As we wind down the old year and prepare for a new one, it can be tempting to make grand plans with New Year’s resolutions. You’re in good company. Americans often spend the last few days of the year in holiday guilt and overestimating their capacity to reset habits, overwhelmingly related to health and wellness.
Why is that a problem? Of course, there’s nothing wrong with aspirations to get fit, lose weight, and consequently gain confidence in our appearance– the issue is that very few people reach the lofty goals they set for themselves. That means when February hits and we didn’t get to the gym 10 hours each week or lose 20 pounds, we become dissatisfied with ourselves, give up on the resolutions altogether, and return to old habits – or worse.
What if instead of turning to the unfairly, unrealistic resolution model – which, by the way, most often isn’t working – we considered what habits we would like to adapt over time and could envision as part of our routine not just for 2019, but forever?
Research indicates that compared to large changes small, incremental lifestyle changes are more feasible to achieve and maintain. The ASPIRE trial, a 2008 East Carolina University study, found that individuals practicing smaller behavior changes lost more weight (and kept it off) than those following traditional weight loss treatment. Shifting focus from drastic weight loss to small changes in diet and exercise is believed to stave off further weight gain, and ultimately build healthy habits that can be kept.
For example, rather than thinking: “In 2019 I’m going to lose 50 pounds,” or “This year I’m going to run a half-marathon,” think: “Next week I’m going to start walking 30 minutes 3 times a week,” or “This year I’m going to have 2 vegetables at every meal instead of chips.” Maybe you don’t lose 50 pounds or run a half marathon by the end of the year, but you’re better off with the increased activity and improved nutrition.
Ready to make those small changes? Here are a few hints for getting started:
- Consider what areas of your life you wish to change, then narrow the focus! Many people never meet their goals because they set too many. Think about 1-3 habits that are attainable now and plan from there. Take one step at a time.
- Set yourself up for success! Your environment is powerful and will encourage or undermine your goals. Be mindful of what obstacles could derail new habits, and at the same time, be sure to recognize the factors that help keep you on track.
- Write it down! Keeping a record of the goal you have in mind can help keep you committed. Put it somewhere visible for yourself. Use the moments you fall short to learn and develop new strategies, rather than giving up.