If you’re like most people, you see New Year’s resolutions as a discouraging annual cycle where each December you set up lofty goals… and then find yourself off track before the Super Bowl kicks off.
New Year’s resolutions don’t need to be an annual exercise in futility. In fact, they can be a healthy way to review aspects of your life (usually your health and fitness) and begin to build new habits. But it takes more than just stating your goals and hoping for the best. It comes down to execution.
Here are six tips on how to approach your resolutions and make next year your best one yet.
1. THINK SMALL — Break your big goals into small, doable mini goals. For example, if your goal is to lose 20 pounds, great. Now, take that goal and tuck it away in some dusty corner in the back of your mind. Don’t even think about it. Your new goal is to lose 2 pounds. Focus on only that. Once you reach that 2 pounds, pat yourself on the back. You’re making progress. That’s awesome! Goal One has been accomplished. Now, on to the next goal: the next 2 pounds. It’s similar to the mental tricks ultrarunners use when running 100 miles. Whether you’re trying to lose 10, 20, 30 pounds or more, or whether you’re trying to run 50 or 100 miles, you’ll feel tired, uncomfortable, fatigued, and often discouraged at how slow your progress is. And when you feel all of that and then think of how you’re only 3 pounds down and still have so much more to go to hit your goal — or only 6 miles in with so much more to go — you WILL feel hopeless, and that’s when giving up happens. Instead, set big goals… but then think small. Really small. Focus your attention on only hitting the next mile marker… or only on knocking off the next pound or two. Ten or 20 pounds might feel impossible at times, but one or two is doable, even if it takes longer than you’d like. Keep chipping away at those small goals and before you know it, they add up.
2. SCHEDULE & PRIORITIZE — Your health is important. In fact, perhaps outside of your loved ones, it’s likely the most important thing in your life… given your life actually depends on it. So why don’t we treat our health and fitness with the importance they deserve? Having the time to workout isn’t going to just happen on it’s own. You need to make fitness a priority. Schedule time each day to devote to your health and fitness the same way you’d schedule a meeting for work or a doctor’s appointment. Once you’ve scheduled that time, guard it. Be willing to say “no” to other commitments. At first, it might feel like you’re being selfish, especially if you have kids demanding your constant attention. Carving out time to be healthy isn’t selfish; it’s smart and it’s responsible. And by showing your kids that health is a priority, they stand a better chance of being healthy, fit adults. They may whine about it now, but someday they’ll thank you.
3. DIG INTO THE DETAILS — Many people’s New Year’s resolutions are too broad and ambiguous. “Lose weight.” “Eat better.” “Exercise more.” Those might sound fine, but they are all the end result of what you’re striving for. They don’t get to the core of the behavioral changes and habits that need to occur to make those goals a reality. Dig into the details of your goals and make your resolutions all the little things that need to happen to make them real. If you want to “eat better,” think about what that will look like — what you need to eat more of, what you need to eat less of, when to eat during the day, etc. If you want to “exercise more,” what kind of exercises should you do, how often will you do them, when will you do them, etc.
4. RELY ON DISCIPLINE, NOT MOTIVATION — The first few days of January, you’ll feel excitement and hope about your resolutions. That will fade… probably quickly. No matter what you do, motivation wanes. I hear people all the time say they want to workout, but they just can’t get motivated. Motivation is a lie. People who crush their fitness goals aren’t the ones who are the most motivated. They’re the ones who are the most disciplined. The ones who do what they need to do when they don’t feel like it. This is a hard, ugly truth about fitness, but a truth nonetheless. While people love motivational social media posts, real fitness success occurs when you just want to sit on the couch, when the idea of training makes you want to cry and bang your head on the wall. It’s okay to feel that way. But move anyway. If your goal is to walk two miles a day, and you’re just feeling dead tired, don’t listen to that voice that says “stay in.” Just start. Always start. Tell yourself you’ll just go for a quarter mile and see what happens. Once you start, you’ll probably feel a lot better. And days when you conquer that voice in your head that wants to quit are the days when you benefit the most from your workout.
5. ANTICIPATE OBSTACLES — When you imagine succeeding at your resolutions, you probably imagine an ideal scenario where everything goes the way you hope and you have a smooth path to success. The reality is that never happens. Sure, hope for the best, but always prepare for the worst. As you plan how to execute your resolutions, think about the worst case scenarios. What is likely to sabotage you? What has sabotaged you in the past? Make a list of all the potential obstacles you might face and ways things can go wrong. Then come up with plans for dealing with each one.
6. DEAL WITH SETBACKS — It would be great if you could use all the tools listed above and easily crush your goals everyday. But life happens, things pop up, unexpected setbacks occur even when you plan as best you can. When we get derailed, too often we have the mindset of having failed, of having lost. We think we blew it again, and we give up. Things won’t always go as planned. But if your resolution is a streak or goal that you weren’t able to hit, make sure to step back and look at the bigger picture. Look at the progress you’ve made along the way. Maybe your goal was to walk everyday in January, and you only walked 22 days. That’s still a lot of days you got right; a lot of days that were wins instead of losses. Maybe you didn’t hit your goal, but you probably made a lot more progress than if you weren’t trying at all. Now get back at. It’s more important to be resilient than it is to be 100 percent successful.