By Michelle Segar, PhD, MPH – Founder, www.essentialsteps.net
I am women’s motivation and behavior researcher and was asked to use the AMARE acronym to interpret the principles that are important in order to individuals to maintain their New Year’s Resolutions. The key aspect of AMARE that relates to New Years Resolution’s is embodied in its definition in Italian: “to love.” New Year’s Resolutions that are developed out of a loving stance instead of a rejecting stance towards oneself are the resolutions that are most likely to be kept. Why? When we select behaviors aiming to reject ourselves it doesn’t reinforce our behavior. Instead, it reinforces a disdain for ourselves and our behavior/actions feel like punishment. Most adults won’t willingly continue behaviors long-term that feel like punishment.
Often, people tend to make resolutions based on pressures and norms. These types of resolutions don’t tend to stick because they are not connected to one’s core self and/or needs. But those made out of, “awareness”, another key concept in AMARE will likely lead to successful resolutions. Resolutions that are conceived mindfully are likely to be more in line with oneself and what one truly needs.
Finally, the principles I list below are RESPECTFUL of the individual and what it takes to sustain a desired behavior. AMARE promotes individuals behaving and making resolutions in ways that respect YOU. I propose that my SMART principles below are in line with AMARE’s philosophy and invite you to read them.
SUSTAINABLE: Smart New Year’s resolutions are sustainable: Smart resolutions begin with the end in mind because creating long-term sustainability is your core goal. An important reason most resolutions don’t work is that they reflect a desired long-term goal. However, most individuals haven’t put sufficient thought and planning into selecting a path that can be sustained for a VERY long time. If your goal is to sustain a behavior for the rest of your life (30-60 years, right?), isn’t it worth taking 6 months to 3 years to REALLY learn how to do this? Logic and wisdom tell us that anything worth doing, is worth doing right.
And the way to approach this right, is in a sequential manner. Smart New Year’s resolutions take a sequential approach to behavior change. (Most weight loss programs direct you to learn two vastly different and difficult behavioral changes (diet & exercise) at the same time. For most of us, our lives are just too busy and complicated to be able to integrate both diet and exercise into our lives at the same time. Because many of us, especially women, juggle multiple roles and responsibilities, we have even less energy, attention, and time to learn and integrate both dietary changes and regular physical activity at the same time.) My sequential strategy has you learn ONE behavior at time so that it can stick. After you have had adequate time to learn how to integrate that behavior into your life in a positive and consistent way, then you work on learning the next behavior. (I advise taking 3 to 12 months to really learn ONE behavior.) We wouldn’t build a house without building a solid foundation first. Why? The foundation is essential to the support of your house over its life span. Similarly, we should also build a solid foundation to maintain the behavior we desire to maintain before we start on the next one. Sometimes the smartest way to do something is also the most simple and commonsensical.
MY SELF-CARE: Smart New Year’s resolutions address our underlying comfort with making our won self-care, well-being, and health a top priority. Regular self-care is the “oxygen mask” we must consistently put on if we are to optimally take care of ourselves (and others) and experience life to the fullest. It is very difficult to sustain any self-care behavior (i.e., exercise and healthy eating) if we don’t feel like we deserve and/or value making regular time for our own self-care. (Self-care includes creating time to move our bodies as well as other nurturing activities like reading a great book while we relax on the couch.) Targeting improved self-care attitudes and behaviors is one of the first steps an individual should take and is essential to create a solid foundation to support any health behavior that we desire to maintain for life.
ACHIEVABLE: Smart New Year’s resolutions are achievable. This principle isn’t a new one. But I want to suggest we take it to a different level. Pretend you are in kindergarten and learning something for the first time. Give yourself permission to set VERY SMALL goals at the very beginning. Why? Because it is truly the smart thing to do! Become very consistent with these small goals. Learn what gets in your way. Learn how to overcome these things. And ONLY THEN, increase your goals – and by just a little. Keep this up. Take one – two months to learn how to add 5 – 10 minutes of physical activity to most of your days. You have your whole life to sustain physical activity (or healthy eating or another time management, etc). Why not take sufficient time to learn how to do it well? That is the only way we will be successful sustaining the behavior for the rest of our lives. The mantra I teach clients is: Consistency first, then quantity.
REJECT “quick fixes”: Smart New Year’s resolutions reject “quick fixes” and unrealistic goals: Smart New Year’s resolutions are made by individuals who have learned, often numerous times and from firsthand experience that “quick fixes” don’t stick in the long-term. Smart individuals are ready to create goals based on what they can realistically attain, not goals based on false advertising and impossible cultural standards and pressures. If we desire to lose weight, we might better value losing it in a way that we can maintain over the long haul, instead of losing it quickly and then gaining it back.
TAILORED: Smart New Year’s resolutions are tailored to fit into our lives. When we think about what behavior we want to change or thing we want to achieve, think hard about who we are. Tailoring to who we are is of utmost importance. If we don’t respect our likes, needs, and wants when selecting a behavioral path to go down it is extremely unlikely that we’ll be able to sustain it over time. If you hate the stair master, don’t include that in your new attempt to be physically active. Instead choose activities that will feel good, or at least not bad to do. If you love bread, why pick an eating plan that removes it completely? When we decide to change in ways that respect what we want and like, we will rediscover a deep trust in ourselves as we begin to reap the rewards of improved mood, energy, health, and quality of life.
If these ideas resonate with you, please visit my website for women in midlife, www.essentialsteps.net.