A new year has begun, and if you’re like thousands of other Houstonians, you’re making your New Year’s resolutions. Something about the new year makes us all want to start off the year fresh, leaving our mistakes in the old year and making better choices for our health, our families and our happiness.
But keeping a New Year’s resolution isn’t always easy, and before you know it, you’re cheating on your diet or skipping your workout sessions. It’s okay, we’ve all been there. But how do you keep yourself on track? How do you keep yourself from giving in to old habits and stay focused on your new habits that you’re trying to form?
If you’re worried about staying focused on your New Year’s resolution, take heart: We’ve got a few good tips for keeping focused. Here are our top tips for staying on track with your New Year’s resolutions.
Choose a simple resolution
The first day of the New Year always feels so promising, as if nothing could possibly slow you down and you’re practically done achieving your goals. Those mountains you’ve yet to climb seem like hills, and you think about making even bigger goals and setting higher expectations for yourself.
But that initial spark of excitement won’t last forever, and those big plans you made for yourself are going to feel insurmountable later on.
The key here is to not let yourself get overwhelmed, so when you’re making your New Year’s resolution, keep it as simple as possible. Choose just one resolution and make it as simple as possible. If you have too many New Year’s resolutions, you’ll feel stretched out too thin, and it will be easy for you to get overwhelmed.
Making a New Year’s resolution is all about changing your behavioral patterns. It took you years to build up the habits you have now, and it will take more than a few months to successfully change them. It’s up to you to realize this now and come to terms with it. If you’re serious about making a New Year’s resolution, understand that it will take some time and to be patient with it. New habits take a while to form, but if you stick with it, you’ll find those old habits will quietly slip away.
When we make New Year’s resolutions, we tend to bite off far more than we can chew, and by February, we’re exhausted and we think we’ll never accomplish our New Year’s resolution. We give up, and we spend the whole year feeling guilty and wishing we had done more for our resolution. Then we wait until next year to make the same resolution and end up making the same mistakes over and over. It’s a vicious cycle, and if we don’t recognize what’s wrong and try to fix it, we’re likely to keep repeating the same mistakes and never achieving our goals.
When you make your New Year’s resolution, be realistic about what you can really accomplish for yourself and what is truly attainable. For example, if your goal is to exercise more, be mindful of what you can reasonably achieve. You may want to hit the gym four days a week — but with kids, PTA meetings and work, three days may be more doable. If you focus on four days when you know you’re not going to be able to hit that goal — at least not now — then you’re setting yourself up for failure.
You don’t have to set big goals for yourself. Setting a smaller, more reasonable goal will help you stay on track and feel good about the work you accomplish.
You can always break down your New Year’s resolution into goals to be achieved over the course of the year. If you’ve never been one to work out even one day a week, then it’s probably better to start small and build yourself up.
Write out your goal — and a plan
Anyone can make a New Year’s resolution in their minds. It’s another thing to write down your resolution and make up a plan to achieve it. When you write out your goal, you acknowledge it as more than just a passing thought. You’re serious about it.
Once you write down your resolution, then it’s time to map out a real plan for how you’re going to achieve it. Set reasonable expectations for yourself and set up mini goals to celebrate your progress. If you want to give up smoking, for example, don’t expect to be cigarette-free by March. Instead, focus on cutting down in increments. If you smoke a half a pack a day, focus on cutting down cigarette by cigarette. It will take a while to achieve your goal, but as previously stated, it takes time to break down habits that you’ve had for years.
Use a calendar to set your goals and think about where you want to be in three, six and nine months. It can be hard to think about yourself so far into the future, but imagining where you want to be in those increment months will help you stay focused in the long run.
Having your goal and plan written out will help you feel more committed to it. Hang it in a place where you’ll pass by it every day such as inside your closet or on your refrigerator, and it will help motivate you when you need it most.
Take small steps
New habits don’t just take overnight. It takes time for you to get rid of those bad habits and make the new ones stick for good. That’s to be expected with any resolution, so they key to keeping your New Year’s resolution is to take small steps.
If you wrote out your plan, then you already broke down your big goal into smaller, attainable goals that can be achieved over time. But even those small goals can be difficult to achieve if you try to go all in and over the top.
For example, let’s say your overall goal is to lose weight and eat healthier. Your first goal may be to lose five pounds in the first month. To start working towards the bigger goal, begin by replacing one or two junk foods with healthy alternatives. Instead of reaching for a bag of chips, replace it with a healthy snack, such carrots and hummus or an apple with peanut butter. In the next week, add a few extra vegetables to dinner at night.
Making little changes can help you build to your bigger goals. Overtime, the little habits you changed will help break those bad habits and replace them altogether, but it will feel more natural.
Get support from family and friends
When you write down your resolution and plans, you commit yourself to them — but that’s it. You’re committed to them, but you’re only beholden to yourself. While that may be enough for some, it’s often not enough for others who are trying to make big changes in their lives. Having others around you to support you and cheer you on, especially when it feels tough, can help you get through the days when you just want to reach for the chocolate.
Once you’ve ironed out your New Year’s resolution over your goals, it’s time to share them with your trusted family members and friends. When they know what you want to achieve, they can help you keep yourself motivated on track. Your spouse, for example, can help by keeping chips and chocolate out of the house if you’re trying to lose weight, and your friends can help by choosing restaurants with healthy options and planning active outings such as tennis games or walks around the park.
Your friends and family members will also be there to talk you through your goals and keep you motivated when you’re feeling like you want to give up. Having a sympathetic ear to listen can help you talk through anything stressing you out or making your feel nervous or anxious about reaching your goals.
Set up rewards
So now it’s the end of March, and for the last three months, you’ve been at the gym two days a week. You went from never going to making it a solid two days each week for three months. That’s a pretty big accomplishment, and you should feel very proud of your success.
When you reach a goal, it’s important to have a reward waiting for yourself to celebrate the hard work you’ve done. But that doesn’t mean that you can now skip going to the gym for the next week or so. That’s not a reward, although it may feel like one, and it will be a big backslide on the bad habits that you’re trying to break.
Instead, set up a reward for yourself that doesn’t contradict your resolution. For your hard work at the gym, take yourself out for a spa day and get a massage to ease those sore muscles. If you’re losing weight, pick out a necklace, scarf or accessory that you’ve always wanted to reward yourself.
As you work through your goals later in the year, set up bigger rewards for yourself. If you hit your weight-loss goals in September, consider buying a new shirt or dress in a smaller size. If you’re going to the gym regularly three days a week by then, upgrade your workout clothes or pick out a new gym bag and water bottle. Giving yourself little rewards that amplify your goals will make them feel all the more rewarding.
Your reward doesn’t always have to be physical. It can be spending a special day out with a supportive friend or taking your kids on a fun day trip together. Involving your support system in your success can help you stay on track and give them extra ways to be supportive of your goals.
Reevaluate your plan
There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’ve missed a goal. You feel defeated and deflated, and you wonder why you even bothered to try achieving your resolution at all. If you set a smaller goal and miss it, don’t despair and give up altogether.
We all want to make our small goals because they’ll eventually lead up to our big goal — our overall resolution — but missing some of your smaller goals isn’t the end of the road for you. In some cases, it should be a eye-opener that your goals may be too big for what you can accomplish.
If you reach June and found that you’ve missed many of your smaller goals, then it’s time to reevaluate and set more realistic goals for yourself. Go back to your plan and see where you did land on your smaller goals each month. Now adjust your future goals to line up with what you were actually able to accomplish.
Don’t think of this as a failure on your part. Life throws lots of curve balls, and in those six months, you may have switched jobs, had an injury or taken on a big project at work. All of these can reasonably affect your ability to achieve your goals, but rather than give up, it’s time to reset your goals.
Remember, there’s no shame in not completing your original New Year’s resolution. If you can succeed in wearing down some of your worst habits, that’s a major accomplishment in and of itself.
On the other hand, if you find yourself surpassing your smaller goals with flying colors, then it may be time to up your expectations and set a few harder goals to challenge yourself. You can still keep your older goals, but add a challenge to yourself to see if you can reach it. If you can, great! If not, then you can still celebrate making your smaller goal.
Keeping yourself on track with your New Year’s resolution is not always easy, but if you commit yourself to it and hold yourself accountable, then you can succeed in breaking your bad habits in the New Year.
Share with us: What are your New Year’s resolutions this year? Tell us more in the comments.