According to data pulled from Google by iQuanti, 41 percent of Americans made New Year’s resolutions this past January, and of those who did, the majority made losing weight and/or having a more healthy diet one of their priority goals for 2017. Unfortunately, data show that only about eight percent of those individuals will actually achieve their goals.1
Attempting overly ambitious, unrealistic goals, setting too many goals, or setting goals with no plans in place for achieving them are why most people fail at achieving their New Year’s resolutions each year.2–4 According to iQuanti, however, “people who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions.” In other words, people who are committed to changing a behavior and who implement precise steps to achieve this change are more ikely to succeed than those who set ambiguous goals with no set plan for achieving them.
According to University of Scranton psychology professor John Norcross, PhD, effective strategies for achieving self- improvement goals include setting up systems to reward new behaviors, avoiding high-risk situations, and engaging in the target behavior.3,4
And according to psychologist Lynn Bufka, PhD,2 “Setting small, attainable goals throughout the year, instead of a singular, overwhelming goal […] can help you reach whatever it is you strive for.”
“Remember,” stated Bufka,2 “it is not the extent of the change that matters, but rather the act of recognizing that lifestyle change is important, and working toward it, one step at a time.”
Changing a behavior is never easy, but with some careful planning and realistic expectations, success can be yours. We’ve collected the following tips from the experts that may help you achieve those 2017 healthy lifestyle resolutions.
1. BE SPECIFIC.
A well-thought out, simple goal with a plan of action and accountability in place is more likely to be achieved than an ambiguous, unrealistic, or overly ambitious goal.6 So, when setting goals, try to be as specific as you can. It’s difficult creating and following a plan of action when the goal is too general. And it’s difficult to know if or when you’ve achieved success when the goal is ambiguous. Setting goals that are measurable will help ensure that they are precise.6
2. START SMALL.
Some goals may be easier to achieve if they are broken up into smaller goals.6 For example, if your New Year’s resolution is to consistently exercise five times a week, first, set a realistic amount of time to achieve this goal—say, 6 months—and then start with a smaller, short-term goal of exercising 1 to 2 days a week for one month. Once you’ve met this short-term goal, set a goal of working out 3 days a week for a month, and so on, always working toward your 6-month goal of exercising five days a week.
3. SELF-MONITOR AND KEEP A JOURNAL.
Research shows that people who make themselves accountable by self-monitoring are more successful at losing weight.7 One way to monitor yourself is by keeping a daily or weekly journal for tracking your progress. A journal can help you stay mindful of how your actions positively or negatively impact your ability to succeed, and can serve as a warning device if you start to slide off track.5 A journal can also be used to reinforce positive behavior when you are achieving your milestones.
4. PERIODICALLY EVALUATE YOUR PROGRESS.
Remember that journal you’ll be keeping? Periodically flip back to the previous weeks to review your progress and gauge how well you are sticking to your plan.5 Take stock of your situation, and if you’re slacking off, make any adjustments necessary to get yourself back on track. This can also help you formulate a better plan for next year by identifying any problems or road blocks you’ve encountered this year. Ask yourself: Are you meeting your weekly goals? Have you started to slide back into old habits? Is your environment set up to help you succeed (e.g., Is there junk food in the pantry or a pack of cigarettes lingering in dresser drawer?).5
5. GET SOCIAL.
Studies show that people with strong social support are much more successful at lifestyle changes than those without social support.8–10 Not only can people with similar interests help keep you accountable, they can also offer encouragement when you are struggling and positive reinforcement when you’re doing well. Find an online group message board on a fitness social media site or participate in a weekly in-person group meeting with other people who have similar goals as you. Chat online, join a running group or a sports club, get a workout buddy—Find supportive people and stay in contact.
6. USE SELF-TALK.
Motivational self-talk uses positive phrases that encourage you to stay on track and work through challenges. Research has shown that self-talk can boost productivity, motivation, and confidence, and help regulate emotions.5,11 For example, saying “You can do this!” or “Let’s go!” before a tough workout or a challenging situation can be confidence building, whereas “This will be hard” or “I really don’t want to do this” will create a negative state of mind that will only work against you. For more on self-talk techniques, see page 18.
7. REWARD YOURSELF AND SET NEW GOALS WHEN NECESSARY.
If you find your motivation has left you or you are falling behind in your plan, set up a reward system for when you achieve milestones. Treat yourself to a new outfit, a pair of shoes, or a weekend away. Creating a new goal also might help reboot your motivation. For instance, you could sign up for a 5k race with a buddy or learn a new sport. Find something that interests and motivates you and use it.5
8. USE TECHNOLOGY.
Whether it’s your smartphone, computer, or wearable tracker, there are many ways technology can assist you in achieving your healthy lifestyle goals.12 Use apps on your smartphone to journal, log calories, record workouts, and connect with others who have similar goals. Set up notifications on your computer, smartphone, and tablet that deliver prompts for exercise, taking vitamins or medication, or drinking water. Use a wearable tracker, like FitBit, to measure and track activity, exercise, sleep, weight, heart rate, and more. There are countless gadgets and online tools and apps that can support you in achieving your goals.
9. AND FINALLY, TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOURSELF.
Remember—The only person who can change you is you, so take responsibility for yourself. Overcoming a bad habit or learning a healthy new habit is challenging for everyone. Expect that at some point this year, you will struggle with motivation—so be prepared! Make a plan for every situation and set up milestones and a reward system. It’s up to you, and only you, to discover what motivates you and keeps you on track. And with these tips in mind and with steady commitment, determination, and belief in yourself, there’s no reason you can’t achieve success in 2017!
- Statistic Brain. New Year’s resolution statistics. http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/. Accessed January 30, 2017.
- American Psychological Association. Making your new years resolutions stick. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/resolution.aspx. Accessed January 27, 2017.
- Norcross, JC, Mrykalo MS, Blagys MD. Auld lang syne: success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and nonresolvers. J Clin Psychol. 2002;58(4):397–405.
- Norcross, JC, Ratzin AC, Payne D. Ringing in the new year: the change processes and reported outcomes of resolutions. Addict Behav. 1989;14(2):205–212.
- Alexander C. The Emotional First Aid Kit: A Practical Guide to Life After Bariatric Surgery. West Chester, PA: Matrix Medical Communications; 2009.
- Goal Setting Guide. Short term goals: the ultimate strategy to excel in short term goal setting. February 2, 2012. http://www.goal-setting- guide.com/short-term-goals/. Accessed January 30, 2017.
- Baker RC, Kirschenbaum DS. Self-monitoring may be necessary for successful weight control. Behav Ther. 1993;24(3):377–394 .
- American Psychological Association. How social support can help you lose weight. http://www.apa.org/topics/obesity/support.aspx. Accessed January 30, 2017.
- Umberson D, Montez JK. Social relationships and health: a flashpoint for health policy. J Health Soc Behav. 2010;51:S54.
- Mayo Clinic. Social support: tap this tool to beat stress. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in- depth/social-support/art-20044445. Accessed January 30, 2017.
- Kross E, Bruehlman-Senecal E, Park J, et al. Self-talk as a regulatory mechanism: how you do it matters. J Person Soc Psychol. 2014 Feb;106(2):304-24.
- Pocket Lint. Be inspired: how to use tech to improve your life. http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/123334-be-inspired-how-to-use- tech-to-improve-your-life. Accessed January 30, 2017.