On January 2, millions of Americans will roll out of bed with a well thought out plan and a single-minded determination to make a significant change in their life via the New Year’s resolution.
Most often, these annual promises we make to ourselves involve shedding some extra pounds, becoming more physically active or giving up an unhealthy habit like smoking. But like the stockings, decorations and other traditions that make the holidays special, those aspirations of self improvement will likely be packed neatly away by the time Super Bowl Sunday rolls around in February.
Beverly Axe-Lewis, D.O., an associate professor for the Department of Family Medicine at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine, said most people launch into their health-minded resolutions with the best of intentions. However, by not preparing themselves ahead of time for what in most cases represents a significant lifestyle change, they set themselves up for failure.
“Most people decide to make their New Year’s resolutions with the intent of changing their life in a way that is meaningful to them,” Lewis said. “The idea or goal may actually come to them a month or two ahead of time, but then they sit back and wait for the first week of January before they take any action. However, they can enhance their chances for success by preparing mentally and making a plan in the weeks or months leading up to their expected start date.”
To prepare for success, Lewis provided five steps she believes could help people turn the page on past News Year’s resolution failures.
Reflect On Your Goals And Your Plans For Succeeding
Whether you want to lose weight, get fit or stop smoking, spend some time prior to your planned start date to reflect upon the things you would like to see yourself change. Are your goals reasonable? Should you join a gym or a weight loss/smoking cessation support group?
“If you investigate and evaluate these types of options beforehand, then you should have a better idea of what the road to success will look like before you hit the ground running on Day 1 of your journey,” Lewis said. “If you need to take some notes to come back to as you evaluate your plans, then don’t hesitate to do so.”
Choose One Or Two Goals That Are Reasonable And Achievable
No matter the type of change you want to make, start modestly by setting small goals. It might be best to begin with one or two goals that have the most meaning to you, and then build on them as you progress.
“For example, if your goal is weight loss, don’t decide to change everything all at once, but consider taking it from the perspective of small changes you think you can take on and succeed at,” Lewis said. “You can start with a goal of slashing your sugar intake by eliminating sugary drinks, or committing to avoiding fast food and cooking healthy at home several times a week.”
If it’s not possible or practical to eliminate dining out, Lewis suggested making sure you’re choosing healthy menu options. If your goal is to improve fitness, start by pledging to drink more water and take a walk a couple of times a week.
“No matter what goals you set, consider sticking with them for a set period of time, maybe until spring break, and then you can reassess them,” she added.
Make Adjustments Now That Will Complement Your Resolution Goals
To avoid the shock that often accompanies the start of a life changing New Year’s resolution, Lewis said it can be beneficial to start watching your diet or becoming more physically active prior to your official start date. For instance, slowly increasing your intake of fruits and veggies or taking daily walks can help put you in a more positive frame of mind when Day 1 officially arrives.
“The idea that we make a resolution for some specific change and expect that it’s a permanent decision is more likely to end in failure and ultimately no change at all,” Lewis said. “Any life change needs a periodic evaluation of what works or what doesn’t, so starting slowly beforehand allows you to have failures, but also gives you the structure to make adjustments and keep going.”
For example, she said people trying to become more fit shouldn’t immediately join a gym if they’re not likely to go; there are easier options for increasing your exercise that don’t require a gym membership, at least initially. Someone who wants to quit smoking can start the process early by no longer smoking in their car or home before trying to kick the habit for good.
“Again, small steps can make the difference, and you can reassess the process at a date you have predefined,” Lewis said. “Make calendar entries with the specifics of your goals, and then treat them with the same importance as your other calendar entries and schedules.”
Enlist Others To Help You
Like many things in life, the chances of sticking to a New Year’s resolution can be improved if we share our goals with a friend or family member, or better yet, find a partner with the same or similar life-changing aspirations. In addition to traveling the same life-changing path, partners can hold each other accountable, provide encouragement, offer suggestions and empathize with each other’s struggles and successes.
“Friends, family and colleagues can help you stay on track and are almost always willing to do so,” Lewis said. “If you are truly committed to making a life improvement that will last, you will encounter some challenges along the way that may seem too hard to overcome if you face them alone. A partner gives you someone you can lean on when these thoughts of frustration or quitting creep up, and you can provide the same support when your partner is dealing with their own struggles.”
Keep A Journal
Whatever you are trying to accomplish with your resolution, Lewis said keeping a journal of your efforts could help reinforce the positive changes you are attempting to achieve.
For instance, maintaining a daily food journal will help you track your progress and may uncover foods or habits that are sabotaging weight loss attempts. With a fitness journal, you can see your progress in the weight room or more easily track the number of miles you may be walking or running. Smoking may be easier to quit if you keep a journal because you can count how many cigarettes you smoke and then try to lower that number day-to-day or week-to week.
“In addition to tracking your successes and failures, a journal helps you hold yourself accountable for your own efforts,” Lewis said. “Most people find it easier to skip the extra cigarette or reach for an apple rather than a bag of chips if they keep an accurate and consistent journal.”
At the end of the day, Lewis said making a successful New Year’s resolution means setting realistic goals and developing a plan that is reasonable, consistent and forgiving.
“We often set a goal without actually considering the specific actions we're willing and able to take and stick with, so it helps to be thoughtful about those specific actions and prepare in advance,” she said. “Failures happen all the time, so plan on them, brush them off when they happen and start again. And don’t forget to reward and acknowledge your achievements, even the small ones.”