It’s an all-too-familiar story: we ring in the New Year with celebrations and enthusiastic promises to get healthier, eat better, exercise more. With the very best of intentions, we head straight to the gym on January 1, water bottle in hand and healthy meals planned. Yet, fast forward just a few weeks to mid-February, and 80% of us will have abandoned our health and wellness resolutions, according to this US News article.

We all know reaching our health and wellness goals will make us feel great. So why do we give up so quickly? And more importantly, what can we do to stay on track—even when the going gets tough? The answer has a lot to do with being prepared, persevering, accountability, and giving ourselves some freedom.

Here are some practical tips that can help you create a solid plan to crush your resolutions and have your best year yet:

1. Make your goals small and manageable.
When you first begin thinking about resolutions, remember to start small. People who vow to lose large amounts of weight in a short timeframe rarely succeed. That’s because they usually don’t think about the steps needed to actually reach that goal. After all, real improvements in health usually require one to change unhealthy habits, and trying to do it all at once can be overwhelming.

With smaller, more attainable goals, the likelihood of success increases significantly. For example, even if your long-term goal is to lose 50 pounds, you may want to make your New Year’s resolution something more realistic in the short term, like eliminating soda and candy from your diet. It’s one small change that can have a significant impact on your health, and because it’s attainable, you’ll have more confidence moving forward with other larger goals.

2. Write down specifics and hold yourself accountable.
Making a New Year’s resolution like “go to the gym more” or “eat less sugar” may seem like a good start, but the fact is goals that are too vague give you too much leeway. After all, what do you really mean by “more” or “less”? And if you don’t eat sugar, what will you do instead? A more effective resolution might be something like “eliminate soda from my diet and drink sparkling water instead”. It’s specific and it provides an alternative to the behavior you’re trying to change.

Once you’ve decided on a realistic and specific goal, it’s important to get it down on paper and hold yourself accountable. We recommend creating a vision board to reinforce your goals and keeping it somewhere highly visible. A vision board will serve as a constant reminder of what you’re working toward and encourage you to frequently assess if you’re on track to meet your goal.

Another powerful strategy is to find an accountability partner. It could be a friend, your mom, colleague, significant other, or anyone else you find supportive and encouraging, and with whom you can share your goals and give regular updates on your progress. By employing these strategies, you’ll be a lot more likely to achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself.

3. Prepare for success.
According to renowned happiness researcher Shawn Anchor, author of The Happiness Advantage, just 20 seconds of extra “activation effort” or time needed to get started, is enough to cause most people not to do an activity. Being mindful of this 20-Second Rule can be key to making sure you stick to your resolution.

Examples of ways you can reduce your activation effort might include:

  • Cutting up fresh fruit and veggies ahead of time so you can grab and go.
  • Packing a healthy lunch the night before, so you’re not tempted to eat out.
  • Bringing gym clothes to work so you don’t have to go home and change.
  • Cooking batches of healthy meals and freezing them for when you have limited time to cook.

Another way to prepare for success is to remove triggers from your environment and replace them with healthy options. Get the soda, cookies, chips, and junk food out of your cabinets and replace them with your favorite healthy options—like sparkling water, tea, fruits, nuts, etc.

And finally, don’t wait until January 1 (or whenever you set your goal date) to begin making changes. As soon as you begin thinking about making a resolution, start taking small steps like learning about local exercise classes, looking up healthy recipes, getting rid of some of the junk food in the fridge, or talking to friends about joining you at the gym.

4. Use your “Whys” to stay on track.
Sticking to resolutions is hard, and it’s normal to struggle, or even “cheat”, along the way. After all, who isn’t tempted by junk food or skipping a workout once in a while? When this happens, don’t give up! Instead of spending time beating yourself up, remember why you started this journey in the first place and then get right back on track. Since most people are motivated by things that make them feel good, remembering how you feel, physically and mentally, when you are taking care of your body can give you the motivation you need to keep moving toward your goal.

5. Think “habit change”, not New Year’s resolution.
The name New Year’s resolution implies that your goal is something to be achieved (or abandoned) at the beginning of the year. This timeframe adds a lot of pressure to the process, making you more likely to give up. By changing your mindset and looking at your goal as a habit change, rather than a short-term task, you’re more likely to persevere, even after a setback.

It’s also important to think beyond the beginning of the year and give yourself the freedom to set smaller goals later in the year. This way, you can build off your initial successes. For instance, if you find it pretty easy to give up soda and candy in the beginning of the year, you may decide to add sweetened cereals a few months later. Succeeding at smaller goals throughout the year is a great way to keep moving forward toward your long-term goals.

The bottom line? Crushing your resolutions is totally possible! With the right preparation and attitude, you can build the confidence and momentum you need to feel great all year long. 

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