Well, as you know, abandoning old habits and creating new, healthy behaviours is challenging. Despite ‘knowing what to do’, you’re only human, and once that burning motivation runs out, what’s stopping you from throwing in the towel when the change process becomes too hard or tiresome, or when ‘life gets in the way’? If you’ve been down this road before, you may be missing one crucial element for successful behaviour change – ACCOUNTABILITY. Let us teach you how you can stay accountable to your goals, whatever they may be, in preparation for the all-important New Year’s Resolutions!
We’re sure you’ve heard of the SMART goal strategy, but just in case, it stands from Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timeframe. Although it may sound tedious, writing short- and long-term goals in this way will help you to visualize your journey, commit to it, and see it through. And in order to stay accountable, it helps to be very clear about the specific target you are aiming for.
For example, let’s say your goal is to lose some weight. A basic SMART goal may look like this:
S: Lose the extra 5kg gained over winter
M: 5 kgs in total, 0.5kg per week on average
A and R: It is achievable for me to increase my exercise from 2 days to 4 days per week, including one session with a personal trainer. It is achievable for me to reduce my calorie intake enough to reach my goal, and I have planned this with my dietitian.
T: I will give myself 4 months to allow for any setbacks, and the celebrations over Christmas and New Year.
This example is very brief. When writing down your goals, include as many details as possible, so that you are very clear about the who, what, when, where and how that needs to happen. Consider speaking with a health professional, who can assist in the goal setting and planning process.
In 2018, the University of Pittsburgh presented findings from a study of 1,000 adults, showing that those who weighed themselves several times a week lost a significant amount of weight over one year. In comparison, people who didn’t step on the scales, or who did so only once a week, lost no weight (1).
We know that the scales aren’t for everyone! But this study is proof enough that frequent monitoring keeps your goals front of mind, holds you accountable, and improves your chance of success.
There are a number of evidence-based recording tools for health goals. A simple food diary, for example, which can be completed using an app on your smartphone, or writing a manual log of all foods you eat and drink. Or, using your usual calendar or diary, you can ‘tick’ or ‘cross’ days according to whether you complied with your goals (you can also use your diary to plan health activities, like going to the gym or the supermarket).
Whilst the act of recording alone is effective, spending a few minutes each day or each week to evaluate your records is even better. During your reflection, you can consider what to continue doing, and what can be done differently, to improve on your progress.
In study involving 166 adults participating in a weight loss program, those who tackled the journey in pairs were 20% more likely to complete the program and 42% more likely to maintain the weight loss, compared with solo participants (2).
There are a few convincing reasons for teaming up with a buddy to achieve your shared health goals. Let’s consider the ‘Kohler Effect’ – the theory that no one wants to stand out as the ‘weakest link’ – or in this case, not being the first person in your team to ‘quit’. A bit of friendly competition can be motivating, as well as thinking - ‘if they can do that, I can do that’!
Finding a productive way to invest in your health goal definitely ‘ups the ante’! After all, you want to get your money’s worth. If this rings true for you, perhaps it’s worth considering in a regular session with your personal trainer or dietitian, to discuss your goals, your progress, or even just to check in. You will benefit from the advice and support, as well as being accountable to your hip pocket. Or, perhaps you’d prefer to invest in some new active wear, or a Garmin watch?