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Tips For Working Out Your Resolution Anxiety From UNC Professor

Excercises at Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Sam Howzit
CC BY-SA 4.0
Morning exercises at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Golden, Colorado.

It's a new year, which means resolutions are being made and broken everywhere. As always, the most popular ones tend to center around working out and being healthy.

But are New Year's resolutions the best way to make lasting change?

KUNC's Kyra Buckley wanted to know more about building healthy habits, so she went to the University of Northern Colorado to meet with Megan Babkes Stellino, a sports and exercise professor who focuses on motivation.

Interview Highlights

Kyra Buckley, KUNC: How does someone build a healthy habit?

Megan Babkes Stellino, UNC: Theoretically we all have three very basic psychological needs: autonomy, competence and relatedness. If we can examine how to address our needs in those areas, we can really make a lot of progress in terms of forming habits.

Megan Babkes Stellino
Credit UNC
Dr. Megan Babkes Stellino is a sports and exercise professor at the University of Northern Colorado.

If I'm going to start a habit my autonomy needs are quite high and that basically boils down to needing to have choice.

In terms of our competence needs (it) is basically what am I good at and we need to satisfy that feeling of capability and competence. So in terms of working out, it's going to look like skill building and what do I think I'm good at?

The third basic psychological need is so essential to building habits: our need for relatedness. So belonging and connection, feeling like we belong where we are going about those exercise or other healthy behaviors.

Buckley: Then what's up with New Year's resolutions? Are they problematic? Do they maybe encourage failure before people get started?

Stellino: I think we tend as a society to be our own worst enemies around the success we're hoping for. ... We really want to view those "resolutions" as works in progress.

Buckley: How can somebody avoid that pitfall of making that unrealistic goal?

Stellino: I am an advocate of what we call "SMART" goals. Each of the letters in the word stand for an action component that afford the individual to be more successful with the goals they set.

The S is specific. The M is measurable. The A may connect with the belonging and connection piece because it's accountability. The R is for realistic and the T is for time based. ... Ultimately if we do really account for the specificity, the measurement, the accountability, the realistic and the time-based nature of our goals, we're going to get to success or at least closer to it.

Buckley: What are some ways to stick with your goals but also take into account real barriers that exist in people's lives?

Stellino: I think that in terms of this concept of resolutions and goal setting around our health, we need to be kind to ourselves. I think we need to own what the barriers are and scale back and realize that it requires a bit of a baby step approach — that we're going to make it through the long haul, if we do little things every day towards that end in the best way that we individually can.