Keith Ayoob, USA TODAY
The first of the year is an ideal time to take stock of where you are and where you want to be, and that often means addressing health issues: losing weight, becoming more active, "eating right" (although that means different things to different people, to be sure).
Where things often go wrong...
So often people start off with good intentions, setting laudable goals for themselves, only to find that by mid-February, passion has waned, resolutions have stalled and they feel like failures.
The only failure was setting such lofty goals in the first place. See if you recognize any of these common New Year's resolutions that I've heard:
- "I'm giving up desserts"
- "I'm going to the gym every day for an hour"
- "I'm going out running every morning for three miles"
- "I'm going to eat salads every day for lunch."
- "I'm not going to eat anymore after dinner."
The list can go on and on. The one thing they all have in common? They're all doomed to fail. Not because they aren't well-intended -- they're simply unsustainable. These resolutions require huge changes, and people don't make huge changes easily. They involve too big a leap for most people to make. People don't make big changes, they make small ones. Small changes that are made consistently have a much better chance of becoming permanent because they're easier.
There's good science behind this. Jim Hill, a professor at the University of Colorado (OK, and a colleague of mine) has shown that it's a lot easier to get people to commit to walking 2000 steps per day (about a mile) than it is to get them to do huge amounts of exercise that leave them breathless. Moreover, once they get that feeling of accomplishment, they get motivated to raise the bar a little - say 1000 steps at a time.
Here are some suggestions for tailoring your resolutions, to make sure you keep them:
- No absolutes. Omit the words "always" and "never" from your resolutions. Doing something every other day or twice a week is just fine for now.
- Take a goal you'd like to accomplish, then scale it back by 75%. Make it your "for now" goal.
- Track your progress. This kind of self-monitoring is a time-tested way of encouraging you to stay with it.
- Have an accomplice. Making resolutions with a friend or family member keeps you encouraged and can give you support when you need it.
Take a planned break from the rules. The key word here is "planned." Whether it's once a week or once a month, do it. Skip the walk, have the dessert, whatever. It's not breaking the rules if you make it a part of the rules.