Earlier this month, many of us vowed to improve our lives with resolutions, like Exercise More and Ditch Junk Food. These are worthy goals, but how best to achieve them when studies say most resolutions fail?
First, know that establishing any new habit takes time. You also need to ask yourself, “Why do you want to make the change?” writes Dr. Marcelo Campos, a lecturer at Harvard Medical School in a Harvard Health Publishing blog. “Make sure you find your true motivation,” he says.
“Look at the real-life benefits of the change. Do you want to be well so you can really enjoy that trip in the summer? Do you want to be able to keep up with your grandchildren? Try to go deep into your soul and emotions. Try to imagine how your life would be after you made the change.”
Below are surefire strategies for achieving your resolutions from the American Psychological Association; psychotherapist Amy Morin, LCSW, author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do (HarperCollins Publishers, 2014); and four North Shore experts in the fields of fitness, wellness, and weight loss.
Set a Measurable Goal
“If your resolution is fitness based, find a form of exercise that serves both your mind and body,” says Amy Cieslik Mena, founder and studio manager of Oxygen Mind + Body in Andover. “Our Pilates regulars often describe [Pilates] as the one type of exercise that they look forward to and enjoy in the moment and after they’re done. So, a goal of doing Pilates twice a week, every week would be a great place to start.”
“I’ll always suggest a goal for weight loss,” says Dr. Dominica Costello, DO, founder and medical director of NorthShore Weight and Metabolism in Amesbury. “Anyone that carries excess weight—if they lose just 7 percent of their body weight, there will be measurable improvements in health.”
Chunk That Goal Into Bite-Size Pieces
“You wouldn’t just wake up and run a marathon,” says Nancy Higgins, founder, owner and program director of Precision Pilates in Ipswich. “Breaking down your big goals into smaller pieces is the most feasible way to accomplish them and provide lasting habits.”
“Picture a ladder. The top is the goal, but each rung can represent a smaller goal,” says Mena.
Identify Clear Action Steps
“Get specific, not just to ‘eat better’ or ‘eat less fast food,’ but quantify exactly what you want to do,” says Costello. “Writing things down on a calendar, like limit eating out to once per week instead of the usual three times, is a tangible way to keep it front of mind.”
Create a Realistic Time Frame
“Understanding how long it will take to bring your plans to fruition is part of setting measurable, achievable goals,” says Lori Haverty, owner and lead instructor at Tread in Reading and Winchester.
Track Your Progress
“There are phone apps, Fitbits, weigh-ins, and measurements for fitness-based goals,” says Higgins. “Don’t underestimate the power of keeping a journal about how you feel and what you have accomplished; rereading how far you’ve come is inspiring.”
“Create a list of things you need to do, and schedule the tasks,” says Haverty. “Check off all the tasks you have done. Keep this visible, whether it’s on paper or using an app.”
Find a Support System
“Be accountable to someone, your trainer, your partner, a friend, your family,” says Mena.
“Find a community to support your goals,” says Higgins. “These supportive settings foster accountability and strong bonds, which can be very motivating.”
Deal with Obstacles and Setbacks
“If you’re able to identify where you are falling short, you can adjust your plan and your goal to get back on track,” says Haverty.
“Life is not pass/fail,” notes Mena. “If one day doesn’t go the way you’d hoped, acknowledge it, identify what stood in your way, and try again tomorrow.”
Celebrate Your Victories
“When you achieve a goal, celebrate!” says Higgins. “Rewarding yourself strengthens your new behaviors and habits.”
“Acknowledging your progress and letting yourself feel proud builds confidence and self-love,” says Costello.
Maintain Your New Healthy Habits
“To get yourself to repeat something that requires effort, the more you focus on that positive outcome and let yourself rejoice in it, the more likely you’ll be able to keep it up,” says Costello.
“Working toward a goal often results in different pieces of the plan becoming enjoyable,” says Haverty. “One of the best feelings is that your new healthy routine has become a lifestyle you love!”