By Erin Sisk M.S., R.D., C.N.S.D.
Brigham and Women's Hospital
"Start running," "Lose 10 pounds," "Go to the gym more," "Stop eating out during the week." We've all made New Year's resolutions with such good intentions and high hopes. But we've all broken them, too. So your sneakers sit in your closet gathering dust again. Those 10 pounds you wanted to lose after the holidays are still there.
So what happened? Somehow you lost the motivation to see your resolutions through. How do you keep that motivation high and make changes that develop into habits? Here are some tips.
Set realistic goals
Instead of the goal "I will lose 10 pounds," set a goal that involves action or a process. For example "I will go to the gym three times a week," or "I will bring my lunch to work three times a week." A goal you can measure is more likely to bring about change and help you reach your overall objective of weight loss or completing a marathon.
Plan for success
Don't focus on past failures or past resolutions that you didn't keep. Instead reflect on the reasons why you were unsuccessful. Then make a new plan that ensures success. How? Focus on things that are within your control. and pick only one or two resolutions/goals to focus on at time. Having too many can be daunting and lead to failure. One or two concise goals, however, can help you focus and be successful.
Track your progress
Use online tools or keep a journal to track your exercise, food intake and weight loss progress daily and as a reminder of what your goals and accomplishments are. Review this journal on a weekly basis to make sure you are still on the right track. If you see yourself slipping back into old habits in one particular area readjust and try again.
Don't keep your resolutions or goals a secret. Telling a friend or family member can keep you motivated. It can also keep you accountable for your actions and on track toward your goals. You may also find another person who has the same goals and is also looking for support. The benefit? You are more likely to do something, such as go to the gym, if you're counting on each other.
Keep reminders around your home, office or car about what your goals are. When tempted to skip the gym or eat something unplanned, stop, breath, and ask yourself if this will help you achieve your goal. More often than not the answer will be "no." Be proud of yourself for sticking with your goal instead of feeling guilty, which can lead to further slips.
Cope with stress
Stress can hinder anyone from meeting a goal or resolution. Letting stress of any kind take precedent over your health can only create more stress. So find healthy ways to cope. For example, eating when you're stressed won't help you reach your weight-loss goals. Find a more constructive activity, such as taking a walk, reading, or calling a friend, to cope. First, make a list of what stresses you out and the ways you have dealt with them in the past. Then write down new ways you plan to cope that will help you achieve your goal instead of sabotage it. Instead of snacking at night because you're anxious about an important presentation you're giving in the morning, go to the gym and work off that nervousness!
Celebrate small milestones to stay motivated. Don't reward yourself with food, as you might have in the past. Instead, find things that will encourage your new behaviors. For example, treat yourself to a new gym bag after going to the gym for one month consistently. Or order a subscription to a health and fitness magazine for sticking to your new diet.
Finally, it all comes down to remaining motivated. Find joy and a sense of accomplishment in completing one small act that helps you meet your goal. For example completing 30 minutes of exercise or creating a low-calorie and tasty dinner should be a successful and joyful act, not a daunting task. And when it seems too overwhelming, take a moment to write down all the positive outcomes reaching your goal would have. This can only help to motivate you to make that New Year's resolution an attainable goal and a lasting lifestyle change!
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Erin Sisk M.S., R.D., C.N.S.D. is a graduate of the University of New Mexico with a Masters in Nutrition Sciences. She is a Senior Clinical Dietitian at Brigham and Women's Hospital.