Using ABA to Set Achievable New Year’s Resolutions
Can you believe it's December? This year flew by, and sometimes by December it can feel like you didn't achieve everything you wanted to this year. December is a month associated with the holidays, gift giving and overindulgence in holiday-specific food. With the chaos of the holidays, it's easy for a lot of us to fall off our regular workout routines and get a little loose on the diet. Come January, many are setting New Year's resolutions to get back on track and get in the best shape of their lives. (Insert year here) is going to be your best year yet! Does any of this sound familiar? It sounds familiar to myself as I am guilty of all of the above.
Come January everyone will be setting New Year's Resolutions. Health and fitness resolutions are the goals that I hear and see people post about the most. These can include starting a fitness routine/going to the gym more often, eating healthier, losing weight, getting down to x clothing size, quitting an unhealthy habit (i.e., smoking or drinking), setting personal records in whichever sport you practice/compete in, and the list goes on and on.
However, based off my observations and being immersed in the fitness space for many years, very few complete/stick to their New Years resolutions. Gyms have a big increase in gym membership and attendance in January that eventually drops off. By Springtime, the bustle of the New Year's resolution gang seems like it has dropped off completely. According to Forbes in 2013, only 8% of individuals who set NewYear's resolutions are successful in achieving their goals.
As we approach a new year and a season of goal-setting, here are some tips on how to set goals and resolutions that can actually be achieved!
1. Make sure your goal is clearly defined - Set goals that have a clear definition. If your overall resolution is to "get healthy" - what does this entail, and what counts as "getting healthy"? Will you be happy and satisfied with yourself if you eat 4-5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily? Or will you want to stop something unhealthy like drinking too many energy drinks or diet sodas? If your goal is to "lose weight" - what is your goal weight loss or end weight that you'd like to get to? Will you be satisfied losing 5 pounds, or are you aiming for a bigger loss? By making sure your goal is clearly defined, you can set a plan and start working on it. You can also include examples of what counts towards your goal and what doesn't (for example with the "get healthy" goal - what may count towards this is eating 4 servings of fresh fruit or vegetables a day, and what may NOT count is eating 4 servings of dried fruit that is loaded in added sugar or vegetables in the form of veggie chips or other snack foods containing vegetables). Having a well-defined target behavior will make it easier to monitor progress towards your resolution.
2. Take baseline of your current skill level - In order to come up with achievable goals, you need to know how often you are engaging in the target behavior without intervention. Collect some data on how many days/times per week/how long you engage in the behavior you want to change (e.g., going to the gym). At least a week's worth of data can give you a clear picture of what your baseline currently is.
3. Set goals that are not too difficult or unattainable - Using your baseline and current skill level, set a realistic goal. For example, if your goal is to go to the gym 5 times per week, but in baseline you were going only 1-2 times per week, aiming for 5 will be a stretch. Make the goal realistic (e.g., in this example, 3 times per week). This way you are more likely to meet your goal, and not get discouraged. Setting smaller goals (daily, weekly, monthly) helps you practice healthy behavior changes that can build and maintain over the full year.
4. Collect data - Data is important to assess whether or not your current plan is working or not! Data collection does not have to be complicated. Depending on your goal, data can be as simple as marking on the calendar whether you engaged in the healthy behavior or not or how many times you engaged in the specific target behavior (e.g., servings of vegetables or cups of water).
5. Make adjustments as necessary - Sometimes things don't work as originally planned and that is okay. If your original goal was to go to the gym 4x a week and lose 5 pounds to reach your goal weight, but other obligations have gotten in the way of your goal achieving (work, emergencies, life in general) then there is no shame in making adjustments to your goal! Take a small step back and decrease the response requirement of your goal. You'll still be working towards making progress towards the bigger resolution and will be able to feel successful in doing so.
6. Celebrate your wins (big and small) - When you have a bigger goal/resolution that'll take the year or longer to achieve, sometimes it can be discouraging when progress doesn't occur immediately or when progress is slow. Most health and fitness related goals take TIME, so it's important to celebrate your wins even if they are small. For example, if your resolution is to eat more veggies and you've only gone one day so far of eating 4 servings of veggies, aim to hit that second consecutive day at 4 servings or more and celebrate this progress! It's important to take time to appreciate even the small wins, and look at the overall picture. If you mess up one day this won't ruin your progress, just as one day of being 100% on point won't make huge progress. Your resolution will be an ongoing project that will take time to achieve. Celebrate every small step towards achieving your bigger goal!
Please note: This post originally appeared as "Setting Resolutions You Can Actually Achieve!" on the Data Driven Performance blog on December 10, 2018, and is shared on our website with written consent from the author.
Author Bio: Trina Mendoza, M.S., B.C.B.A., Pn1 became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst in 2016 and has over 12 years of experience working with children and young adults with autism and developmental disabilities in home, school and community settings. In addition, she has worked in multiple roles in health and fitness including teaching group classes, coaching CrossFit and CrossFit Kids. She now trains and competes in Olympic Weightlifting, and runs Data Driven Performance - an ABA health and fitness coaching company.