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The simple hacks that can make health resolutions stick 

The simple hacks that can make health resolutions stick 

Kicking off January with a new health goal? Here’s how to make sure you follow through on that New Year’s resolution.  

Here’s to another New Year’s Eve: the ball drop, the confetti, the champagne. Now, what about all those resolutions you made? You want to live a healthier life in the new year. But it’s much easier making resolutions than keeping them.

So, if you’re kicking off January with a new health goal, it’s a good idea to have a plan in place to help you stay on track. Simply wanting to lose weight, eat better or exercise more isn’t always enough to make it happen. Having the proper support system in place can help you to succeed, says psychologist Shannel Kassis Elhelou, Psy.D. She’s a fellow at Pacific Neuroscience Institute’s Brain Wellness and Lifestyle Programs in Santa Monica, California.

You’ll also want to have a clear idea of what you’re hoping to get out of your new health goal and how to make it happen. Plus, how to stay motivated, even when life gets in the way. Follow these smart tips to get started.

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Pick a small goal and stick to it

A good goal will feel like a challenge. But you don’t want it to be so big that it feels impossible. Trying to commit to a major change, such as becoming a vegan or running a marathon, can be overwhelming.

Instead, think small. Aim to take a 30-minute walk, once a week, then work your way up from there. Or try to eat at least one plant-based meal per week.

It’s also a good idea to be clear about what you want. Trying to lose weight? Pick an attainable number to work towards, so you’ll know when you’ve succeeded. If your goal is to lose 50 pounds, 10 pounds is a good starting point, Elhelou suggests. Then once you’ve reached your first goal, try to lose another 10, and so on.

Make and follow a plan 

Decide what you need to do each day to make your goal happen. Take that veggie-based meal, for instance. You’ll need to:  

  • Find a tasty recipe
  • Shop for any ingredients you may need
  • Prep your dish
  • Cook the meal

Try blocking time off on your calendar to do each of those steps, so you know when they’ll get done. “Scheduling specific time slots helps you establish consistent habits,” says Elhelou.

Plus, you won’t feel stressed about trying to figure out when you can stop at the market or chop your veggies. It’ll already be worked into your schedule.

Track your progress

Now think about how to record what you’re doing. You could do it the old-fashioned way by keeping a diary. Or you could go the modern route and use a smartphone app. For example, you can download apps to track the foods you’re eating. If you want to limit your diet to a certain number of calories each day, they can also give you targets for calories, based on your age, height and weight.

Whether you choose a paper or digital tracker, depending on your goals you can use it to:

  • Jot down the meals you’ve made (and which recipes to make again).
  • Log your favorite healthy snacks (such as fruit and low-fat yogurt).1
  • Track your steps, miles or time (for walks, runs or workouts).

Remember to write down any successes you’ve had. It’s always good to celebrate your wins. Let’s say you drop a few pounds. Write it down. Or maybe your family (or friends) really enjoyed the plant-based meal you made. Come up with a star-rating system.

Tracking your successes also helps you stay focused on your goal. It even lets you see where you might be falling short.2 So, if you miss a walk during the week or eat too much candy one day, you’ll have the evidence.

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Buddy up

A great way to keep goals on track: Find a family member or friend to help support your cause. It’s often easier to stay motivated when you’ve got someone who wants you to get and stay healthy.3 You and your partner can cook healthy meals together or take an exercise class at the same time.

Your partner can help keep your goals on track, Elhelou says. For example, if you’re trying to lose weight, maybe they’ll invite you for a jog instead of ice cream. As a bonus, you can celebrate wins together once you’ve reached a goal. Take them out to the movies or a healthy dinner.

Be ready for some bumps in the road

Some days it might be easy to get to your gym class or cook a healthy dinner. Other days, not so much. But you don’t have to give up when life gets in the way. Just plan for what happens next.2 Here are some ideas:

  • Do meal prep on the weekend. If you know you’re getting home late on certain nights during the week, preplan a meal, suggests Elhelou. Maybe that’s chopping veggies in advance. Or making a soup and refrigerating it. You can then heat it up.
  • Have a bad-weather plan if you normally exercise outdoors. Pick an alternate routine to do inside, such as following a yoga or tai chi video.

Take a break

Even if your goal is to walk 30 minutes twice a week, it can sometimes feel like a lot. Maybe you’re having a super busy day. And you’re stressing about how to fit in exercise.

Instead of forcing yourself, take a day off. That can help keep your stress levels in check. Practice some self-care instead. Try some breathing exercises or meditation. That can give you the energy you need to stick with your healthy habits.3

On the other hand, you might feel energized after making or eating a healthy meal. Or you might be riding the positivity of a sweaty fitness class. Pay attention to your energy levels. They can help motivate you when you need a little boost the next time. And that can keep you from being tempted to order takeout or skip exercising.3

Reward yourself

Knowing your goal comes with a treat can help you stay the course. “Consider a trip to the spa, a beach day or a movie night,” says Elhelou. “Or purchase a new hobby-related item, fitness gear or new clothing.”

If those examples are outside your budget, go with something equally as fun but free, like:

  • Cooking yourself (and your friends or loved ones) a delicious, healthy meal
  • Designing yourself a homemade certificate or award
  • Drawing yourself a bath and putting on some relaxing music

You can even spread the word about your success on social media. Having friends and family cheer you on can encourage you to keep up the good work all year long.

Sources

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Healthy Snacks: Quick Tips for Parents. Last updated October 19, 2023. Accessed October 19, 2023.
  2. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Changing Your Habits for Better Health. Last reviewed November 2020. Accessed October 19, 2023.
  3. National Institute on Aging. Adopting Healthy Habits: What Do We Know About The Science of Behavior Change? Published October 4, 2022. Accessed October 19, 2023.

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