With a new year underway, many people are thinking about how to reset goals and make lifestyle changes. Individuals often set challenging resolutions and tend to lose motivation as time progresses. Instead of making a resolution, Virginia Tech behavioral psychologist Samantha Harden suggests a different approach in the new year.
“I recommend throwing out the adage of a New Year’s resolution,” says Harden, an associate professor in Virginia Tech’s Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “Resolutions, as we think of them today, are designed to fail. They promote extreme change all at once versus lasting, meaningful adjustments.”
“It’s important to self-reflect and be honest with yourself about what goals are realistic to achieve,” Harden stresses, who is also a Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist. “The biggest thing is to change your mindset about where you are, what’s feasible, what’s realistic, and what environmental support you need to get you there.”
Harden suggests instead focusing on behavioral interventions.
“Smoking cessation, budgeting, and increased physical activity require a mixture of individual and interpersonal strategies. Together, these can result in long lasting behavior change.”
Other strategies that individuals can take to incorporate health and well-being in the new year include setting personal goals, self-monitoring, and receiving feedback (from an Extension agent, smartwatch/device, coach, friend, or trusted other). Also working to improve interpersonal relationships by communication, accountability, shared problem solving, and friendly competition.
When it comes to establishing healthy habits, Harden says mindfulness is a powerful tool, but she stresses that it is important to remember that this is an ongoing practice, not a perfect practice. “While mindfulness does take determination, it’s one of reflection and connection, one that results in transformation through acceptance rather than fixation on the “more or less” imperfections in one’s life, body, or bank account.”
Harden says that many people face setbacks at one point or another while working to achieve their goal. “We have different seasons of life, so nurture them and get the healthy habits to fit within them rather than see them as additional,” says Harden. “We have to acknowledge and accept that there will be ebbs and flows when working towards goals. Remember, it’s all about perspective, and that can keep you going day after day, month after month, year after year.”
Margaret Ashburn for Virginia Tech