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Dr Kieran Kennedy

Contributor Dr Kieran Kennedy shares how to set goals that will see you sticking to and reaching your health resolutions this year…

Whilst an instant sense of gratification can be felt the moment these goals make our list, the ability to stick to them is more often than not a little trickier. Statistics show that while a significant proportion of people make New Year resolutions or goals, come the end of January the vast majority has already fallen by the wayside. Unfortunately, the case is even truer for goals and changes related to our health. But fear not – whether it’s our sleep, diet, fitness or mental health, sticking to a health goal doesn’t have to be all bark not bite. By setting achievable goals that are thoroughly thought out (and with a few added extra tips), there’s no reason those goals can’t come through.

Below are Kierans top tips:

Realistic and reachable are key

Whilst lofty goals like losing all that weight by February or never experiencing anxiety again can be compelling, studies show that goals that stretch for too much too fast aren’t only the ones we usually don’t see through but become potential blocks to future progress. Break the resolution down into smaller steps, or set a more achievable version as “part one”. SMART goals are those that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. The more clear, directly measurable and timed out a goal is, the more likely it is to pull through. By creating goals based on these five points, we have a much higher chance of still holding them come to the end of January. “Getting really fit” is at first glance a worthy way to enter 2020. But “being able to run 5km without stopping by March 1st” is one that’s far more likely to succeed.

Another great point is to remember that with health and change, it’s the little steps that count. New years really put the pressure on to come up with some big, but healthy habits and can be as small as vowing to walk to work instead of driving, or swapping your mid-morning muffin for a piece of fruit on at least 3 days a week. New Year’s resolutions fall short when too much pressure is placed on accomplishing them, and when they might be too big too fast. So slow down, go easy on yourself and take the time to break those goals down a notch before we bite.

Seek support

We all have those friends; you know the ones that draw out lunches with an extra bottle of bubbles or encourage any outing to be accompanied with sweet treats. We all need these friends, and there’s zero wrong with treating ourselves. However, redirecting your energy towards individuals with like-minded goals can help keep you accountable and provide the necessary support. Statistics show time and time again that we tend to meet goals and make changes in line with who we spend time with. There is no denying that change is difficult, so where support is available – take it! It can be as simple as having someone to go on a walk with or someone who encourages you to take that spin class you’ve been dreading. Join a group, or set out a joint goal with a friend. Goals that start together stay together.

Moderation goes with Motivation

There’s no denying that around New Year and Summer, events and celebrations can mean kicking off a new health goal can be hard. Whether it’s resolutions around alcohol and drugs, diet, wellbeing, mental health or fitness it can sometimes feel impossible to get things off the ground. When it comes to health we know that overly restrictive goals or attacking better health by blocking out “real life”, can be less likely to make it in the long run. Particularly when it comes to body image and fitness, resolutions made on grounds that foster deprivation diets or splitting food or ways of looking into “good vs. bad” aren’t better for us in the long run. Enjoying the odd sweet treat, a celebratory drink or those Friday night takeaways provides a healthy balance and doesn’t mean your resolution’s left derailed. Having well-timed breaks, rewarding ourselves for our efforts and continuing to enjoy the process as it happens can actually make change more likely to last the distance.

Make it Personal

Studies consistently show that goals that have greater personal meaning, and that are driven by internal motivation, are far more likely to succeed. Internal motivators are feelings and pursuits that come from the inside more than the out, while external motivators are usually those driven by money, material gains or wanting approval/appraisal from others. Wanting to change for your health and so you’ll feel physically better will always stick more firmly than wanting to hit the gym so you can show that ex what they’re missing. Similarly, goals that have a strong emotional connection have been shown to be those that are more likely to last. When setting out our goals for the year, make it a point to really connect with the reasons why – and bring this feeling up through imagination. Feel how great it’ll be to run around on the beach with the kids next summer. Mentally rehearse how good it’ll feel to see those blood sugar levels come down.

Break it Down to Move on Up

Rather than trying to achieve your health goal as a whole, break it up into realistic segments. Goals with a clear timeline of smaller steps rather than one big one, and those that resist the urge to bite off too much too soon, are more likely to succeed. For example, aim to exercise for 20 minutes every day to start with and progress things up from there. Rather than suddenly cutting the junk out altogether, pace things with bringing a packed lunch to work 3 days out of 5. Not only do these small goals seem so much more achievable, but they will also assist in creating healthy habits that last in the long run.

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