If you are one of the 45 percent of Americans making a New Year’s resolution, we have tips to help you make your new habits stick. According to Susan Perry, staff development specialist at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital, setting realistic and measurable goals is the key to New Year’s resolution success.
At the beginning of a new year, it can be tempting to jump right into your new lifestyle, but Perry recommends examining your attitude and habits first, as they can make or break a resolution.
“Habits are learned behaviors, which means they can be unlearned and you can learn new habits,” she explains. “Look at your attitude first when setting a goal. Remember: we have control over our habits. If someone feels in control, they are more likely to change.”
Try this five-step process when setting a goal:
- Identify and analyze your old habit. Pinpoint what and why you want to change.
- Find a new habit.
- Start strong. Tell other people about your goal. Make signs or notes to put on your mirror, refrigerator and/or computer. If you have these things in your environment, they will remind you what you want to accomplish.
- Never deviate from your new habit. Don’t say you’ll break your new resolution “just this once.” You need to stick with something for at least 30 days to form a new habit.
- Ask for help. Get others involved who can serve as resources and hold you accountable.
When setting your new goal, Perry recommends remembering the SMART acronym. Your goal should be:
“Don’t say, ‘I want to lose weight this year.’ Make a concrete goal, like, ‘I want to lose 10 lbs in three months,’” she explains.
Then, write it down.
“Research shows we’re more committed to a goal when we write it down,” says Perry. “For example, those who keep a food journal are twice as likely to lose weight as those who don’t.”
This can also apply to financial health. By tracking where you spend your money, you are able to recognize areas for improvement and set a realistic budget, she says.
How many goals are too many?
Instead of creating a laundry list of tasks you want to accomplish this year, Perry recommends making no more than three goals your priority.
“There’s nothing wrong with having multiple goals, but don’t feel like you have to tackle them all in January,” she says. “Think about what’s urgent or pick quick wins. Find something doable that you can mark off your list so you can have a feeling of pride and accomplishment.”
Those small successes will create a positive upward spiral.
“Changing one habit has a way of affecting other parts of your life,” she says.
Managing inevitable slipups
Perry emphasizes that if you slip up – whether it’s eating that extra slice of cake or splurging on something out of your budget – don’t give up. Surround yourself with motivators who can help you get back on track.
“This is why it’s important to have people on your team. If you do it alone, it’s easier to talk yourself out of it,” she explains. “Look for quotes, pictures or anything that will motivate you to keep going.”
She also notes that having an emotional connection to your resolution can make it easier to achieve. For example, someone who wants to lose weight so they can walk their daughter down the aisle at her wedding may have an easier time reaching their goal than someone who is worried about bathing suit season.
“The more emotional it is, the more likely you are to do it,” she says. “You’re more connected. Plus, the positive motivates people more than the negative.”
Tracking your progress
With any resolution, it’s crucial to track and celebrate milestones. Depending on the goal, you may need to evaluate your growth on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis. Weighing yourself every day may not be necessary, but if you want to quit smoking, daily monitoring is essential.
Measuring your progress as you go is also a great way to see what is and isn’t working. If you feel like you eat well, but aren’t losing weight, logging your meals in a food journal might help you see that you are consuming more calories than you thought. Or if you’re trying to stick to a budget, but never seem to have enough money, tracking how you spend it can help you see something you’re missing.
And if you just can’t seem to make progress, “get some outside perspective.” Read a book or meet with an expert.
“Get advice – you’ll be more successful for it.”
Finally, the best part: remember to reward yourself along the way.
“It’s important to have little celebrations as you go,” says Perry.
Share your progress with others. They can hold you accountable – and you may even inspire them as you meet your goals.