As you make your New Year’s resolutions for 2017, are you already wondering if you’ll be able to keep them? Looking back at promises made this time last year, perhaps you realize you’re making the same resolutions all over again. You’re not alone; research from Statistics Brain shows that 45 percent of us make specific resolutions each year, only 8 percent follow through on these goals. Here are some of the top tips from health coaches on how to make resolutions you can keep, and stick to them.
Know Your Reasons
Experts say one of the best ways to make resolutions sticky is to articulate clearly to yourself why the goal is important to you. Ask yourself how the change will benefit your life and what results you hope to gain from it. Take smoking, for example. Most people think vaguely about the health risks of smoking and know they “should quit.” But a stronger motivation may be the desire to be a healthy role model for your children or to live longer to see your grandchildren grow up. Focusing on these deeper reasons will help boost your motivation to get started and help keep you on track in resisting temptation.
It should come as no surprise that “lose weight” is Americans’ number-one New Year’s resolution. It should also come as no surprise that almost no one manages to do so, or at least not as the result of a resolution. What does work? Breaking your goal down into specific behaviors. If sweets are your weakness, resolve to cut portions in half. If you’re a couch potato, resolve to sign up for a Zumba class or walk for 20 minutes three times a week. Make your resolutions achievable, then celebrate your successes. You can always increase your goal down the line.
Use Habit-Forming Tricks
Researchers who study the science of behavior change have found that it’s all about establishing a habit. When something becomes automatic – just what we do – it’s much easier to follow through on than something we have to think about all the time. And this one goes with the above advice about being specific. For example, instead of saying “I’m going to eat healthier,” you might say “I’m going to eat oatmeal every morning instead of stopping for a muffin or scone.” Then set things up so this goal is easy to achieve; stock your cabinet with pre-made packets or rolled oats, or stash oatmeal in your desk drawer at work.
Ask for Help
There’s a reason announcing your New Year’s resolution has been shown to help people stick to goals: Those who do so get support. When our friends, family, and signifcant others understand that we’re really serious about making a change, they’ll get on board. It can also help to make specific requests. If your husband shows his affection by bringing you a cookie from your favorite bakery, ask him to take you to the movies instead. It also helps enormously to have a partner sharing your goal, so find an exercise buddy or take a healthy cooking class with a friend and the support will work wonders.
Track Your Progress
Many of us get nervous about this one, because we don’t want to feel bad when we fall short of our goals. But studies show that people who record their real-time results are more successful in achieving their goals. Try to stay positive and use tracking as helpful feedback for what works and what doesn’t. For example, if you realize you skipped your 15-minute walks on Tuesday and Wednesday because it was raining, make a plan for what to do in the case of bad weather. (Hint: Walking around the mall works.) Some people find step counters and apps helpful in logging their progress. You can use a FitBit or other device, or use an app like Kaiser Permanente’s Every Body Walk and My Fitness Pal.
Seek Out Inspiration
Truly believing your goal is achievable is key to achieving the mindset required for successful behavior change, experts say. One way to do this is to look for role models. Read inspiring articles about people like you who lost weight or became athletes, or talk to friends who’ve made the life change you’re seeking. Is a friend bragging about how much clearer she is now that she reorganized her closet? Ask her how she did it. (And maybe she’ll offer to help you!)
One of the most common reasons people abandon New Year’s resolutions is discouragement. An extra piece of cake or a sneaked cigarette becomes a reason to give up. To combat this cycle, banish self-criticism and practice the art of being your own friend. What would you say to a friend who confessed she got depressed and raided the cookie jar? You’d react with sympathy and understanding, then support her efforts to get back on track. Be your own best friend and do the same!
For a more in-depth discussion of how to make New Year’s resolutions work for you, check out these strategies from Kaiser Permanente’s Mindy Boccio, MPH.