How to Stick to Your New Year’s Resolutions

It’s that time of year once again when we all make a list of new year’s resolutions, strictly adhere to them for about a month, and then gradually fall back into our old patterns and behaviors. Why does this happen so often? Are we lazy? Do we lack ambition? It’s more likely that the new year’s resolutions we make are just too general, and we create goals that are too broad.

Think of it as driving to a new destination. You have to cover the distance from Point A to Point B; you can’t just instantly arrive where you want to be. There are turns to make, and sometimes you may take a wrong turn, and will have to find your way back to the right path. But you will eventually arrive, and these tips will help you get there.

Set realistic goals

Losing weight and getting in shape are probably the most popular new year’s resolutions, along with quitting smoking. Then there are others such as giving up soda, cutting back on junk food, and even doing more volunteer work. Those are all great goals to have. But how do you quantify them? Do you want to lose one pound? Ten? Fifty? How much junk food are you eating now, and what qualifies as cutting back? Without clear goals and specific milestones, it’s easy to quickly lose your way, and go right back to the bad habits you’re trying to break.

If you want to lose weight, first calculate how many total pounds you want to lose. Then attach certain amounts of loss to specific time periods. For example, if you want to lose 20 pounds, figure on losing the recommended two pounds per week. But then give yourself a little bit of cushion, too. Instead of saying you’ll lose 20 pounds in ten weeks, shoot for losing five pounds in three weeks. Keep working in increments of five pounds until you meet your goal. Trying to lose five pounds is a lot easier than losing 20, both physically and mentally.

Apply this to any other resolution. If you smoke one pack a day, reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke by one per day, or even one per week, if it’s really difficult for you to quit. If you want to volunteer more, calculate how much free time you can spare, and what causes you want to support, then make a calendar with volunteer time scheduled, and reminders set up, just like any other appointment you’d keep.

Limit your resolutions

Let’s be honest. You’re not going to make over your entire life in just a few months. True change takes time, and the more pressure you put on yourself, the more difficult it will be to stick to those resolutions. Instead of trying to lose weight, get in shape, give up soda, and quit smoking all at once, tackle those goals one at a time.

Decide which goal is most important to you. In this instance, it would be quitting smoking. That’s the best thing anyone can do for their health. Work on that first, and once you’ve conquered it, then start on another one like getting in shape. But you still need to incorporate specific goals and time periods into your plan. If you decide to quit smoking, and procrastinate on everything else, you may be right back where you started next year.

You don’t even need to fully complete one goal before you start working on another. You could, say, reduce the amount you smoke by half, then start walking a certain distance a certain number of times per week. The less you smoke, the easier it will be for you to walk. The more you walk, the better you’ll feel. The better you feel, the more encouraged you’ll be to continue on your path to better health.

Reward yourself

Passing those milestones will be a little more enjoyable if there’s some sort of reward in it for you. Sure, you could say that better health and being thinner should be reward enough, but again—let’s be honest. These kinds of resolutions are difficult to stick to. Adding a little extra incentive doesn’t hurt, and can really help.

Here’s the important thing—decide on appropriate rewards. If you’re trying to lose weight, don’t reward yourself with a huge slice of cheesecake after you’ve dropped ten pounds. That’s just sabotaging your efforts. Make the reward for that resolution non-food-related. Maybe buy yourself a new pair of jeans that you can now fit into since you’ve lost weight.

If you’re trying to get in shape, once you get to the point where you can walk either a certain distance or amount of time, one way you can reward yourself is to buy a treadmill so you can continue on your path to fitness. If you want a more low-impact workout, consider an elliptical machine. Since you’re making new year’s resolutions in the dead of winter, it may be difficult to walk or run outside in the first place, depending on where you live. Having a treadmill in the house means you’ll be able to walk or run when it fits into your schedule, regardless of what the weather is like. And if you do begin a new workout regimen when it’s cold out, remember to follow a few important winter health tips to make it easier to stick with it.

Don’t give up if you have a setback

Just come to terms with it now—you will have setbacks. You’ll indulge one night at dinner and have two heaping helpings of that casserole you love. You’ll polish off the last of the Christmas cookies when you have a bad day at work. You’ll get stressed and smoke a few extra cigarettes. You’ll decide not to get on the treadmill one day because you’d rather curl up on the couch with a book…or the remote. It’s okay. Setbacks are normal. How you react to them is the key.

If you get off track like this one day, just remind yourself that it’s just that—one day. You have tomorrow. And the next day, and many more after that. Making a mistake one day doesn’t ruin your entire year. Losing only four pounds in those three weeks instead of five doesn’t mean you’re failing and you should just go ahead and eat whatever you want and forget about losing weight. Accept that setbacks will happen, and don’t beat yourself up about it. Get back on track—or on the treadmill—the next day, and move on.

Remember that you’re in the process of accomplishing something that takes time, effort, and perseverance. The end result will be worth it.

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