By Nicole Maier
it, the year you're finally going to ditch those bad habits and become a
picture of health. Starting January 1st, you're never going overeat,
stress out, or skip a fitness class again. But before you launch right in,
let's rewind to last New Year's: Chances are you were full of the same
determined resolve, but after few weeks of genuine effort you somehow ended
back where you started.
You're not alone. "Something like 97% of resolutions never get fulfilled," says Michael Arloski, PhD, motivational coach and author of Wellness Coaching for Lasting Lifestyle Change. "People rely too much on strength of character or willpower. When old habits reemerge - and they will because they are truly habits -it is very easy for a person to get critical of themselves and give up."
Luckily, there are a few things you can do to make a more resilient resolution. Here's how to really accomplish your get-healthy goals.
# 1: Change Your Resolution Reasoning
For many of us, a big motivator for wanting to change our bad habits is the potentially harmful mental or physical side effects. However, being afraid of say a heart attack might not be enough to drop those extra pounds. "You can fear the Grim Reaper coming after you, but it won't supply the motivation you need after a while," says Arloski. "You need a positive reason, something that is going to put you over that tipping point when you're having moments of weakness."
Take Action: "Make a list with twice as many pros as cons for doing a new behavior," says Janice Prochaska, PhD, president and founder of ProChange.com. "It's the pros that will give you a stronger reason for sticking with your resolution." Pick the one pro that really resonates with you and post it in your home, office, and car so it is always there for you to see.
# 2: Create a Sustainable Plan
There might be a lot of things you'd like to change this year, like quitting smoking, getting more organized, and eating healthy, but trying to take on too much guarantees failure. "You need to focus on one thing," says MJ Ryan, change expert and author of This Year I Will... "In order to be successful, you need to train your brain to form this new healthy habit. Once you learn how to change one thing, you'll be even more successful with the next."
Take Action: Break up what might seem like an impossibly difficult or large goal into smaller goals. Figure out exactly what actions you need to do to get started and build from there. For example, don't just jump into exercising every day for 30 minutes, says Prochaska. Start by bringing your sneaker to work and taking a 10-minute walk at lunch. Slowly incorporating these new routines into your lifestyle is the secret to long-term victory.
#3: Prevent Slipups from Sidelining You
"Don't turn goof-ups into give-ups," says Ryan. "You will mess up and you will do things wrong." The brain has a pathway set for doing the things it's always done. That's what a habit is, your brain on autopilot. The more years you've executed this bad habit, the stronger that pathway is. To change that, you need to keep doing a new habit over and over again to make a new pathway.
Where people tend to fail in resolutions is that they surrender to the first reemergence of their old ways. "You could be successful 95% of the time, but because you blew it once you think that you're a failure." The only difference between people who succeed and who don't depends on who stops at this critical point.
Take Action: You have a choice. You can say, "Oh, I blew it," and give up. Or you can learn from it, recommends Ryan. Take a look at what was different about this time. Were you stressed? Short on time? Etc. Then figure out an action plan of how you'll circumvent the "goof-up" next time. Similarly, look at what you're doing when you were doing well and try to figure out how to repeat it.
#4: Recruit a Team Member
"One of the best ways to stay persistent is not just to have a plan, but to have an ally," says Arloski. Find that friend, coworker, or family member that you can be accountable to. Eventually, that someone has to be you, but having a supporter can get you through the toughest parts of a new program.
Take Action: Make an agreement or verbal contract with your partner, says Arloski. "Tell them that by next week you're going to do A, B, and C. Chances are you completing them are much, much greater than if you just promised yourself."
#5: Maintain Your Momentum
You've stuck with your healthy habits for a few weeks, but how do you keep it up? Your resolutions need to be adaptable, says Arloski. When you hit barriers, you need to come up with creative solutions to getting around them.
Take Action: Change your actions, not your goals. "If going to the gym in the afternoon is not working, try going in the morning," says Ryan. Sometimes it takes a few tries to find what is going to work for you.
When you're feeling moments of weakness coming on, try a trick called counter conditioning, says Prochaska. Remind yourself of the bigger goal. Chances are that is what you want more.
Nicole Maier is a freelance health and fitness writer in New York.
Published: December 23, 2010