What makes a New Year’s resolution stick? Those Nike commercials made it sound so simple: Just do it. But when it comes to acting on our healthy resolutions, lots of us just . . . don’t. Some of the most popular goals—“get fit;” “manage stress;” save money”—are great ideas, but they’re as vague as advertising tag lines. Maybe that’s why 30 percent of people who make a January 1 resolution scale back by mid-month, and most give up by June.
Is the solution to avoid setting goals for the year ahead? Not when the choices we make today have such a profound impact on our wellness and longevity. (Studies show that maintaining healthy habits can reduce the risk of chronic diseases by up to 80 percent!)
Instead, we asked the experts for their tips on turning a hopeful resolution into a healthy habit—for life.
Making It Work
Start by rethinking your terminology. CA-based life coach and author Nancy Hovde suggests replacing the phrase ‘new resolution’ with ‘self-care action’ when trying to establish a permanent habit. “Self-care actions are healthy for your overall well-being,” she says.
Work from a strong foundation, advises award-winning cyclist and trainer Kathryn Wilder, PhD. "Answer these questions: Why do you want to make this change? How will it improve your life? Your energy? Your family life? How you perceive the world?" Knowing your reasons and inspirations—and revisiting them—is crucial in making a lasting change.
Don’t become overwhelmed when setting healthy goals for yourself. Start small by focusing on one change at a time. Then let this change become habit. Say that you want to better your health by committing to a new supplement routine. “Use the New Year as a motivational boost to sit down with a knowledgeable healthcare practitioner to help you customize your program to your specific health and wellness goals,” suggests Duffy MacKay, ND, at the Council for Responsible Nutrition. Then pick a strategy that helps you follow through by taking the supplements each day. “Keeping supplements in an easily accessible place, like on the kitchen counter, can help increase your chances of remembering to take them daily,” says Dr. MacKay. Make this goal a 30-day challenge. Three to four weeks is all that’s needed to help a habit become automatic.
Tools You Can Use
Commit to your goals in public. This may mean joining a gym, making healthy selections at restaurants, or sharing your trials and successes with friends and family. According to one study, women were 10 percent more likely to achieve success when they made their goals public, garnered support from their community, and received encouragement to persist in spite of challenges. Log your progress every day, and find support when you need it—online or with a trusted friend. Hold yourself accountable in measurable ways.
Be sure to reward your successes and milestones! “Celebrating has helped many of my clients stay motivated in working toward a goal or sticking to a healthy habit,” says Hovde. Get a therapeutic massage or take a bath with essential oils. Call a friend, go for a long walk, or listen to music you love.
If things aren’t going as you hoped, don’t give up. “Let go of all-or-nothing thinking, and change your mindset or philosophy to be more accepting,” says Dr. Wilder. “A small misstep is not a catastrophic failure.” To keep it from happening again, plan what you’ll do differently.
Along the way, be mindful of the journey. “Sometimes we tend to focus too much on all the details of our goal,” says Hovde. “When we choose instead to focus on how we want to feel when we’ve reached our goal, we have a much greater chance of not only reaching the goal but also enjoying the process.”
When the Going Gets Tough
Change takes time. And sticking with your health and fitness goals isn’t always easy. Here are 8 tips from trainer and sports psychologist Kathryn Wilder, PhD:
1. Revisit your vision.
2. Set S.M.A.R.T. goals: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based.
3. Have patience.
4. Do not expect perfect.
5. Have self-awareness.
6. Accept that you are in control.
7. Be gentle and loving to yourself if you took a misstep.
8. Know that the “real” you is a happy, healthy, and well person.