Did you know that most gyms make a large majority of their money in January? There’s a reason for this: most people make New Year’s resolutions, are very motivated the first week or two and then quickly give up.
Does this sound familiar? If so, keep reading. We’ve talked with a personal trainer, a mindfulness expert and a life coach about what works and what doesn’t. We’ve boiled this advice down to eight simple tips to help you achieve your resolution and, when applicable, develop good habits that last a lifetime.
- For everything you try to take away, add something new– It’s much harder to take something away than it is to add something. This is the reason that people impulse shop, drink too much or eat too many comfort foods. The absence of something creates a void that needs filling. The problem is compounded when you’re trying to take away a substance that is addictive (like quitting smoking). What works well for many people is to add something complimentary to what you’ve taken away. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, instead of simply depriving yourself of foods you love, try adding exercise or indulge a bit in foods you love that are healthier (such as a bit of dark chocolate or an occasional glass of red wine). If you’re trying to quit smoking, don’t try to go on a diet at the same time! Load up on healthy snacks, or even reconcile yourself to gaining a couple of pounds. You can also add things like nicotine gum and patches to help ease yourself off the nicotine addiction.
- Reward yourself, especially in the beginning– Making positive changes in your life is hard! Make sure you acknowledge your hard effort, and reward yourself. If your resolution is to go to the gym regularly, try to reward yourself after each session with something you like, such as an expensive salad or sushi. For each week of “good behavior,” try rewarding yourself with a new piece of clothing that shows off your new physique, or that fancy juicer you’ve always wanted to buy.
- Notice your triggers, and be mindful not to get yourself in a situation where they kick in– A lot of unhealthy behavior is triggered by external circumstances. For example, people often drink alcohol when they’re hungry, or reach for a cigarette when they’re drinking. Try and be very mindful of when you have cravings. If you focus your attention on what you’re doing, or who you’re with, when you get a craving, you will most likely discover a pattern. Once you see this pattern, you can make a conscious effort to avoid these triggers.
- Get a friend to join you– Getting a friend to join you is one of the most effective things you can do. They will not only motivate you, but also give you someone to talk with in those difficult moments. If you’re doing something like quitting smoking or drinking, it can be very difficult to spend time with close friends that are engaged in the same behavior you’re trying to avoid. Quitting with a friend will give you someone to socialize with that is fighting the same battle.
- Tell everyone about your resolution- Peer pressure works wonders! If you tell everyone you know that you’re trying to do something to improve your health, financial well-being or mental state, your true friends will want to help you. They’ll not only provide support at difficult times, but keep you accountable. Conversely, if you tell your friends about your resolution and they make light of it, or try to get you to engage in the same behavior you’re trying to curb (this happens very frequently when people try to quit drinking), perhaps it’s best to take a temporary step back from that relationship.
- If you fall off, get right back on– One of the most common reasons people fail to achieve their New Year’s resolutions is a lack of perseverance. If you just can’t resist that cheeseburger and fries, don’t beat yourself up about it. Acknowledge that you fell off the wagon, and get right back on. For really difficult things, like quitting smoking or drugs, it can take people multiple attempts before the new habits stick. Just keep trying and remember, whenever you engage in a new behavior you are literally creating new neural pathways in your brain to support that new behavior. This means it really does get easier to sustain healthy habits the more times you engage in them.
- Try breaking your New Year’s resolution into weekly and monthly goals- Most resolutions are about creating lifelong good habits. This means that the longer you take to achieve a resolution, the more successful you will be at maintaining the behavior that allowed you to accomplish your goal. If your resolution is to be a better housekeeper, try making a schedule of things that should be done daily (like basic tidying up), weekly (mopping floors), monthly (polishing the silver) and quarterly (cleaning closets or rotating summer, fall, winter and spring wardrobes). If your resolution is to pay off your credit card debt, try creating a plan of how much money to save each week (such as buying one less Starbucks drink per day), coupled with a monthly payment plan for each month in 2016.
- Find what works for you– Use your self-knowledge to discover what motivates you. We know one woman who is highly competitive. She channeled her competitive spirit and her love of travel into a very effective weight loss program by trying to beat the average BMI (Body Mass Index- a measure of body fat) of people in different countries. She started by trying to achieve a lower BMI than the average Saudi woman (one of the countries with the highest average BMI’s in the world). Once she achieved this she strove to be lower than the average BMI of people in Australia, Denmark and then ultimately Japan. This technique may not motivate everyone, but you can use it as an example to find your own personal motivation!
- Make your resolutions attainable- The single most common mistake people make is trying to “bite off more than they can chew.” Don’t try and lose weight, quit smoking and pick fewer fights with your wife all at the same time! This is a recipe for disaster. Simply chose one thing to focus on, or two complimentary things. If you really must do more than one thing, try making a plan for 2016. Use the first three-six months to achieve your first goal. Once this has been attained and you’re reasonably sure you can sustain the behavior, aim for the second goal (August is a good time to start).
- Think positive-Always be mindful of your thoughts. Mental discipline is the path to achieving your goals. Notice your thought patterns and every time you have a thought of feeling deprived or feeling sorry for yourself, mentally say to yourself the positive thing you’re working towards. If you focus your thoughts on how nice you will look in your swimming suit in the summer, instead of how sad you are that you can’t eat that doughnut, you truly can “positive think” your goal into becoming your new reality.