New Year’s Day has come and gone, meaning it’s time for me to dust myself off, put away the wool blanket I’ve been camping out under with a good book, wash my coffee cup, change out of my pyjama pants and move from a state of “being” to “doing” again (just a bit more doing). I’ve never been a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions; they’ve always seemed to me like a fatalistic fad that we have already given ourselves permission to break. Even before we set off on our trek, we know that most New Year’s resolutions are doomed to die out and so we often resign ourselves to failing before we begin.
That being said, the new year, while just a symbolic date on our calenders, does signal new beginnings. It’s the end of down time – most of us are heading back to school after a period of rest and rejuvenation. It marks the passing of the winter solstice; the days are beginning to get longer, the earth is gathering warmth and rekindling our inner fires, which bring with them the motivation we need to accomplish our deepest, most important goals. So, this first post of the new year is dedicated to goal setting. It’s one of the skills we naturopathic doctors (and naturopathic interns) implement often, because getting to the root cause of disease and walking the path of health is never as easy as saying “start running and eating kale”. It requires a certain amount of foresight and personal empowerment.
How to Set a New Year’s Resolution
1) Identify what you want to achieve. Your new year’s goals should represent something you really want. Making a goal to lose weight might be something you think you should strive for but not necessarily what you truly desire. Being thin, despite media pressure, is just not a top priority for everyone. If you don’t really care about your New Year’s goals or aren’t committed to them, then they’re doomed from the start. Making changes isn’t easy and so we need a worthy cause to fight for, to remind ourselves of when the going gets tough. Perhaps, rather than losing weight, your goal is to start running, to minimize your carbon footprint, to eat more healthfully, or to spend more time with your children. Ask yourself why you want to achieve these things. Is it because someone told you to want them? There are thousands of goals that benefit your health, happiness, peace of mind and well-being. Identifying what you really want out of 2014 is the most important and often the most difficult stage of this process. Creating a vision board collage or writing a personal mission statement might help you identify your values and dreams that you would like to begin to set in motion this year.
2) Make sure your goal is measurable. Imagine yourself at the end of your journey, having achieved your goal. How will you feel? What will be different about your life? How will you know that you’ve achieved your goal? Quantifying a measurable endpoint is crucial for being able to reach success. Perhaps you’ll be able to run 1 mile without stopping, or complete a half-marathon. Maybe your cupboards will be free of processed food and you’ll have made friends with kale and broccoli, or have your own backyard garden. What does success look and feel like? Will it have been worth it? We often underestimate the amount of work that goes into making our goals a reality. Having something concrete and worthwhile to work towards will ensure that we’re on the right path and that our efforts are concentrated in the right direction.
3) State your goal positively. Once you have fully identified your goal, frame it in a positive way. Rather than saying “I’m going to stop eating fast food,” how about “I’m going to eat more green vegetables.” Stating goals positively helps take the focus off the negative and increases personal empowerment and motivation. It gives us something to work towards, rather than something to run from.
4) Make your goal more specific. If your goal is to eat more green vegetables, quantify it more. How many more green vegetables? When, where and how? Perhaps you’d like to eat 5 servings a day, or your goal is to have a serving at dinner, or to replace your mid-morning muffin with a green smoothie. Identify the specifics and state them positively in your resolution. Creating more specific goals also implies how you will achieve them. It orients the goal to your behaviour. “Spending more time with family” becomes “organizing a physical activity with the family every Saturday”, which makes implementing your goal much easier; all you have left to do is put it in motion.
5) Break your goal down to make it manageable. “I’m going to eat 10 servings of vegetables a day: a green breakfast smoothie, carrots and hummus for snacks, a large salad for lunch with added vegetables and 2 different kinds of vegetables served with dinner.” Is a good, positively stated, specific goal. However, it may not be achievable if you’ve never tried carrots before. While the end goal can stay the same, breaking it into manageable chunks can make it look much less daunting. Also, mastering each mini-goal can help you stay motivated and increase the goal’s staying power. Breaking the end goal into, “I’m going to snack on carrots and hummus on my 10 am break” might be a much less intimidating and achievable step towards your goal than tackling the entire mountain at once. Keep these steps small and 100% achievable, ensuring your success and future commitment to your cause.