Stay realistic with resolutions

By Teuila Fuatai

As 2013 swings into gear, thousands of Kiwis are now embarking on New Year's resolutions or simply trying to get back in shape after the festive season.

But an expert in human psychology warns it's important to plan for "slip-ups" when setting goals or you might be setting yourself up for demoralising failure.

"It's important that goals you set for yourself are reasonable and achievable," Associate Professor Marc Wilson, of the School of Psychology at Victoria University, said.

A local gym manager is expecting a surge of January applications from resolutions makers wanting to get fit.

City Fitness manager Sean Needham said at least 15 people had joined the Masterton gym since last Thursday.

"A lot of people have come off their holidays and want to get back into routine and get into the New Year."

More sign-ups were expected throughout January and early February, he said.

But he warned people had to be creative to avoid boredom - particularly with workouts.

Those new to the gym were often paired up with a trainer to ensure they got the most from their workouts and set reasonable goals. "You need to know exactly what you want so you know what you should be doing."

Gym-goers' progress was assessed regularly by trainers against long-term goals.

Those who were struggling or lacking motivation were encouraged to try new exercises and activities, Mr Needham said. Mr Wilson also warned that sweeping goals, made in a post-party haze, were likely to fail once people returned to everyday work.

"A lot of our behaviour is controlled by the environment [and] many of the things we think of as habitual happen in particular situations."

For example, many people found it easier to quit smoking when on holiday because the "usual environmental cues" weren't there. But once home and back into their old routines, they often started again, he said.

He advised smokers wanting to kick the habit to identify what triggered them to smoke.

Whether it was stress, or a certain activity - for example lighting up after work - people would have a better chance of succeeding if they found something else to distract them from smoking.

So when you were setting goals or drafting ambitious New Year's resolutions, it was important to plan for "slip ups" and other problematic situations, Mr Wilson said.

And here's another tip. Rather than honing in on a single overarching goal, set a complementary resolution that will help you achieve that goal.

For instance, taking up an art class or going to the gym after work will distract someone who takes to smoking or eating unhealthy food at the end of their working day. Goals also have to be reasonable and achievable, Mr Wilson warns.

"Breaking a goal into stages is good because it means, first, you know what you need to do and secondly, that failing at one small step doesn't necessarily mean going all the way back to the start."

That way if someone slips-up, they can go back a step, rather than failing entirely.

Mr Wilson also warned against being too generous with rewards.

"Some people are better able to stick to goals than others - it's related to the personality characteristic of conscientiousness.

"The more conscientious you are, the more likely you are able to make goals and stick to them," he said.APNZ


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