Let’s face it: whether your New Year’s resolution is to sleep better, healthify your diet, or even just keep a journal, New Year’s Day is a terrible time to start.
From staying up late to consuming loads of calories and alcohol the night before, most people are just setting themselves up for failure come January 1st. Instead of diving into a brand-new goal on a day when you’re hungover, sleep deprived, or both, give yourself a head start and get the ball rolling before the New Year begins.
Write it down
According to Psychology Today, the very first step in setting a goal is to write it down. And the trick is to make it achievable, positive, and specific. In other words, if you want to lose weight, don’t just write “lose weight.” Instead, ask yourself how much weight you need to lose, how much time you should take to lose that weight, and how you’ll go about achieving that goal.
Another common way to determine whether or not the goal you’ve set is attainable is to follow the S.M.A.R.T guidelines. According to the CDC, a S.M.A.R.T. goal is one that is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. By this logic, try to set a specific, realistic goal that you would like to attain by a certain date, and make sure you have a way to evaluate your progress. If you expect to go to the gym every day after not exercising for five years, you’ll probably find that you need to tweak your expectations in order for your goal to remain achievable.
In a recent interview, Michael “Fat Dag” Daggett told us that when setting a goal, you should “grab a pen, grab some paper, and write a letter to yourself explaining exactly how you feel and why you want to make the change.” That way, whenever you’re feeling discouraged, you can read that letter and remind yourself of what motivated you in the first place. He also suggests that instead of using a journal to keep track of your goal, you might have better success if you grab a dry-erase marker and jot it down directly on your bathroom or bedroom mirror.
Take it for a test drive
Once you’ve set your goal, it’s important to do a little planning and clear some time in your schedule for new habits you hope to adopt—such as meal prepping, nightly walking, or morning meditation. By starting in November—before the holiday season has gotten too wild—you give yourself the perfect opportunity to test out these lifestyle changes, determine if they are truly realistic, and see what needs to be tweaked. That way, when the New Year rolls around, you won’t quit your resolution, having bitten off more than you can chew.
However, it can be more difficult than you might expect to change ingrained habits. A few select people have success with big sweeping changes, completely changing their lifestyles overnight. The advantage to this approach is that you’ll likely feel the benefits and see results more quickly, which may help you stay motivated. However, for most of us, the conviction to stick to all these changes will fade after a week or so, and we’ll find ourselves right back where we started.
For the majority of people, a small-steps approach is a better long-term strategy. That means you don’t need to go from junk-food addict to kale salad-eating gym rat overnight. Instead, choose a small change you can make each week, such as cutting out soda or adding a 10-minute walk into your routine every evening. These small changes are much more likely to stick, and they won’t be overwhelming.
Remember: your goal shouldn’t be a temporary fix, such as crash-dieting to lose weight, but should be indicative of a long-term change you can make and stick to for a long period of time, or even the rest of your life.
Settle into your routine
If you’ve written down your goal and begun working towards it, adjusting as needed, chances are that you’ll be feeling more confident in your changes by the time you reach New Year’s Day. This means that while everyone else is scrambling to develop their resolution, yours will already be on its way to becoming part of your lifestyle. And we promise, that will be a pretty great feeling.
So, go ahead—grab a notebook, a calendar, or a dry-erase marker and start jotting down that goal. You never know, maybe by the time New Year’s Day rolls around you’ll already have achieved it!