Your Guide to New Year's Resolutions

Some 45% of Americans make New Yearís resolutions, says Sharon Zarabi, RD, CDN, CPT, a dietitian and fitness trainer based in New York City. "But only about 8% actually stick to them," she explains.

In fact, by the time you read this, "Between 93 and 97% of all New Year's resolutions are lying on the floor," says Alan Manevitz, MD, a psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

Want to set yourself up for success with your New Yearís resolutions? Hereís how to do it.

Set SMART Goals for the Win

SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. Using these guidelines to define your resolutions will make it easier for you to identify what you want to accomplish, and to achieve it.

Put your SMART goals down on paper, adding as much detail as possible, says Zarabi. For example, if you plan to start going to the gym, write down which days you intend to go, how long your workout sessions will be, and on when youíll cardio, weight lifting, and so forth. These specific plans will help you ensure you meet your goals, and they allow you to measure, or track your progressófor instance, if your goal is to learn to play the piano, a measurable goal would be to play a particular song.

To avoid becoming overwhelmed by a big goal, chunk your resolution into smaller, more manageable tasks, says Suzie Carpenter, CHHC, a certified nutritionist and health coach based in Wyomissing, PA. Donít resolve to lose 25 pounds in a month; instead, commit to a healthy eating plan and 20 minutes of brisk walking at least five days a weekóa much more attainable achievement. Likewise, if you want to quit cigarettes but youíre currently smoking two packs a day, maybe youíll need to cut down first rather than go cold turkey. Your goal should also be realistic: Becoming fluent in a foreign language may not be practical if you donít have the time or money to invest in lessons.

Finally, time is an important component of SMART goals. Give yourself a deadline; planning to organize your closets by April 1, for example, can provide much-needed motivation (or a sense of urgency), which can be helpful when youíre facing a daunting but worthwhile task.

Other Ways to Stay on Track

In addition, keep these pointers in mind:

  1. Dig a little deeper. Figure out why you want to make a particular resolution, Zarabi advises. This will help you look at your goal in a more positive light, and consequently feel more motivated to stick with it. Instead of just resolving to join a gym because you think you should, remind yourself that working out at a gym will help you reduce stress, clear your mind, and may even lower your cholesterol and blood pressure, for instance.
  2. Make sticking to your resolutions as easy as possible. "Take your workout clothes to the office with you so you can go to the gym right from work," Zarabi says. "Many people find that if they go home first to get the workout clothes, they lose their motivation to go to the gym."
  3. Reward yourself when you succeed. Rewards can help keep you motivated, but celebrate your successes carefully! "If youíre trying to lose weight, pick a reward that has nothing to do with food," Carpenter says. "Give yourself something tangible, like a piece of inexpensive jewelry." If your goal is to spend less money, donít reward yourself for a week of successful saving by splurging on an expensive luxury item.
  4. If you drop the ball, give yourself a breakóbut donít give up. If you feel yourself slipping up and youíre not so sure youíll be able to stick to the resolution, donít beat yourself up; give it another try instead. And bear in mind that it really takes about three months to succeed at changing a habit, Manevitz says. "When it comes to changing a habit, there is a biological and a psychological component," he explains. "If you stop doing the new habit, youíll default to your old habit. So you need to have several months of repetitive practice for a habit to really take hold."

Even if you find that you canít stick with a resolution for a month, try again: "One of the great lessons in life is to fall off the wagon and get back on," Manevitz says. "Itís a great survival mechanism."

Sharon Zarabi reviewed this article.

Sources

Alan Manevitz, MD. Phone interview, November 7, 2014.

Sharon Zarabi, RD, CDN, CPT. Phone interview, November 11, 2014.

Suzie Carpenter, CHHC. Phone interview November 9, 2014.

"SMART Goals: Interactive Tool: Create Your own SMART goals." American Animal Hospital Association. Page accessed January 9, 2015.