New Year's resolutions are a joke. There I've said it. Yet, every year 100 million Americans draw up these well-intentioned lists -- despite the fact that four out of five of us will eventually break our promises, and a third won't even last to the end of January.
[Check out our photo gallery of the 11 most popular New Year's resolutions]
Does that mean you should just throw in the towel and vow not to do anything to improve your health? Of course not! Also, that would put me out of a job dispensing health advice.
But rather than making vague promises that you'll likely break -- like lose 10 pounds or get more exercise -- there are smarter ways to adjust your health habits and make changes you can stick with permanently, contends Dr. Suzanne Koven, a primary care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital who runs cardiovascular wellness groups and writes this blog. Here are five steps she recommends.
1. Don't get hung up on New Yearís for your promises. "Itís very artificial," says Koven, "as are birthdays, weddings, and Monday mornings." Whatever changes you commit to really should be for the rest of your life and shouldn't be tied to some event. "A lot of people Iíve seen whoíve lost weight successfully," says Koven "can't remember what day they started." That suggests they implemented small changes gradually rather than a radical diet that began right after the Christmas binge.
2. Choose a goal that has a specific action. Promising to lose weight, exercise more, or quit smoking does little to help you achieve the goal. Instead you need to define how you're going to do those things, points out Koven. If you smoke a pack a day, are you more likely to succeed if you cut back by a cigarette a day or if you go cold turkey? And let's say you promise to start walking every day for 30 minutes; how are you going to do that during the cold, dark, snowy Boston winters? Figure out what will realistically work for you, Koven stresses, and you'll probably make changes you can stick with.
3. Find meaning in your resolution. Trying to get yourself from dipping into your chocolate stash by telling yourself that "thin tastes better" will probably get you nowhere since chocolate now tastes far better than some future promise of thin, says Koven. On the other hand, promising to lose 20 pounds if you have diabetes so you can live to see your grandchildren is a strong motivation to stick with that goal. "It really helps to figure out whether this goal is really important to you and why," says Koven.
4. Make your goal sustainable. Don't over-reach and don't set an artificial time limit like squeezing into a size 6 dress for your friend's wedding. Above all, "don't set out to do something that will require you to be a different person than you are in order to do it." If you hate going to the gym and getting up early, pushing yourself to attend the boot-camp workout at 6 a.m. is going to make you miserable and you'll likely quit before February. On the other hand, if you truly enjoy ice skating on the Frog Pond, make that your thrice weekly workout.
5. Set a goal to be "good enough" rather than perfect. That means if you swear off drinking binges and then down five vodka-Red Bulls, you haven't really failed in your resolution. You've simply taken a temporary break and will now resume.
Want to talk about your own New Year's resolutions? Join our discussion forum.
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