Almost a month has passed since the New Year which means a lot of resolutions are in danger of being forgotten. Going into the New Year, most resolutioners are excited and motivated about changing their lives. They pick an ambitious goal but when they get to work, they realize that change isn’t easy. By the end of January a lot of resolutioners realize that it’s much easier to continue without change than it is to improve. Even if your resolution hasn’t gone according to plan, there are still steps you can take to still make a positive change in your life.

Focus Your Resolution

A New Year’s Resolution was never intended to change your entire life but rather to be the stepping stone to a more positive one. Your resolution doesn’t need to solve every one of your problems. One of the main reasons that resolutions fail is because the plan was to broad.

If your resolution was too broad (example: get healthy, get a nicer body, get in shape), take a step back and come up with a more specific and narrow goal. Instead of simply getting healthy, make it a goal to improve specific parts of your life that will improve your overall health (example: eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, decrease my intake of sugar/sodium/saturated fats, eat more whole grains). These specific goals will define exactly what you need to do to succeed. This will increase your motivation and help your resolutions succeed.

You also need to make sure you attach a time limit to your resolution. An open ended resolution won’t give you the motivation to finish it. Instead of “lose 10 pounds” try “lose 10 pounds in 5 weeks.” Instead of “improve my mile time by 1:00” try “improve my mile time by 1:00 in a month.”

Scale Back Your Resolution

Resolutions also fail because they are too ambitious. At the beginning of the year when everyone is talking about change, it can be tempting to change too much. Though admirable, a resolution that is too ambitious can work against you. All resolutions require change. Change requires that you leave your comfort zone to improve your overall health. Unfortunately, the change that ultimately helps you can also hurt you if you don’t manage it properly.

You can only handle a small amount of change over a given period of time. If you try and change too much too soon, the change will not form into a new long term habit but will fade away. If your resolution was to increase the amount of daily exercise from nothing to 60 minutes per day, attempting that change overnight likely would have resulted in failure.

Increasing your exercise level from nothing to 60 minutes per day requires a lot of change and sacrifice. Rather than trying to wake up one day and exercising for 60 minutes, incorporate the change in stages. For example:

  • Week 1:
    • Day 1: 15 minutes of exercise
    • Day 2: 15 minutes of exercise
    • Day 3: rest
    • Day 4: 15 minutes of exercise
    • Day 5: rest
    • Day 6: 15 minutes of exercise
    • Day 7: rest
  • Week 2:
    • 25 minutes of exercise 4x per week
  • Week 3:
    • 45 minutes of exercise 4x per week
  • Week 4:
    • 60 minutes of exercise 4x per week

In the above example, rather than making all of the change happen instantly, you’re slowly increasing the amount of exercise you perform each day over the course of a month. This gives you time to adjust. Slow change greatly increases the chance that your resolution will turn into a long term habit rather than a temporary inconvenience.

Start Over

Now that you know how to make a resolution succeed, start over. There’s nothing magical about January 1st that makes it the only day out of the year that you can change. January 1st can be the first but not the last in a series of changes you make to improve your quality of life.

The Bottom Line

Once you start your resolution the right way, remember that change isn’t easy. If it was, everyone would be perfect. Changing yourself for the better is hard in the short term but pays off over the long run.

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