Why is maintaining resolutions so tough? Researchers have ID’d several culprits, such as setting a goal that’s too vague or having unrealistic expectations (lose 30 pounds by March 1—ha!). But perhaps the biggest challenge is turning your wishes into immediate action, then keeping with it. “It’s easy to change your attitude but difficult to change your behavior,” explains Christine Whelan, PhD, clinical professor in the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “If you’re committed to it, however, you can make a new habit or behavior permanent.”
Outsmarting the odds means setting doable goals (go from couch to 10K, not a triathalon), then breaking them down into reasonable steps. A new you in the new year starts right here.
Find out how to reboot your diet, your workout, your stressful days, and your energy, and how you can make those resolutions stick.
Reboot your diet
When it comes to cleaning up your eating, take a tip from the Boy Scouts: Be prepared. If you want to rise above temptation, like a yummy app spread at a party, you have to think one step ahead, says New York City nutritionist Joy Bauer, RD, Today show contributor and founder of Nourish Snacks. It also helps to have no-deprivation strategies, she adds: “Eating better is often associated with misery, so it’s no wonder that so many people throw in the towel.” Use these tactics to eat healthier, long-term.
Figure out your “why”
Maybe you hope to set a good example for your kids. Or you’re just tired of not fitting into your old jeans. If you know the reason that’s fueling your desire to eat better, you can use it to motivate yourself when you’re eyeing the dessert menu, says Whelan.
Don’t focus on subtracting food
“Instead of making an ‘I want to lose weight’ pledge, try ‘I’m going to put more fruits and vegetables on my plate,'” says Bauer, “so the resolution is a positive action that you can perform over and over.” Art Markman, PhD, professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Smart Change, agrees. “If it’s an addition instead of a takeaway, you’re more likely to repeat it until the action becomes an automatic habit,” he says.
Do a kitchen cleanse
Toss unhealthy products (chips, sugary granolas, sodas) from your pantry, fridge, car and office, advises Maggie Moon, RDN, owner of Everyday Healthy Eating in Los Angeles. Then restock with good-for-you options, like carrots and air-popped popcorn. Make sure you don’t have to dig deep to find them: Last year, Cornell University researchers found that women who kept healthy food visible in the kitchen had lower BMIs than those who left junky products out on their countertops.
Plan for snack attacks
“The hours between mid-afternoon and dinnertime are when cravings kick in hard,” says Moon. Before leaving for work, pack a 200-calorie protein-complex carb snack in your purse. Think: hummus and pita chips or pistachios and a pear. Then, when a snack jones strikes, you’ll have a go-to treat to avoid unhealthy office snacks.
Reboot your workout
Get-in-shape goals tend to fizzle as early as the third week of January, per recent data based on Facebook searches. Yet some keep at it. What’s their secret? “People who are successful are more likely to view fitness as a permanent lifestyle change, not an activity they can give up once they reach a number on the scale,” says Kirsten McCormick, founder of Running with Forks, a wellness coaching company in Seattle.
Take it a week at a time
“It’s easier to make a plan to go running three times this week than vow to run three times a week indefinitely,” says Whelan. “If you make your fitness goals week by week rather than so far-reaching, you’ll have more success, and that in itself is motivating.”
Raise the stakes
Research shows that anticipating rewards may help you be more devoted to your goal. Sure, it’s a bribe of sorts, but experiment with promising yourself a mani-pedi after a week of true commitment, or a new gym outfit after two. Or put a penalty on the table: Promise to go TV-less for a week if you don’t follow through. A 2012 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that a financial pledge is another effective incentive.
Bundle your workout
You may be more likely to participate in a behavior you’re not so into—such as exercising—if you combine it with an activity you really enjoy, like catching up on House of Cards. This strategy is called “temptation bundling,” and a 2013 study published in Management Science suggested it works.
Reboot your stressful days
“One big problem with making stress reduction your New Year’s resolution is that it’s so abstract,” says Markman. “You can’t just vow to relax without being more specific.” And since you’re not about to quit your job and hightail it to a peaceful island (you aren’t, right?), it’s crucial to learn the tools that will make your everyday tension less toxic.
Say no to something every week
A simple “I can’t, sorry” is a helpful immediate fix. Regularly overextending yourself forces you to put your own needs behind others’ requests, says Pedram Shojai, an Eastern medicine expert in Orange County, Calif., and author of The Urban Monk.
Take a time-out daily
Vow to disconnect at least once a day, suggests Shojai. Close your eyes and take 10 deep breaths in your office, or crank up a soothing playlist on your commute.
“Meditating is like your brain’s virus checker, detecting toxic stress and blocking its effects on your physical and emotional health,” says Shojai. A 2013 study found that adults who were taught the basics of mindful meditation had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Reboot your energy
One 2015 U.K. study showed that the main reason people were unable to make a change was that they were too tired to focus. Here’s how to get yourself juiced for a great year.
Keep a fatigue diary
Once you pinpoint the time of day you feel draggy, you can make adjustments. “For example, if you’re tired in the afternoon, you need to rethink what you eat for lunch or try to drink more water, ” says Holly Phillips, MD, author of The Exhaustion Breakthrough.
Make a to-don’t list
After you write out your to-do list for the day, ask yourself which tasks really need to get done—and which aren’t realistic or important. The latter constitute your to-don’t list. Drawing a line through them “removes energy-draining clutter from your mind,” says Dr. Phillips.
Pencil in bedtime
Most of us don’t think of sleeping as actively doing something, so we don’t plan it. “When you put it in your calendar,” explains Dr. Phillips, “it becomes a priority, the same way your gym time and work meetings are priorities.” Set a reminder to go off a half hour before you plan to hit the sack.
Download an app
Free apps can lend a digital hand by keeping track of your progress, texting reminders or putting you in touch with crowdsourced support. A few to try: Balanced, Coach.me and Pact.
Share your battle
Social networks function as an audience to cheer you on and offer advice. A 2013 study found that when Twitter users looking to lose weight tweeted about their goals, they shed more pounds than those who didn’t; research out of Northwestern University showed that CalorieKing users who “friended” others on the site lost at least 7 percent more body weight than the less social folks.
Do more with Google
It’s not just a search engine. Google Calendar lets you set a firm bedtime, and it can ping you when it’s time for your time-out. Google Maps helps you gauge the distance, terrain and incline of a new running route. Download the Google app to turn your phone into a nutrition database or fitness class finder. Wherever you are, simply ask, “Where’s the nearest barre studio?” and you’ll get your answer.