMART timeframe, you will have the opportunity to evaluate your progress. For example, if you reached your exercise goals, you can continue to challenge yourself by increasing the duration or quantity of your workouts in a week, or you can renew your motivation by making it a point to maintain your routine.

The “diet mindset” is throwing you off.

While it’s important to practice healthy eating habits, the word “diet” encourages an “all-or-nothing” mentality. How many times have you restricted certain foods because they didn’t align with your diet, only to end up craving and eating them anyway? Did this “slip-up” leave you feeling guilty or ashamed? Did you stick with the diet, or decide to throw in the towel because you already “blew it”? As a registered dietitian, Emily shares why this is not a healthy approach to food.

“I really stay away from categorizing foods as good or bad,” Emily said. “I am a big believer in practicing moderation and enjoying meals. When we adopt a healthy lifestyle, we naturally make choices that support the body.”

The timing isn’t right.

We will be successful when we’re ready to be successful. Unsurprisingly, that timing doesn’t always align with the changing of the calendar. Start when you’re ready, not when you feel obligated. If you’re not sure you’ll ever be ready, just start! Small changes can have a big impact: Exercising for as little as 5-10 minutes a day can make a difference in how you think and feel. If you need social support, invite your coworkers to join a fitness challenge or sign your family up for a charity 5K. Remember, showing up for yourself in ways big or small is better than not showing up at all.

New Year’s resolutions just aren’t for you.

It is never a bad idea to reflect on what you’ve accomplished and where you’re headed, but the “traditional” New Year’s resolution isn’t for everybody. Here are some alternative ways you can welcome 2024:

  • Make a list of all the things you’re looking forward to in the New Year. Instead of focusing on what you’d like to change, appreciate what you already have on your calendar.
  • Map out monthly themes to keep your priorities top of mind. For example, make March the month you declutter the house or August the month you rekindle your love for cooking.
  • If you’re feeling stuck, reboot one area of your life. Maybe your exercise routine is starting to feel stale and boring: Change it up. Try a new class, join a new gym or explore an activity that’s out of your comfort zone.
  • Start a gratitude journal, and use it in a way that fits your life. Some people might write down three things they’re grateful for before going to bed, while others prefer to journal in the morning. Maybe you want to hang post-it notes around the house to remind you of your gratitude, or maybe you’d rather have a notebook to look through when you’re feeling down. Whatever you decide, make sure it works for you.
  • Create a bucket list for the year. This is a fun way to get inspired without the pressure of achieving goals or making plans. Your bucket list can be personal to you, or you can make it a family activity to get everyone involved.
  • Choose a word for the year, and let that word guide you. If your word is “joy”, find ways to prioritize and share the things that make you happiest. This could look like taking photos at family gatherings to build a scrapbook, or maybe you want to find more ways to volunteer your time to spread joy to others.

No matter your resolutions or hopes for the New Year, remember to start when you’re ready. If you are setting goals, use them as a tool to guide your success rather than derail you from making progress – and if you get off track, it’s always okay to start again.