The new year brings potential for a fresh start. You're all fired up about cleaning up your nutrition and putting the work in to burn off the extra pounds you just gained over the holidays. You hit the gym for a couple of weeks, but then your adherence begins to wane as the excitement dies down. How can you keep this from happening to you? How can you keep your New Year's resolutions year-round? Let's discuss some strategies.
PROPER GOAL SETTING
One third of those who make resolutions quit before the end of January. This is in part due to a lack of planning and detail of the resolutions being made. Any goal you make should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely.
CREATE AN ACTION PLAN
So now you've got your goals ironed out, and they're SMART. Not only that but you have smaller sub-goals lined up as well. From here you'll need to develop a plan of action: how are you going to reach your goals?
Outline your gameplan. Write it down. Talk to a friend or family member about it and get some feedback. Put this plan somewhere easily accessible and review it regularly. Set reminders on your phone or write your necessary actions down in your calendar. Review the following week before it begins so that you can mentally prepare yourself for your newly-adjusted schedule.
MAKE IT A TRUE PRIORITY
Once you've set your goals, it is critical that you make the actions leading to those goals a true priority. This requires a shift in mindset regardless of what your goal is. Losing weight (and keeping it off), eating better (indefinitely), keeping a clean house (indefinitely), spending more time with your children (indefinitely): all of these things require a long-term lifestyle change.
It's said that when something is truly a priority to you, you will find (or make) the time for it. If it is not a true priority, you will make excuses. It's not something that most people want to hear, but it is true all the same.
The trick to this is to think of your goal as an unquestionable daily requirement. Just as you get dressed, eat breakfast, brush your teeth and go to work you will also put in that time at the gym, cleaning house, with your kids, etc. Take out the notion that you have a choice. If you really want to reach that goal, you WILL take the necessary steps to get there.
Part of the way you can help steel your resolve is by employing visualization techniques. When you feel your intentions wavering, take some time out and mentally picture your goal being actualized: you've lost the weight and fit into that dress you wanted; you have more energy and feel great from eating a healthy, balanced diet; your house is pristine and visitors are complimenting how clean you've kept it; you share a stronger bond with your kids from the time you have spent together.
But don't just SEE it -- FEEL it. How do you feel now that you've lost the weight? How do you feel about your eating habits? How does it feel to have such a clean and organized living space? How does it feel to share that irreplaceable time with your children?
Keep those mental images and feelings on tap so you can draw from them whenever you need. Write down your goals and keep them in a place you see frequently such as your bathroom mirror or at your desk at work, or keep them with you and repeat them thoughtfully whenever you are struggling.
Your accountability can be anything from hiring a personal trainer to checking in with a friend or relative to posting about what you did on social media or blog. Whatever you decide to do, make sure that you have someone else following along who can and will ask you about your resolutions if you don't tell them first.
Set clear expectations and be sure that wherever or however you are creating accountability, you receive that feedback and questioning piece.
FIND SUPPORT & RESOURCES
Having support along the way is crucial to your success, but the good news is that there are all sorts of accountability groups online even if you don't know anyone willing to be that cheerleader you need when things get tough. Join a Facebook group or forum, introduce yourself and make it a point to get to know a few other active members to generate the rapport you need. Find a training or support group either in your area or online. Spend some time on your search engine of choice looking for resources: websites, books, reference guides or (better yet) honest to God people who are knowledgeable about the subject of your resolution. The more access to data and interaction you have, the more likely you will succeed because your goals will be in the forefront of your thoughts multiple times a day as you engage with those people or materials.
Keeping track of where you started and where you're going is important during any pursuit. Take photos of yourself before you start working out or eating better, of your house before you begin your new cleaning regimen. Write notes about how your relationship with your children is before you begin making more time for them. Be aware that you will likely feel all sorts of negative emotions when you do this, because after all this is something that you wish to change about yourself. But if you don't record your starting point, how can you truly track where you are in your plan?
Don't just take "before" photos or notes, either. Be sure continue doing so at specific intervals: each week perhaps, or each month. Be sure you update your log at a regular interval that is not too spread out from your last entry.
Review your log each time you add a new entry and compare where you are to where you were before. If something is not going well, reflect back on your actions and behaviors to see if you can discern the root cause. This will help you to adapt your action plan (and possibly your goals) accordingly.
REWARD YOURSELF FOR REACHING MILESTONES
It's too easy for you to say, "I've been doing good so I'm going to eat a cheat meal" and then that quickly turns into a return to your prior poor nutritional habits. Establish a reward system for yourself: when X happens, I will Y. "When I have lost 10 pounds, I will get that scarf I've been eyeing" or "When I have consistently spent time with my kids each day for 2 weeks I will plan a special date with my significant other for a place I've wanted to go."
It's optimal if the reward you intend for yourself once you achieve your intermediate task is related or beneficial to your end goal. This isn't a requirement, but it does better set you up for success. Maybe you purchase a new piece of training gear or something you can use to meal prep more conveniently for example.
LEGITIMATE REASON OR EXCUSE?
When your visualization techniques aren't working and you're on the fence about whether to persist toward your goal or take a break for a day, I find that it is incredibly helpful to take a step back. Look at the situation and the argument against taking the necessary steps toward your goal. Is that argument valid reasoning, or an excuse?
Examples of potentially valid reasoning:
Examples of excuses:
IT'S OKAY TO MAKE MISTAKES
Everyone falls off the wagon from time to time. It happens to the best of us. It is therefore crucial that you cultivate a sense of self-forgiveness when you mess up. If this is an issue you struggle with, take some time to read this article from Psychology Today.
Another important thing is to prevent the mistake from becoming habitual. If this is a challenge for you, take a look at this article about how to break bad habits.
It is okay to make mistakes. Each time you do and learn from them, you gain a little more self-knowledge to help you succeed in the future. Just get back on the wagon, let it go, and keep on rollin' from wherever you are now.