New Year’s Day has come and gone, and for many people, so has their commitment to their New Year’s Resolutions. These resolutions are traditional in the Western World and have been catching on globally more recently. Whether you are new to these resolutions or they are an old tradition, it’s common for many of them to rotate around trying to achieve better health. Losing weight, exercising more, cutting down on alcohol, stopping smoking, eating more healthily, controlling stress, and working on fundamental health issues are all likely candidates for a New Year’s resolution. So why do so many people fail to keep their resolutions and give up well before January is over? How can you salvage your resolutions and keep them going strong throughout the year? Here’s a list of some ideas to get you back on track and help accomplish those health goals for the year.
Keep your resolutions realistic
One of the big problems for many people is over-committing to a health goal and resolving to achieve something that may be too difficult to achieve, like losing too much weight, quitting smoking cold turkey, or completely giving up drinking after having been a regular imbiber. People who make these types of resolutions tend to be looking to make the “big change”, and while they usually would indeed help your health if they’re achieved, too often these resolutions are abandoned early after one or two failures to follow the resolution. That’s because the psychology of these types of resolutions depends on an all-or-nothing attitude. You set a big goal for yourself, and when you fall off the wagon it convinces you that you can’t accomplish it so you give up completely. This makes you worse off than you were when you formulated your resolution because now you feel defeated and depressed- and even more likely to engage in unhealthy behavior to compensate. Start instead with a smaller more achievable goal and you are more likely to accomplish it, more likely to feel a sense of achievement and pride, and more likely to accomplish future goals.
Try, try again
If you’ve made that all-or-nothing resolution and failed, or even if you’ve just failed and given up a more reasonable resolution, try again! There’s no reason that having some setbacks doesn’t mean you can’t keep going! Nobody’s perfect, and you’ll be far better off getting back up on that horse and trying to accomplish something rather than nothing- or worse, be even further setback. You may not lose as much weight as you planned, or have decreased your sweets, alcohol, or cigarettes as much as you’d hoped- but it’s all relative. You’ll still be doing far better than if you’d given up altogether, and be healthier for it. Even moderate success can keep you going. There’s no reason the start of the year has to be the only time you set goals for yourself. You might feel emboldened to begin again if you haven’t given up entirely and made it happen for yourself.
Try a “stepped” resolution
In conjunction with the two tips above, rather than setting one goal for yourself, set that goal up in steps to accomplish. Rather than drastically decrease the calories you’ll allow yourself to consume in a day, make that decrease more moderate for a week or two, and then adjust it down again when you’ve hit that goal, and then continue to decrease calories allowed each month until you can accomplish these goals. Rather than a dry January, stop drinking during the week, pick a number of days you won’t drink, or pick a limit for how many total servings of alcohol you’ll have in a week. When you can hit those goals then decrease the number of days, or the number of drinks- rinse and repeat. Rather than suddenly declare that you’ll run 5 miles per day, make it 2 and add a mile each week or so. Building into a goal like this makes it more likely that you’ll accomplish your end goal and will do so will result in a more permanent change of lifestyle. If you can do this for one goal, you’ll find it easier to repeat it for other resolutions. There’s no reason you can’t transform your existing resolution into a stepped resolution and give it another go.
If you plan to give up gluten, stock up on gluten-free products beforehand. If you go out to eat at a restaurant with friends, research the menu 1st and make sure that there are gluten-free options before you settle on a restaurant. If you are doing a dry January, or just limiting your consumption, make sure that you can handle being around others who are drinking before you commit to celebrating with others out at restaurants, clubs, and bars. Check the menu for mocktails or low-alcohol options. For losing weight, have plenty of healthy options on hand, including lots of high-fiber foods which tend to fill you up. Eat earlier in the day and plan some meals. Check calories before you buy. For exercise, plan how you’ll exercise on rainy days.
For losing weight use an online calorie counter and menu planner. There are plenty of apps that will track calories, and weight, and even integrate that with exercise. Consider investing in a wearable fitness or sleep device like a Fitbit, Apple Watch, or Oura Ring that integrates and tracks health information. There are similar apps that count drinks and calculate servings of alcohol in any particular beverage pour. Many treadmills will track exact steps, resistance, calories burned, and other metrics. If you walk, run, or use an exercise bike, consider using a fantasy backdrop to make your workout more interesting. You could walk the (virtual) grand canyon, Appalachian Trail, or even the Hobbit’s journey to Mordor. Consider functional medicine testing for baseline measurements of health to track your progress. Getting baseline blood sugar, adrenal stress, oxidative stress, allergy information, and gut assessments could help you see concrete improvements and further motivate you to achieve further health goals.
Get help from others
Some people are able to achieve their health resolutions solo. Some people need a little help from their friends. Some people may have deeper health issues or more complicated health goals to achieve. Some may have tried everything to give up drinking, smoking, drugs, or simply to lose weight. Don’t fear sharing with your family and friends. In most cases, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with how supportive they are and appreciative of your honesty in enlisting their aid. If that fails or you have no one to turn to, or if your lifestyle is causing an imminent threat to your health, consider professionals- either a doctor, support group, addiction recovery group, or facility. If you have deeper health concerns and aren’t sure where to start, consult an integrative and functional medicine practitioner who will have more time to listen to you, assess your overall health, and help you formulate a plan to improve your health and address underlying health concerns by looking at your whole person. If you can’t get an exercise regime going, consult a personal trainer, or take a class at the gym or your community center. If having major problems with dieting, or eliminating certain foods, craft a plan with a nutritionist. The key in all of these situations is to enlist aid. Not only won’t you feel as alone and daunted by your health problems, but the expertise of someone other than you can help you make real progress- both physically and motivation-wise.
New Year’s resolutions can be great motivators- as long as you structure them in ways that allow real progress. Once you succeed at one, don’t wait for New Year’s Day for your next health resolution!