So here we are, almost two weeks into 2017. Did you make a list of healthy New Year’s resolutions? Are you still feeling enthusiastic about your goals of exercising more, eating right, quitting smoking, lowering your stress level – whatever good intentions made it onto your list?
To make it more likely that you’ll stick to it, check out these five ways to raise the chances of success:
- Re-evaluate your goals. In the excitement of the new year, we sometimes make resolutions that seem unattainable when day-to-day life sets back in. Take another look. Without completely abandoning a particular resolution, you can refine it to be less daunting. For example, if your goal was “Lose 20 pounds,” cross that out and replace with “Lose one pound a week until swimsuit weather.” If you resolved to bring a healthy salad for lunch to work instead of ducking into the pizza place for lunch, allow yourself a slice of pepperoni once a week.
- Translate ideals into specifics. If you resolved to “get more exercise,” it’s great to visualize yourself as being more fit, with more energy. Now, move your focus to the specific actions that will get you there, such as “Walk for 30 minutes five days a week after work.” Think about the process as much as the goals. Make list of things you want to do, and when you will do them. Make a checklist and put it on the fridge. One day at a time!
- Prioritize. If we try to tackle too many big changes in our life at once, we can become discouraged and give up on all of them. Ask yourself which healthy living goals would benefit you the most. Eliminating truly dangerous habits like smoking or eating junk food would no doubt be near the top of the list. Yet studies show that stress reduction and getting more sleep can help those other changes fall into place. Talk to your doctor about the lifestyle changes that would be of greatest benefit to you.
- Don’t give up if you goof up. Few of us can make big life transformations without an occasional setback. Bad health habits that took years to be entrenched probably won’t be completely conquered by February. We all have days when it’s just a little harder to put on our running shoes or steam those veggies for dinner! And studies show that unrealistic expectations can actually boomerang—we might have a second cigarette because we’re angry at ourselves that we gave in and had the first one, or we might try to pick up our spirits with a hot fudge sundae if we gained a pound at our weekly weigh-in. Some experts even say that perfectionism raises the risk of alcohol abuse. Instead of losing hope, turn a momentary lapse into a learning experience. What circumstance caused the temporary derail, and how can you avoid that obstacle next time?
- Get help from an expert. When we resolve to quit smoking, give up junk food or cut back on alcohol consumption, we often find that it’s hard to go it alone. The buddy system, where we enlist family and friends to quit with us or help us stick to our goal, can be helpful. But sometimes, cohorts and cheerleaders aren’t enough. Brain chemistry, biology, genes and personality traits mesh to make certain habits notoriously hard to change. A smoking cessation, alcohol reduction or weight loss program may be the best way to turn your resolutions into real change. Talk to your doctor about a program that’s right for you. Some are free or almost free; your insurance may cover others.
There’s an old saying that nothing succeeds like success. Each small increment you achieve in keeping your resolutions for a healthier life will provide motivation for the next step forward.