If you’re like most people, you make resolutions to get healthier each year. Unfortunately, most resolutions fail, likely because they are unrealistic and/or hard to achieve. Here are some simple tips to help you keep that particular New Year’s resolution and achieve lifelong results:
1. Break your big goal down into smaller steps
“Sometimes our biggest obstacle is being overambitious or trying to achieve the ‘big picture’ rather than breaking our goals into simple things we can do today, or this week,” explains Janelle Coughlin, Ph.D., via email, associate professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Why it works
Tracking and celebrating your progress by achieving your short-term goals will help you stay motivated. “Set a weekly plan and then reevaluate and revise your plan after a shorter period of practice and implementation, rather than setting a goal for the entire year,” Dr. Coughlin advises. Visually display your goal somewhere you can see it each day — on your refrigerator, computer screen, or a bathroom mirror. Reward yourself along the way for achieving your short-term goals.
2. Get into the right mindset
Make your resolution something you really _want_to do, not just something that you feel like you _should_do. If you want to start an exercise program but hate the thought of going to a gym, don’t set yourself up for failure by telling yourself that you “should” go to the gym each night after a long day at work. Instead, think about something you would enjoy doing that incorporates exercise. Start a lunchtime walking group at work if you enjoy walking and catching up with coworkers or meeting new people. Try a new sport or activity that you’re interested in, like ice skating or dance lessons.
Why it works
“Seeing goals and resolutions as ‘chores’ and things you ‘must’ do is an unpleasant way to undergo any lifestyle change,” Dr. Coughlin explains. “Having a positive mindset and seeing change as an opportunity for new experiences makes it easier to make healthier choices.”
3. Put it on paper
Don’t just make mental promises to yourself. Write down your specific goals and track your progress along the way. Be realistic: focus on no more than two or three goals that you can realistically handle.
Why it works
”One of the keys to any behavior change is tracking that behavior,” Dr. Coughlin explains. “Imagine trying to improve your blood pressure without paying attention to it and without tracking it over time. The same is true when focusing on weight, dietary intake and exercise. Track your minutes of exercise or steps, [the] number of fruit and vegetable servings, [the] number of sugar sweetened beverages that you drink, and/or your daily calorie intake. Then slowly start to increase or decrease the behavior you are targeting.”
Focus on making one change at a time to maximize your success.
4. Don’t keep it a secret
Tell anyone who is important to you what you are trying to achieve. Don’t keep your resolutions to yourself; explain to your family, friends, and coworkers that you are trying to make positive behavior changes.
Why it works
If you have a support system, you are more likely to achieve success. Let your friends and family know that you are trying to eat a healthier diet, increase your physical activity, or lose weight. They can help to support your efforts and be there for you if you are struggling. Be a role model for your kids, too. If they see you making an effort to cook healthier foods, they are likely to start eating healthier, too.
5. Have realistic expectations
Avoid making complete “elimination” rules. Don’t make extreme promises like “I will never treat myself to dessert” or “I will cut out all bread from my diet.” Making “all or nothing” statements can set you up for quick failure.
Why it works
Think of your goals as long-term changes you can make to get you on a healthier path to overall wellness. Forgive yourself along the way for any “bumps” in the road; imperfection, after all, is part of your journey. Research shows that it takes about two months for a new habit to become an automatic part of your routine, so it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s important to stick with it and be persistent to achieve success.
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Carmen is a registered dietitian who specializes in weight management and nutrition therapy for chronic disease. In addition to nutrition counseling at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Carmen teaches undergraduate health and wellness courses and provides corporate wellness seminars on exercise and nutrition.
Carmen Roberts, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., is a registered dietitian, receiving her undergraduate degree in dietetics from James Madison University and her master’s degree in health education and administration from Towson University. She is a certified specialist in adult weight management and teaches cooking classes. Carmen enjoys educating her clients about how nutrition affects the body and its role in overall health and wellness. She also loves volunteering, including as a Girl Scout troop leader.