Your Health

Make New Year’s resolutions come true with a personal action plan

Notebook with the start of a New Year resolutions list.
Photo of Victoria Wojakowski. JIM EVANCHUK
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Friday, December 29, 2017

As Manitobans prepare to welcome the New Year, a good many of them are probably making resolutions to change their lives for the better.

But, as everyone knows, New Year’s resolutions have a tendency to be short-lived. You do a lot of activity in January, and then slack off, often ending up further behind than when you started.

Does this mean you’re lazy or weak-willed?

Not really. Instead, it probably means you’ve probably bitten off more than you can chew, by setting up unrealistic goals.

One way to overcome this problem is to write a personal action plan. Your personal action plan is a thoughtful and honest conversation with yourself. It helps you identify an action or behaviour that is highly important to you, one that you can envision yourself doing and feeling good about achieving. Moving beyond a wish list, your personal action plan helps you plot a personal course and sets you up for success.

Let’s say you want to improve your health. This might include eating a healthier diet, getting more exercise, quitting smoking, decreasing alcohol intake, spending more time with family and friends, and taking up a hobby or playing a sport.

All of these would improve your physical and mental health, which would be great. But taking on too many changes at one time is often the way to set yourself up for failure.

That’s where the personal action plan comes in. The plan will help you estimate how successful you will be and will markedly improve your likelihood of success. No matter what your health goal is, putting your thoughts into a specific written plan can help you succeed.

Most personal action plans involve making a list of:

  • The change you want to make.
  • Realistic, short-term goals you can do week by week, including specific steps to achieving these goals.
  • Difficulties to be overcome. Common setbacks include lack of time, health or money problems.
  • Supports and resources you need to achieve your goal, such as family, friends, support groups or classes. It is also helpful to rank, on a scale of one to 10, the importance of achieving your goal as well as how confident you are about accomplishing it. If you score a seven or higher, it’s a good indication you can achieve your goals.

Here’s how this works.

Let’s say you want to eat a healthier diet. Rather than throwing out everything you’re currently eating, start by listing foods to remove or add to your diet. Then choose one food for your short-term goal.

For example, you may want to stop eating potato chips, because chips are low in nutrients and high in calories, salt and fat. Rather than quitting potato chips altogether, try decreasing the amount of chips you eat over a period of time.

You will, of course, run into some challenges along the way. Perhaps your family won’t want to give up potato chips, or maybe you’ll find yourself at social occasions where there are bowls of irresistible chips and dip.

Whenever you do give into temptation, it’s important to recognize that it is only a setback. Don’t beat yourself up over your failure. Instead, believe that you can get back on track. It’s also important to not compare yourself to others. Your personal goals are just that.

If you find yourself struggling to achieve your goal, you might want to set up a buddy system or sign up for a group or activity. You’ll be more motivated and encouraged if you are around others who also enjoy the activity.

When it comes to setting fitness goals, talk to your health-care provider before embarking on any kind of exercise program. When choosing an activity, consider signing up for one that allows you to ease in slowly. Avoid activities that immediately require a great deal of strength, endurance and flexibility. Remember, incremental gains are the way to achieve your goal. I’ve heard that it takes 10,000 repetitions in order to gain a new skill. The same goes for a lifestyle change.

So, when drawing up your healthy resolutions for the coming year, start with one goal, set a year-long process to achieve it, and celebrate milestones when they occur. Your personal action plan is the best way to make it happen.

Jim Evanchuk is the Executive Director of the Active Living Coalition for Older Adults in Manitoba, located at the Wellness Institute at Seven Oaks Hospital. This column was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Friday, December 29, 2017.

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