Written by Melinda Hershey, Health Educator
How many years have you enthusiastically made New Year's resolutions to change your health and your life, only to watch them fizzle out weeks (or days) later? Chances are, you've been there or know someone who has. But how do you break the cycle? Is it possible to actually follow through with your New Year's resolutions? Absolutely! Here are 10 smart strategies to make this year different.
Like many people, you might be thinking of broad, life-changing goals to work toward in the new year. But it's important to clarify those goals so you know exactly what you're trying to achieve. For example, look at the difference between these two statements:
''I resolve to lose weight and get healthy this year.''
''I resolve to lose 30 pounds by next Thanksgiving. I will accomplish this by exercising four days a week while staying within my given calorie range. I will measure my health by getting my blood checked every six months.''
Which statement is more powerful and clear? By specifying your goals, you will make it easier to achieve them. Get as specific as you'd like to help clarify your action plan for yourself.
One of the best ways to stick with a New Year's resolution (or any other goal) is to consistently monitor your progress. It can be easy to let your good intentions fall by the wayside when life gets busy--and before you know it, a few slip-ups can lead to you falling off the wagon for good.
Tracking your goal will always keep it at the forefront of your mind, which will help you make better decisions on a day-to-day basis. SparkPeople's nutrition and fitness trackers are great tools to help you stay accountable. Or, use a wall calendar and put a star or a sticker on each day that you reach your goal. This is a great visual reminder of your resolution, and it will allow you to see patterns in your habits.
You might be tempted to kick off January with a fresh list of resolutions for the year ahead. But if you load yourself down with a lot of new changes at once, you'll likely become overwhelmed and will be unlikely to stick with them.
Instead, focus on just one or two areas that you would most like to improve on. This will allow you to devote your full attention to your goals without stressing yourself out too much. After a few months, as your lifestyle changes become more automatic, you can try taking on a few additional goals.
While choosing your goal of focus, be honest with yourself about whether it will be attainable for you. It's good to dream big, but if your goal is too big, you run the risk of throwing in the towel when you don't live up to your own expectations.
Choose a goal that's challenging, but doable. If necessary, break it up into smaller, more manageable chunks. For example, if you want to lose 50 pounds, split it up into 5- or 10-pound increments, and reward yourself every time you reach one of the smaller benchmarks.
In order to reach big milestones, you will have to shuffle around your life a little (or a lot!) to accommodate for new changes. This might mean making some tough decisions, like forgoing your favorite TV show to go for a run, or cooking a healthy meal instead of swinging by the drive-through. When setting your new goal, make sure that you are 100% willing to make it a priority in your busy life.
At the end of each week, make an action plan for the week ahead. When you prepare healthy meals and write out your workout schedule ahead of time, it makes it easy for you to make the healthy choice--and your old habits and unhealthy priorities won't be so tempting.
Do your goals include the words STOP, QUIT, NO, or NEVER? If so, you may be setting yourself up for failure. After all, if you tell yourself that you can't have something, you will only tend to want it more, which could eventually lead you to fall off the wagon.
Instead of subtracting your ''bad'' habits, try creating goals that add healthy changes to your life. For example, instead of resolving to quit eating sugar, make a goal to eat more fruit. Instead of making a goal to eat less fast food, resolve to pack your lunch on most days of the week. By framing your goal in a more positive light, you'll be setting yourself up for success.
Setting and reaching big resolutions is largely mental. A simple, yet powerful tool to prepare your mind to reach your goals is through visualization. Studies have shown that when we imagine ourselves reaching a goal, it increases the odds that it will actually happen.
So, take a few moments each week to close your eyes and really focus on your resolution. What will you feel like in the exact moment when you reach that goal? What will it look like? Experience it in your mind and set out to make it happen in reality. You can also hang up visual cues around your home or office to help keep you motivated and inspired.
Having people to support you makes a world of difference when you're working to reach an important goal in your life. Don't be shy about sharing your goals with your friends and loved ones--they are there to help! Sometimes, even just a small word of encouragement from someone you care about can turn around a bad day. You can also find like-minded friends to support you with SparkPeople's ''Find a Buddy'' feature.
Are you someone who will scold yourself for eating one slice of pizza—and then eat the whole pie since you've already ''failed'' for the day? Nobody's perfect, so why hold yourself to unreachable standards? When you start working toward a new goal, you may have a tendency to think in terms of ''all or nothing.'' It's easy to deal in absolutes when we're trying to reach an important goal, but it doesn't have to be that way.
The best thing to do is to accept that you will mess up eventually. Once you give yourself permission to make small slip-ups and move on from them, you won't self-sabotage yourself so much anymore—and will ultimately make more progress.
A lot can change in a year—or even in a month! Sometimes, the goals you set for yourself become irrelevant to you and your changing needs. Every few weeks, check in to see how things are going with your goals. Are you happy with your progress? Do you need to change your approach? Give yourself permission to change your goals, if needed; don't feel chained to them if they're no longer serving a purpose for you.
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