By Joel Hughes, PhD, FAACVPR | Kent State University
Ever since the Romans made promises to the god Janus, millions of people have been making New Year’s resolutions every January (named after Janus – get it?). Often, they have to do with losing weight, exercising more, quitting smoking or saving more/spending less money. Patients and staff at cardiopulmonary rehabilitation are no exception. However, most New Year’s resolutions fail, and many are too ambitious. How can we leverage the popularity of the New Year’s resolution tradition to help our patients (and ourselves) make meaningful changes for the better?
- Resolutions are goals and aspirations. First, recognize that New Year’s resolutions are an exercise in goal setting and stating aspirations. Goals should be achievable, and under your control. Aspirations are desired states over which you may not have control. For example, “become a published fiction writer” is an aspiration, because every publisher may reject the novel you wrote. Consider reframing resolutions by asking, “What are your goals and aspirations?” That way, all the research and best practices for goal setting will apply.
- Set SMART(ER) goals. Many of us have heard of SMART goals, which is an acronym developed by George Doran in 1981.[i] Goals should be Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-related. Later, the SMARTER goals acronym added Evaluated and Reviewed. How does this apply to cardiopulmonary rehabilitation? A specific goal could target one of the key components of rehabilitation, such as physical activity. A measurable goal would quantify the goal, such as 30 minutes of at least moderate physical activity on at least three days per week (instead of simply “work out more”). An assignable goal would typically be assigned to the person making the goal. Sometimes this can include specifying the support people who are involved, like a workout partner. A realistic goal would state what will be achieved, and this is where it’s important to remember that aspirations are not goals because you do not always have control. Realistic goals should be under your control. Time-related goals specify when the goal will be completed, such as, “by the time I graduate from rehabilitation, I will have established a routine for engaging in physical activity 30 minutes per day on three days each week.”
- Write goals down. An evaluated goal requires that the goal be recorded somewhere, along with a timeline for when progress will be assessed. This is related to the need to review goals to reflect on and adjust your approach to meeting the goal. Given that New Year’s resolutions typically happen in January, it makes sense to write new goals and aspirations in your digital or paper planner.
- Resolutions are built on the foundation of core values. Borrowing from motivational interviewing and behavioral activation therapy, attainable goals and aspirations are driven by core values. When inevitable setbacks occur, reflecting on values – or the “why?” driving our efforts – helps us maintain motivation and cope with disappointment.
- The post-COVID era may be an opportune time for new resolutions. We’re living in the “long tail” of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many people’s health behaviors deteriorated a little bit. Did you do any comfort eating during 2020-2022? Drank too much to cope with stress? Were you too busy to exercise? Well…now it’s time for a “new normal,” so perhaps 2023 can be the year that we resolve to improve our health whatever the new year brings.
Every January I start a new paper planner. I confess that I designed my own. I used to buy them. But, over the years I’ve gotten picky, so now I print my own and have it spiral bound at a local office supply store. In addition to the obligatory calendar and task lists, it has places to track my weight, sleep, diet and exercise (remember evaluate and review?). At the front are a few pages where I write out my goals, aspirations and projects for the coming year. Over the holidays, I’ll review my 2022 planner, reflect on my values and record my resolutions for 2023. Happy New Year!
Joel Hughes, PhD, FAACVPR, is a professor at Kent State University and director of clinical training for its clinical psychology PhD program. He is also a member of the AACVPR Board of Directors and chair of its Behavioral and Nutrition Experts Group.
[ii]Doran, G. T. (1981). "There's a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management's Goals and Objectives", Management Review, Vol. 70, Issue 11, pp. 35-36.