How to actually keep your New Year’s resolutions
Do you make New Year’s resolutions? About 50 perfect of the population does, and it probably comes as no surprise that the most common New Year’s resolutions are health related: Lose weight, exercise more, and eat a healthier diet were the top 3 resolutions for 2017.
Research indicates, however, that only 8 percent of people actually keep their resolutions. There are multiple factors that contribute to this low success rate, but the good news is, you can adopt very realistic strategies to help you keep your New Year’s resolutions on track.
Why resolutions fail
The first two weeks of the New Year are usually a success for most people, but then they find themselves slipping back into their old routines by February.
When setting their New Year’s resolutions, people tend to make some common mistakes. One major cause of failure is setting overly ambitious or restrictive goals, often without developing a plan of action. This leaves them with no idea how to actually get where they want to go. Many people also get discouraged by small failures, and decide to throw in the towel.
People who fail to achieve their New Year’s resolutions often blame their own lack of willpower. But in many cases, there may actually be unexpected factors working against you. For example, your resolution may be to lose weight, but you have a genetic variant that leads to low levels of a hormone known as adiponectin. This hormone helps regulate how your body uses glucose for energy, and low levels are associated with a higher BMI.
Your resolutions may also conflict with the way your body naturally operates. Maybe you’ve set a goal to eat less fat, but your genetics are actually better suited to a low-carb diet.
In cases such as these, willpower alone isn’t enough to create lasting change. You need health goals that are suited to your individual genetic makeup, along with strategies that will allow you to create sustainable habits.
How to set resolutions that work
The following strategies will help you make sustainable changes that last all year long:
Break large goals down into realistic steps
Having an action plan, with specific actions you can take each week, is key to making progress, especially with lofty goals. Small, incremental changes may not be as exciting, but they have a greater chance of leading to real change.
For example, your goal might be to give up sugar, but if you’re eating sweets every day, this isn’t something you can accomplish immediately. A more realistic and attainable goal might be to limit dessert to two nights a week, or to eat fruit as an afternoon snack rather than a package of cookies. Once you’ve successfully implemented these changes, you can take it a step further
Make your goals specific
“Lose weight” is not a specific goal. Instead, set a target weight and a realistic time frame for achieving it. You could also try setting other milestones related to weight loss. For example, maybe the number on the scale is less important than being able to fit into your favorite jeans again.
Focus on developing new thought patterns
Changing habits requires creating new neural pathways in the brain. Notice how you think about the behaviors you are trying to change. If your goal is to work out three times a week, what is your attitude towards exercise? Do you dread it? Do you look for excuses to avoid it? Try changing the way you think about it. Remind yourself how great you feel after a workout, and how it will help you manage stress. See if you can turn it into something you look forward to.
Think of the new year as a reset
Many people tend to think of resolutions as something that has a concrete start date &mash; and then if we fail, we’ve missed our only opportunity. But by thinking of the new year as simply one opportunity to reset our habits, we can continue to make adjustments as needed. Make small decisions every day that get you closer to your goals, and change them as necessary. Maybe it isn’t realistic for you to get up early every day and exercise, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up on your resolution. Instead, maybe you can work more activity into your day by taking a break twice a day to walk all the way up the stairs in your office building. If one approach doesn’t work for you, don’t view it as a total failure — try something else instead.
Don’t be discouraged by setbacks
People are often tempted to give up after a small failure, but ups and downs are a normal part of any process. This is especially common with weight loss, where your weight may stagnate from time to time, or even creep back up a bit. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t making progress in the grand scheme of things.
If you have a setback, notice if there were any special circumstances that contributed to it, and identify steps you can take to avoid it in the future. Were you feeling too tired to go to the gym? What changes can you make in your routine to get more sleep? Try turning off the TV an hour earlier, or avoiding caffeine before bed.
Chart your progress
Without clear indicators of how far you’ve come, it might be difficult to see how much progress you’ve actually made. Use a fitness app or journal, or even try taking pictures of yourself to see how your body composition is changing over the course of the year.
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