Yes, it’s definitely true that every year droves of Americans declare “new year, new me.” Many of us compile a list of resolutions that we have no intention of keeping, or some that we embrace wholeheartedly for five to six weeks.
There are enterprising folks who create vision boards to attest to the feats they will accomplish in the new year. Vision boards are actually a very good idea, I’m just jealous because I can never successfully create one.
Some families eat black-eyed peas and cabbage to usher in good luck and prosperity. Such meals are rooted in traditions dating back to the Civil War, and some foodways scholars even trace these traditions back to Africa.
Even still, other families have ritualistic ceremonies to purge negativity from their lives for the next year. And for many of us, even after we burn symbolic scraps of paper listing all the things that we won’t be taking with us into 2021, somehow after a month or two our resolve has disappeared and those same things we burned (exes, horrible eating habits, overcommitting to projects) are back like a bad rash.
While there is certainly nothing wrong with verbally declaring your goals or creating a visual manifestation of these ambitions, a more practical approach might be to do a little of both. The more important step, however, is to articulate what folks in the business world and health and fitness industries refer to as SMART goals.
SMART refers to Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. In other words, what can I realistically expect to accomplish in a predetermined amount of time. These are not just important to keep in mind for our health and fitness goals, which many of us create on January 1, but they are essential for personal and professional goals as well.
SMART goals are not only practical but extremely relevant. The key, however, is to temper those SMART goals by setting process goals rather than progress goals. A SMART goal might be to say I’m going to lose 10 pounds in a month. That goal is specific, measurable, attainable, most people can lose safely lose 1% to 2% of their body weight a week.
Now whether or not this is a realistic goal is debatable. It’s harder for women to lose weight than men, not all metabolisms are created equally, heredity and genetics are real things that affect our ability to lose weight, etc. But you get the point.
TRY PROCESS GOALS
While losing 10 pounds in a month might be a SMART goal, process goals allow you to prioritize yourself without experiencing pronounced feelings of self-defeat if you don’t lose 10 pounds within a month. Setting process goals simply means that we focus on the journey and not the destination.
For instance, you might set healthy eating process goals such as increase your daily servings of vegetables by one. A fitness-related goal might be to walk at least 30 minutes 3 days a week if you are new to exercise. You could also set a goal to increase your steps by 500 per day.
For those of you who are already height/weight proportionate according to the BMI and other indexes of questionable merit, there are wellness goals like committing to getting at least seven hours of sleep a night or one more hour than you’re currently getting. A process goal might be to limit your number of commitments outside of work and family to a maximum of _____ (some number that’s less than what you’re currently juggling).
Process goals might be to have at least two activities with your family per week. Process goals can be small, and in fact, when you begin, they probably should be small to ensure success. Each month you can add to or modify your list. As my good friend Dr. Rebecca May Mouser says, “resolve to take better care of [yourself] physically, emotionally, and mentally.”
To be clear, Dr. Mouser is NOT an MD — she’s one of those extremely well qualified Dr. Jill Bidenesque women who are calling themselves doctors just because they had the gall to get an advanced degree in their field. In spite of her lack of any medical credentials, Dr. Mouser’s point is no less valid.
I’ll use myself as an example of how you can create process rather than outcome goals. According to one of those charts, I “need” to lose at least 30 pounds of excess body weight, but rather than become a psychological prisoner of my scale, I’m committing to exercising at least 30 minutes a day for at least five days a week and increasing my vegetable intake to at least 3 servings per day — not going to tell you all what I’m currently averaging, but trust me, it’s shameful.
I’m also going to resolve to eat one less Oreo per occasion. Rather than eating four Oreos at a time, in January I’m only going to eat three at a time. In February this number might drop to two at a time. You get the picture. At some point, I might even get to not bringing the negative thing into my house.
Another nutrition process goal is to replace one “bad” thing with a good or better thing. For example, I have replaced at least one of my weekly Oreo sessions with a mixture of plain Greek yogurt, seasonal fruit (frozen if you’re on a budget) and Granola Goddess labs chocolate turmeric ginger granola. I’m not sure if there’s enough sugar in this creation to satisfy my sweet tooth or if it’s that the flavor combination is confusing to my taste buds and thus, I no longer crave anything for a while afterward. Also, plain Greek yogurt has enough protein to help create feelings of satiety for a while afterward.
MIX IT UP
Other process goals include committing to getting at least six hours of sleep per night, working on my research at least three days of every week for at least 30 minutes, etc. Notice that my fitness goals are more ambitious than my other goals, but that’s because I exercise or teach group fitness classes on a semi-regular basis.
My other goals are modest by comparison. Basically, I’m saying start where you are. By sharing my goals with you, I’ve enlisted you as accountability partners in my journey. These friends, family, or random strangers on the internet are a crucial part of our “successes.” Not only can they help encourage and motivate you, but they can help you celebrate your successes, whatever those might be. And always celebrate the successes!
Moving your resolutions from your mind to the page and framing them as commitments is that crucial first step in leaving some of the old as we try to usher in the new. Remember, process goals don’t actually replace outcome goals, they just challenge us to keep one foot in front of the other, to take our journey — whatever it might be — one step at a time!
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