By Mara Santilli
If you can’t remember the resolution you set last year, you’re not alone. Just 8 percent of people achieve their resolutions, according to University of Scranton research. (See also: Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail)
That’s a problem considering more than half of resolutions are related to healthy lifestyle changes (go to the gym more, eat cleaner, lose weight), according to a Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin study.
So how can you set better resolutions in the name of your health? For starters, they should be fun. “Enjoyment is an important factor in staying on track,” says Jane Hanisch, RYT, NLC, an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist. “In other words, if results are immediate—like joy!—then the new habit stays.”
Resolutions tend to do the opposite, focusing on what you should eat less of and do more of—over the course of an entire year, no less—often making exercise and eating well sound like chores or mindless to-dos. Goals, on the other hand, inspire you and reflect a larger lifestyle you want to lead: running a marathon, learning how to salsa, or trying a new healthy recipe every week. They’re tangible, not vague. Exciting, not daunting.
More reasons to turn your resolutions into goals this year:
You can switch up your goals from season to season.
One problem with resolutions? You set them at the beginning of the year, then never revisit or readjust them again. “Resolutions are more finite, while goals last in perpetuity and reflect a larger lifestyle,” says Keri Glassman, RD, founder of Nutritious Life. “You can revisit goals, but you can’t revisit resolutions if you make them once a year.”
So, switch up your goals seasonally or every month or two to keep yourself engaged and focused on something in particular: a recipe book that’s exciting you, a race that’s coming up, and so on.
It can help to attach those goals to a certain event or time period. “Maybe you have a vacation planned in the spring or a wedding in the summer,” Hanisch says. “These can be great motivators to feel your best and can help you stay inspired for the few weeks or months ahead.”
Goals can be small and realistic rather than life-altering.
Resolutions tend to be aspirational and not all that specific in nature. “If you’re trying to cut out all sugar or go from never exercising to working out five to six days a week, you’re setting yourself up for failure before you even begin,” Hanisch says.
To be fair, it’s easy to be overly ambitious when you’re jotting down your list of resolutions in your shiny new health and fitness planner, but think about the realities of achieving them. “Most of us take on too much too fast, or don’t give ourselves the proper amount of time to reach our goals,” Hanisch says.
Try making a daily health choice or goal for yourself each day, instead of packing all your resolutions into January, Hanisch suggests. At the end of each day, reflect on what you’ve accomplished toward your larger health goals. It could be as tiny as drinking more water or getting the suggested seven to eight hours of sleep a night. The more days you commit to small healthy habits along the way, the closer you are to a healthier lifestyle.
“Making a lifestyle change with both large and small goals is much smarter than making year-long resolutions,” Hanisch says. “A lifestyle change allows time to reap the benefits but having small manageable goals along the way give you immediate satisfaction.”
Goals are more measurable.
Setting New Year’s resolutions allow for the word “should” to creep in (“I really should be working out more”). “This implies that whatever you’re planning is a possibility, and it can invite you to place shame on yourself,” Hanisch says. Goals should be measurable and specific and should start with “I will,” she adds, to make them more definitive. Think: “I will do a yoga flow every evening.”
When you don’t hit your “I wills” for the day, remember that it’s all about the process—it takes time to make healthy lifestyle changes, and you shouldn’t beat yourself up over slip-ups. “Keep in mind that reaching any goal will require commitment, time management (when will you work out or cook?), and the right mindset in order to avoid temptations and obstacles,” Hanisch says. But with each small step, you’ll be on your way to making positive changes that stick, no matter what you decide to call them.
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