For years, I was like most Americans. I’d make New Year’s resolutions, go about 2 weeks successfully, lose steam, feel like a failure and resume my old habits.
When I was in my twenties, my New Year’s resolution was always “lose weight.” I was convinced I was fat and just wanted to be thinner. My already suffering body image wasn’t helped by a month-long barrage of cinnamon rolls and frosted cookies. Unfortunately, I had no plan for losing the weight and I now know that a resolution without a plan is just another promise to myself waiting to fail. I also found that I put off any positive changes during the month of December, instead opting for a last supper mentality rolling into the impending January restrictions.
In my thirties, having spent over a decade with failed resolutions, I started branching out and being more creative with my New Year’s goals. It would be fair to say I stacked the deck in my favor -– I picked things I knew I could be successful at accomplishing, usually things I was already doing, just not really well. Since I already worked out most days, I would resolve to “focus on strength training.” Or I flossed occasionally, so I resolved to floss more regularly. But again, my resolutions were vague and ambiguous with no chance of real results or success.
Then a few years ago, I decided to stop making New Year’s resolutions altogether. Tired of failure, I realized that the whole idea of resolutions wasn’t really working for me. Instead, I now set goals throughout the year and revise them as I go. I opt for gradual lifestyle changes over a gluttonous December followed by a restrictive January.
I realize that I am probably in the minority and that most folks will still set resolutions out of tradition. Sadly, only 75% will make it past the first week and only 46% to six months. So here are a few tips to help make those resolutions stick:
No. 1 – Commit to 21 Days
It takes 21 days to make or break a habit, so if you can get through the first three weeks, you should be well on your way to making true lifestyle changes. Plus, 21 days seems a lot easier to tackle than focusing on an entire year or even a lifetime.
No. 2 – Be Accountable
Get a support group and don’t go it alone. Go to Weight Watchers or join a gym with a friend. Make your resolution well-known by telling people about it or posting it on Facebook. Accountability works.
No. 3 – Make Your Resolutions SMART
Resolutions are really just goals and the key to setting successful goals is to make them SMART — specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. So instead of my “lose weight goal,” I should have gone with “lose 2 lbs. a week for the next 5 weeks.” To make those resolutions even more sticky, state them in the positive with “I” statements and add tactics … “I will lose 2 lbs. for the next 5 weeks by working out 5 days a week, limiting myself to one cheat meal and eating at least 5 servings of vegetables every day.”
The silver lining on resolutions is that according to behavioral studies, those who do make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain them. Seems the logic there is that you can’t reach a goal that you never set.
I’ve found that people who are successful with real lifestyle change, do so when they are ready and are fed up with their current situation (which 99% of the time does not miraculously happen on the first of the new year). The tipping point where your fat pants no longer fit or where you finally tire of paying $15 a pack for cigarettes might happen on January 5th or June 18th. So go ahead and make a resolution, but make it SMART and make it when the time is right for you.