Start the New Year’s Off On the Right Foot

Researchers say about 60 percent of us make New Year’s resolutions but only about 8 percent are successful in achieving them.

In a 2019 survey of over 2,000 people, the following were the top New Year’s resolutions:

  1. Diet or eat healthier
  2. Exercise more
  3. Lose weight
  4. Save more and spend less
  5. Learn a new skill or hobby
  6. Quit smoking
  7. Read more
  8. Find another job
  9. Drink less alcohol
  10. Spend more time with family and friends

It’s interesting to note that the top three resolutions are health and fitness related, and they are also the most commonly failed resolutions. Typically health and fitness related resolutions are broken by January 31.

#1 Have a Plan to Get Back on Track

Having a plan to get back on track is the #1 piece of advice performance psychologists give us. Everyone falls off track- it’s those of us that understanding lapsing is a part of the process that is able to make commitments permanent. We just need to keep in mind that we can’t let lapses turn into relapses.

Write down what you will do if you fall off track. With health and fitness, we can easily cut down on unhealthy foods and ramp up the fruits and vegetables. We can “make up” for down days with days of extra activity. Falling off track is not the end of the world- it’s just a bump in the road to long term lifestyle change.

#2 Make Your Goals Practical

Instead of making a promise like, “I’m going to avoid snacking” think of a practical resolution where you can have snacks but keep an eye on nutritional goals. For example, you can write down foods you love that are low density but taste great. Some good examples of these kinds of foods are watermelon, cantaloupe (and really most fruits), vegetables you like if prepared properly (no oil or butter), and anything else that satisfies your hunger but you don’t have to worry about overindulging on.  So keep your goals realistic and practical, don’t go hungry, but do watch what you eat.

#3 Keep it Simple

Keeping it simple means we can remember what our goals are. Goals such as “write down my meals and limit to a certain amount per day” and “walk/run 3 miles” are simple goals we can remember. While we can build in contingencies if we fall off track such as making up miles for lack of activity or going without dessert for days we overeat, we should keep our overall plan very simple.

Simplicity means there aren’t multiple interpretations of our plan.  The simplicity of our plan leads to the sustainability of our health-related behaviors. The simpler we make the plan, the more sustainable it will be.

#4 Keep it Measurable

All health-related goals should be as quantifiable and measurable as possible. Time spent working out is a good overall goal, but we need to keep in mind that walking does not burn as many calories as jogging. So while “work out for 30 minutes” is a good goal, “I will walk or jog for 3 miles” is a better goal.

Try to be as specific as possible and avoid language like, “I will try my best.” It’s also helpful to build in contingencies for your goals, knowing that it’s natural to fall off track. If you skip jogging one day, you can jog more over the weekend, or lighten up on the snacks for a few days.

#5 Reward Yourself

Set up rewards for yourself for keeping up with your goals. This can be items like a spa day, or a day relaxing or going to the movies with your friends. You should allow yourself to feel good when you have a personal victory like keeping to your fitness and health goals.

At the same time, if you fail to meet your goals, it’s okay to feel bad about yourself. People naturally move from a state of discomfort to comfort. So if you fail to meet your goal, don’t just shrug it off, take an honest look at yourself and why you failed to meet your goal. Then go back to tip #1 and get back on track and try again!