As we enter 2015, many people are deciding on their New Year’s resolutions. If you are thinking about what you can improve, congratulations!
It’s important, however, to think about the form your goals should take. If you want to create lasting change, consider altering an attitude rather than just one behavior. So instead of making the resolution to lose 15 pounds, resolve to care for your body. This distinction is significant: changing an attitude is more likely to achieve the desired result than a simple change in behavior.
Why attitude is more important than behavior
Let’s go back to the goal of losing 15 pounds. You could hit the gym twice a week, eat well, and successfully lose the 15 pounds by the end of April. But then what? Does that mean you can order seconds and ease off on going to the gym?
Another way to lose 15 pounds might be by acquiring a really nasty case of food poisoning. You’d still achieve the identified objective but not in a manner in keeping with the true underlying desire.
Changing attitudes is complex and requires ongoing maintenance. This underscores why resolving to alter an attitude (care for your body), as opposed to a identifying a specific goal (drop 15 pounds), is more likely to produce desired results.
How to make and achieve attitudinal goals
If you already have a behavioral resolution, you can translate it into an attitudinal goal. Start by asking yourself why you want to make this specific change. Once you have discovered the underlying motivation, then you can conceptualize the goal in attitudinal terms. For example, if your original resolution was to “not work weekends,” the attitudinal goal might be to recognize the importance of your family and your own mental health.
Once you have identified the reason to change, you can then brainstorm specific goals that can help you achieve the desired adjustment. If your goal is to spend more time with your family and on yourself, regular date nights, quality time with the kids, and time to meditate on a daily basis could be definable to-do goals.
Set a variety of measures to evaluate your progress. Perhaps date night is less meaningful than a long-overdue vacation with the entire family or maybe you realize that me time is less fulfilling than anticipated—what you really need is a regular guys’/girls’ night out. With this range of actions, you are achieving and maintaining your overall goal that is based on the underlying motivation.
Monitoring your progress
Check in with yourself. To start, schedule a monthly reminder to evaluate your progress. Use a scale to rate your attitude change, from 0 (no attitude change) to 10 (complete attitude change).
You can also add evidence for the evaluation. Let’s return to the example of prioritizing family and self. Here, you might list time spent with your partner, trips taken, poker nights and dinners out with friends—anything that you feel is an accurate, honest actualization of your resolution.
Attitudinal Goal Progress: Prioritize my family and myself
My attitude change rating: 5/10
In January, I have moved toward my goal by: Attending three of son’s soccer matches and two dates with spouse
In January, I missed chances to move toward my goal by: Canceling a night out with friends and missing two scheduled family dinners
If you score a rating of 5 out of 10, shoot for a rating of 7 out of 10 for the next month. Be mindful of setting the bar too high: if you are unrealistic in your goal, you may find it too difficult and give up. Instead, try and adopt a long-term perspective.
In our efforts to achieve goals, we do not simply “solve” issues once but “re-solve” over a period of time. Resolutions are often difficult and require willpower and effort to achieve. By shifting your focus from behavior to attitude, you can create lasting, meaningful change in your life.
Michael Winters is a psychologist in Houston. He has cultivated his practice around the concept of meaning-centered living and is a frequent guest on local television and radio programs. For more information, go to DrMWinters.com.