We want to lose weight. Be happier. Eat better. Quit smoking.
Nearly half of us will make New Year’s resolutions this year and, while we may be setting laudable and healthy goals, many of us will be doomed to fail.
But, experts say, there are ways to ensure success.
The key is to stop thinking in terms of “resolution” and reframe the goal as a journey — a lasting lifestyle change that can be accomplished through specific steps.
Too often, resolutions are framed in terms of black and white, said Dr. Karen Ruskin, a psychotherapist and licensed marriage and family therapist.
“A typical New Year’s resolution is so linear: To do more of something or do less of something,” Ruskin said. “That’s why it’s not long-term attainable — the moment you stop doing the ‘that’ you wish to do more or less of, you feel like you’ve failed and you give up.”
Resolutions are often vague, and lack actionable steps. And they can place an artificial time limit on making permanent change, said Dr. Suzanne Koven, a primary care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital.
So rather than simply resolving to be healthier this year, take some tips from experts on how to have a healthier 2013 — and beyond.
Make a plan, and be kind to yourself
According to Dr. Karen Ruskin, a “resolution” will only be successful if you identify exactly what it is you want to change and why, and think of it in terms of a healthier overall lifestyle. Here are her tips to help you reach your goals:
Identify a specific change
“You should ask yourself, ‘What do I actually wish to improve upon’ so you have clarity,” Ruskin said.
Your goal can be about your relationships with other people, or something you want to improve within yourself.
“Sometimes it might be about a healthier lifestyle in terms of food, or going back to school,” Ruskin said. For some it might be getting a promotion at work, or being more considerate of your spouse or being more patient with your children. But the idea is to figure out exactly what it is you want to change, then plotting specific steps.
ASK YOURSELF: WHAT IS ONE STEP I CAN TAKE TODAY?
You’re not going to write that novel in one sitting. But maybe today you’ll write one paragraph, work on an outline, or simply spend some time thinking about it. Or you may choose to give yourself the day off. But asking yourself what you might do – rather than telling yourself – is a more gentle way to help you reach your goal.
Give yourself positive feedback
Whether it’s a verbal pat on the back, or a smiley face sticker on a calendar (yes, even for adults!), it’s important to give ourselves credit for progress that we make.
“What we say to ourselves effects our mood. We are more likely to achieve our goals if we are kind to ourselves, instead of being angry,” Ruskin said.
Periodically, you should evaluate your progress and decide whether you want to continue working toward the same goal. Sometimes, you may want to shift to something else, or make some tweaks to your goal. “If we are constantly checking in, we are constantly improving,” Ruskin said.
Get fit by doing less
Instead of completely overhauling your diet and exercise plan, or resolving to vaguely work out more to get in better shape this year, I challenge you to do less! Start small. Don’t overwhelm yourself.
The ability to sustain change significantly decreases when you try to develop too many new habits at once. So this year, establish one ultimate long-term goal, and then adopt a new small change each month that will lead you to your goal.
For example, if you want to lose 20 pounds of fat by the end of 2013, in January you might start with a goal of exercising 10 times this month, which comes out to roughly twice a week. Once that behavior becomes a habit, then you layer on something else the next month.
In February you’d still keep up the 10 workouts, but also establish a new action, like having a cup of vegetables with each meal. So as March rolls around, you’ve exercised 20 times over the past two months, and getting those veggies in has become second nature.
Next, you might be ready to walk the several flights of stairs each day to your office instead of taking the elevator.
Before you know it, you’ve developed all these wonderful habits that have become ingrained in your behaviors and will lead you to more meaningful and permanent lifestyle changes. Allowing yourself to really focus on and master one change at a time will help you adhere to your plan and achieve your goal.—RYAN HEALY, TRAINER Continued...