Mapping a Plan to a Healthy New Year

Health Professional

Experts of all sorts recommend starting off the new year with healthy habits ranging from getting more sleep and exercise to balancing your diet and maintaining positive relationships. Figuring out healthy habits, though, is generally less of a challenge than plotting a plan that works. Persisting beyond the initial “New Year’s resolution” and building a long-term “New Year’s plan” involves employing effective strategies and creating a map, of sorts, to a healthy New Year.

Start small and be specific

Want to lose 30 pounds? Spend more time with family? Make a million dollars? Every goal seems too big -- until it isn’t. An effective plan breaks down the larger vision into smaller, specific increments that provide a series of practical steps toward your goal. Sometimes it is difficult to generate the specific steps needed to reach the big goal.

Identify the end goal --painting as clear of a picture as possible -- then research the steps others have taken to reach that goal. Once you’ve noted that the financial guru you admire started with saving $25 a month, or that your fitness crush began with one “green meal a day” and gym twice a week, outline the list of steps needed to reach your end goal. Pick one and get started.

Give yourself seven weeks

By some estimates, fewer than 8 percent of Americans achieve their New Year’s resolution, with more than half giving up by the midyear mark.  While identifying the small steps toward your goal is important, it doesn’t work if the effort is not consistently applied over a substantial period of time. Research suggests that on average it takes about 66 days to form a new habit. The best way to remedy GiveUpitis (note: not a real word) is to create a schedule for making consistent effort and ensure that it is visible. Integrating a new behavior into your lifestyle in an intentional manner bolsters an initial sense of obligation to stick with your goal, and when done consistently, can progress toward a natural behavior that involves substantially less effort.

Reward yourself often

One of the tenets of behavior change is to engage in positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement simply involves providing a reward for a desired behavior. As you begin ticking off the small steps toward exercising more frequently or smoking less, reward yourself with an episode of your favorite TV show, a special activity you enjoy, or a snack you like (one that won’t completely erase your fitness goals).

Another strategy involves using intermittent positive reinforcement. As you move toward your goal, lengthen the time it takes for you to get a reward or increase the difficulty for getting the same reward, e.g., require more visits to the gym or more days without smoking.

Find a partner

Self-motivation has its limits. When those limits are reached, it usually requires someone else to keep us accountable for our goals. Whether a partner is someone who is engaging in the same activity or simply a presence in your life, having someone who provides feedback and is aware of your schedule provides an important supplement to your plan for a healthier new year. Find someone to share your goal, schedule, and small specific steps for reaching the goal and ask that person directly to be your accountability partner.

Keep the long-term vision visible

When we are grinding toward our goal, it becomes easy to lose track of the reason why we're doing it in the first place. The reason you want to lose weight is to be healthy for your family or feel confident about your appearance. Maybe the reason you are saving money is for a down payment on a house. Victor Frankl, psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor, reflected in his writing about his will to live after facing imminent death by highlighting a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche that captured his own struggle: "He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how."

Coupled with a clear picture of the end goal, having a clear reason why you are persisting with your plan for a healthier life will go a long way toward transforming resolutions into results.

Dr. Isaiah Pickens is a leading clinical psychologist committed to bringing hope through healthy living using the most compelling, scientifically grounded and entertaining tools in mental health. Whether providing a keynote address, workshop, training, or an answer to a simple question, he is here to help you achieve the best version of yourself. Learn more at www.iOpening