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Guest Post: Dr. James Beckerman Shares 3 Secrets for Resolution Success

With the New Year, the web is full of commentary about resolutions. Most of us use resolutions to motivate ourselves to change our behaviors. But we know that about 25% of us will give up our resolutions a week from now, and only 10% of us will be sticking with our 2013 resolutions this time next year.  [1. Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and nonresolvers, Journal of Clinical Psychology, April 2002.]A skeptic might conclude that resolutions as motivators don’t work. And they might apply that to population health management. [pullquote]People who explicitly make resolutions are ten times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions.[/pullquote]

But let’s look deeper.

According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology,[1. Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and nonresolvers, Journal of Clinical Psychology, April 2002.]  people who explicitly make resolutions are ten times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions. There is something about making ourselves accountable, especially if we involve others in our social networks.

Tom Connellan, in his book The 1% Solution for Work and Life,[2. The 1% Solution for Work and Life: How to Make Your Next 30 Days the Best Ever, Tom Connellan, 2010.]  explains that we have been approaching resolutions the wrong way. And I think he might be right.

Resolution secret #1: Accomplishments are great motivators

Remember that while motivation in general can lead to accomplishments, accomplishments themselves are actually great motivators. When people lose the first five pounds, they feel more excited about the next ten. When you run across the finish line, you want to sign up for the next race. When we experience success, we remember how good it feels. So the first secret is to use your accomplishments, no matter how small, to provide momentum along your journey, rather than just focusing on the big goal. We can do this in health management in addition to our role as health providers.

Resolution secret #2: Think big, but start small

That’s not say that big goals aren’t good to have. I ran a marathon back in November, and that goal motivated me to run throughout the year (and even this morning!). But we can’t forget that big goals are made up of small stages and many small steps, both literally and figuratively. Rather than set yourself (or your population) up for disappointment by focusing on how far you are from your big-picture goals, set yourself up to succeed by zeroing in on all the small steps and mini-accomplishments along the way. Going running one day a week is a success if you weren’t running at all. But it’s a failure if you only think about the larger goal of exercising every day. Think big, start small, and set yourself up to succeed.

Resolution secret #3: Accept that change isn’t always fun

Finally, let’s be real with ourselves. Change isn’t fun. Even positive change. It’s not fun to wake up an hour earlier to go for a run. It’s not fun (for me!) to order vegetables instead of fries on the side. But something interesting happens as you start making conscious changes. Better habits slowly get replaced. Conscious decisions become less conscious. Mindfulness turns into newer, healthier habits. And discomfort becomes more comfortable—and sometimes even fun. When you are at the starting line, prepare yourself for what lies ahead and don’t kid yourself that it will be effortless or that you can beat the system by making positive change a completely positive experience. Many of us expect things to be easy, and we fail when we are reminded that they aren’t. Expect things to be challenging, but make this year different by embracing the challenge and recognizing that eventually, you can create new habits and a healthier lifestyle.

Get S.M.A.R.T.

When evaluating a wellness program to help support a large group of people, we have to keep these ideas in mind. A program needs to be S.M.A.R.T.

  • Specific. The program needs to identify small changes that your employees can make in order maintain momentum and impact prevention in the long term.
  • Measurable. Variables like blood pressure, weight, lipids, and blood sugar are easy to assess, and help our coaches and your employees identify successes as well as areas that may require further effort.
  • Attainable and Realistic. People participating in a wellness program should feel comfortable with their goals and recognize that they are possible with good information and coaching support.
  • Time-based. WebMD solutions are proven to help modify cardiovascular risk factors over discrete time periods—these concrete changes in blood pressure, lipids, and weight through healthier lifestyles are our best opportunity to improve heart health on a population level—both short-term and long-term.

So let’s set our employees up for success by thinking big, but focusing on smaller steps. And most importantly, let’s embrace change for what it really is: challenging, but exciting too. Best wishes for a happy, healthy 2013!

James Beckerman, MD, FACC is a cardiologist with the Providence Heart and Vascular Institute in Portland, Oregon and a fellow of the American College of Cardiology. He previously chaired the Oregon Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, and is the team cardiologist for the Portland Timbers Major League Soccer Team. He is the author of The Flex Diet and a member of the clinical advisory board at WebMD Health Services.

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