On Your Health

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How to Stick to Your New Year's Resolutions

Each January, many people make a resolution to better themselves in some way. Whether it is weight loss, increasing the amount they exercise or giving up bad habits, most of us inevitably start off the New Year with a resolution in mind.

But studies show just 77 percent of those people are still on track only one week into the New Year, and after six months, only about 40 percent will have stayed the course. Why are resolutions so tough to maintain? For one thing, we don’t change our habits overnight. It takes time to develop new healthy routines. And perhaps people’s goals are too vague or unrealistic.

We are three weeks into the new year. How are you doing with your own resolutions? You might have had trouble maintaining so far. How do you stick to a New Year’s resolution for an entire year? The first step in changing a habit is figuring out the why. Why do you want to lose weight? Do you want to be able to spend more time with your grandchildren? Do you want more energy? Do you want to fit into your skinny jeans? It is a good idea to write down the why and keep it somewhere safe (bedside table, taped onto your fridge) so you can see it and remember the reason you want to change your habits. The next step is to make a specific goal. For example, if someone says, “I want to lose weight this year,” that is not specific enough. Your focus should be on how you are going to lose weight. What behaviors are you going to change or incorporate into your lifestyle in order to lose weight? A good method to use is the SMART goal method.

If you make your resolutions SMART, you are more likely to stick to them. SMART goals are:

  1. Specific
  2. Measurable
  3. Attainable
  4. Realistic
  5. Timely

For example, instead of “I want to lose weight this year”  try something like, “I want to lose weight by walking after work at 5:30 p.m. on the treadmill at my gym on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for 30 minutes at a time.” This goal is specific, it is measurable (three days a week for 30 minutes each day), and it is timely (Monday, Wednesday, Friday).

SMART goals are also attainable and realistic. If you currently do not exercise, do not set a goal of “exercising every day of the week.” It is a good idea to start small. For example, start by exercising three days a week, which is more attainable and more realistic. Once you have accomplished and maintained that, then you can look to increasing the frequency.

Additional tips for sticking to your New Year’s resolutions:

Be flexible. If you stay late at work on Monday and can’t make it to the gym, push your workout to Tuesday, or do a workout at home instead. Do not have the “all or nothing” approach to changing your habits. Realize that life gets in the way and get back on track the next day with your goal.

Don’t focus on taking things away. Focus on adding things. Instead of setting a goal of eating less sweets at work, instead set a goal of adding a fruit to your lunch (instead of dessert) three days a week. That way you are focusing on what you are adding to your life instead of feeling deprived.

Tell a friend.  Discuss your goal with a friend: brainstorm ways to achieve your goal, discuss challenges you may be having and celebrate your successes with her. A friend might help keep you accountable.

Write it down. Writing down your SMART goal will help you to visualize and achieve your goal. This works with other areas of goal setting as well. Writing down your food intake might help you pinpoint areas in your diet that you want to change. You might also want to track your physical activity minutes each week. Whether it is on a smart phone, paper and pencil, or a tracking app, monitoring and tracking is a key to changing old habits into new healthy routines.

Pencil it in. Make time for your goals. Act like it is an appointment and do not schedule other things during that time. Write it on your calendar or put it in your smart phone calendar to remind yourself to make it a priority.

Plan, plan, plan. The actual healthy habit will only happen with proper planning. If you plan to eat more vegetables, you need to first plan when you will go to the grocery store, what vegetables you are going to buy, what recipes you will use to cook them. If your goal is to exercise in the mornings, plan by setting out your clothes in the morning. Planning might seem like a pain at first but it will save you time in the end and help you stick to your goals!

Remember that you do not need your resolution to be a large, dramatic change that alters your entire lifestyle. Focus on making your goal SMART. Know that small changes are easier to maintain and are more likely to become everyday habits. Once you have mastered those changes, you can build on them or add new ones to your lifestyle. Always remember why you want to make the change. And always make sure your goals are things that you believe you can do and that you are confident you can maintain.

Kelsey Duncan, M.S., RD, LD, is a dietitian at the INTEGRIS Weight Loss Center.