Resolved: Not to ditch New Year’s resolutions before Valentine’s Day.
Better yet: Keep them, all year long. But how?
“We often have the information and the tools. We just need to open our toolbox and put them to work,” says Nancy Gilliam, LPN, CWC, a registered health coach at Memorial Hermann Health System.
Here are her 16 proven strategies to help you stick to this year’s resolutions.
No. 1: SET A SINGLE CLEAR TARGET.
Rather than a vague vow to “lose weight,” “get fit” or “save money,” be specific — say, lose a pound weekly, walk two blocks after dinner or set aside $10 monthly.
And stick to one large resolution at a time.
“If you try to change too many things at once, it becomes too hard,” Gilliam says. “You can’t keep it all going, and you’ll feel like you’ve failed.”
No. 2: DREAM BIG, ACT SMALL.
“Break your ultimate goal into what is accomplishable, and chip away at it,” Gilliam says. “People get overwhelmed if their goal is too big.”
For dieters, take the stairs instead of the elevator. For budgeters, skip a pricey morning latte. Tiny targets boost your odds and willpower.
Then master the change — doing it consistently each day, without thinking about it. The road from repetition to second nature often takes 10 weeks, reports the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Even better: changes become easier over time. So if a lifetime of living virtuously daunts you, just commit to 10 weeks – for now.
“When a change becomes routine and part of who you are, you’ve mastered it. Then you can move on to something else,” Gilliam says. “A healthier lifestyle is like a well. It takes time and struggle to get the water pumping at first. But once it flows, it’s easy.”
No. 3: DON’T JUST THINK IT, INK IT.
Post it on your car dashboard or fridge – or make your pledge your screensaver. The shorter and clearer your wording, the more motivating it will be.
“Not only is it a reminder, but when you make your goal, it’s awesome to put a line through something,” she says. “It gives you a sense of accomplishment.”
No.4: REMOVE BARRIERS.
“There’s more involved than willpower,” Gilliam says. “Look at your environment. Are there lots of treats in the cupboards and food around that’s way too enticing? Who do you hang out with? People are either allies helping you, or accomplices, who aren’t.”
You’ll be less tempted to over-imbibe if you avoid bars, parties and restaurants. You also can control amounts served at home. Place preferred choices within reach — sliced fruit and veggies in the fridge, or dumbbells near your bed. And unearth that exercise bike or elliptical trainer you’d converted into a clothes rack.
Also decide how you’ll handle saboteurs who tempt you to jettison your plans.
“You can say, ‘I know you mean it as an act of love, but if you bring me cookies, it’s not helping me. I’m really trying not to eat sugar.’ ” Then offer an alternative, such as invite them to walk with you.
No.5: CRUNCH THE NUMBERS.
You must set reasonable deadlines, ideally several months away — far enough to be attainable but not so distant to lose momentum. Then create weekly and monthly objectives along the route.
Also mark slots on your calendar. “Otherwise, it’s too easy for time to be filled with meetings and other demands,” Gilliam says.
Seize opportunities whenever you can: Do squats, leg lifts or push-ups during TV commercials or while coffee is brewing. Grab 10 minutes here and there for a quick hike around the block or to prepare healthy meals. “When you take time out for self-care you’ll find it empowers you in other aspects of your life,” she says. You’ve got 1,440 minutes in a day – enough to squeeze in self-help.
No.6: RISK PUBLIC EMBARRASSMENT.
Announce your intentions to friends and family beyond your immediate circle via Facebook, email or your blog. This transforms a lone quest into a team effort, with fans rooting for you and perhaps aiding you. Friendly competitions also add an element of fun.
Social media and Apps, such as MyFitnessPal, LoseIt, Fooducate, MapMyWalk and MapMyRun, can create a virtual support system, Gilliam notes. “You not only can track your progress, but get tips, calorie counts and challenges. And on forums, complete strangers champion each other.”
No.7: PUT YOURSELF IN A BIND.
Devise and sign your own commitment contract, or go to goal-setting platforms such as StickK.com, created by behavioral economists at Yale University.
Define your goal, set terms and a timetable, designate a referee and post a penalty, putting something at stake (whether it’s money or reputation)
No. 8: KEEP TRACK.
Weigh in daily, noting progress on a tracking device, calendar or spreadsheet. If you report to your cheerleaders, their positive feedback will propel you, Gilliam says.
No.9: FIGHT TEMPTATION.
Ask yourself “Is this urge a need or a want?” and remind yourself of a time when you turned down something even more tempting. Why blow your financial or caloric budget on something less worthwhile? Instead of swearing all or nothing, remind yourself: Tomorrow is another taste.
You might follow the 80/20 rule: Eat healthy 80 percent of the time then allow a treat 20 percent of the time, Gilliam says. “If you have a sliver of cake, scale back your calories otherwise and boost your activity to compensate.”
No.10: PLAY OFFENSE, NOT DEFENSE.
Plan counterattacks to your personal traps and triggers, so you’ll have a strategy beyond sheer willpower when faced with the same time, same place and same crime. You might switch good behaviors for bad. If you habitually visit vending machines at 3 p.m., take a walk around the building or eat an apple instead. Or replace migrating to the pantry for a snack with joining your kids on the patio.
“Know when you’re weakest and plan for it, perhaps via an electronic reminder, such as timing your Smartphone to message you or asking a friend to call,” Gilliam says. “For every cue (or temptation), you’ve got to break your past routine to change the outcome.”
No.11: GET HELP.
If you’re struggling, seek tactics from a nutritionist, life coach, personal trainer or financial advisor – or websites, such as WeightWatchers.com for dieters and LearnVest.com and MyMoneyCircles.com for budgeters. Ask questions and note habits of others who succeeded.
No. 12: PICTURE TRIUMPH.
When approaching a challenge, spend a few minutes visualizing yourself performing it well, just as athletes envision themselves winning. Also post your dream on your fridge, bulletin board or Pinterest, whether it’s a photo of a vacation spot or an announcement of a ballroom dance event you’d like to enter.
No.13: FORGIVE YOURSELF.
Don’t brand yourself a failure should you lapse. “It’s part of the process,” Gilliam says. “Don’t think ‘I’ve already blown it. It doesn’t matter what I do next.’ Instead, step back and reframe any derailment as a learning experience of what works and what doesn’t. Adjust accordingly.”
No. 14: BE MINDFUL.
Slow down. To eat, sit at a dining table, and turn off the TV and your cell phone. “Take time to appreciate what you’re eating instead of multi-tasking,” Gilliam says.
No.15: CRANK UP YOUR GREATEST HITS.
Tame your inner critic by writing down 10 things you’re proud of, no matter how small, to remind you of the drive you do have. When you struggle, read the list to reaffirm your strengths and temper negative self-talk.
No.16: CELEBRATE MID-WAY.
Life is like a video game. Sacrifice is grim and thankless. But add a cascade of tiny prizes and you’ll keep plugging away. So instead of waiting till the final milestone, reward yourself for accomplishments en route, perhaps getting a manicure or buying a T-shirt in your new size. “Observing how clothes fit better and you move easier can be a reward in itself,” Gilliam says.
And take heart: Studies have shown those who make New Year’s resolutions are 10 times more likely to reach their mark than those who don’t.
Congrats! You’re on your way.
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