We all know the New Year’s resolutions dance. On January 1, you’re excited and determined to lose 50 pounds, cut out sugar, join a gym or find your life partner. Only a few weeks later, you’ve already given up. Oftentimes this isn’t because of willpower or anything about you — it’s your resolutions that need tweaking.
Most resolutions are big and vague: “I will eat healthy” or “I’m going to lose weight.” And these are fine goals, but having smaller, more specific goals is the better way to go.
“I never discourage my clients from having a pie-in-the-sky goal. I believe in thinking big and making sure what you’re trying to achieve is for the right reasons, and is meaningful to you,” says Katherine Nashatker, RDN, director of nutrition at Cooper Clinic. “But equally important is breaking down that goal into smaller, achievable goals.”
When you do this, you’ll experience small wins with those short-term goals that keep you motivated, leading to your big-picture resolution in the end.
Turn your resolutions into successful lifestyle changes that stick by focusing on the smaller steps below.
Your resolution: Lose weight
Small step: Track what you’re eating for a week
Before you even think about adjusting your meals, start logging them in an app like MyFitnessPal. In a study of 1,685 overweight and obese adults, those who logged meals daily lost twice as much weight as those who never tracked their food. “Writing down what you ate provides some accountability, plus there is an element of wanting to please yourself,” Nashatker says. Clients will tell her that they thought about eating some high-calorie dish at a restaurant but choose a healthier item because they didn’t want to have to log it. Start tracking everything (even the chocolate kiss from your coworker) now so you get into the habit and see exactly what you’re eating, which will help you make changes.
Your resolution: Cook at home more
Small step: Take inventory of your schedule
Cooking is all about time management, so check your typical weekly schedule and find blocks where you have windows to buy food, prepare meals and clean up. Then determine what you can realistically do in those gaps. Maybe you can’t cook dinner every weeknight, but you can cook on Sunday afternoon and Wednesday evening. So meal prep or make entire meals during those times and toss things together or simply heat them up on the busier nights. And don’t forget about resources such as grocery delivery and meal kits, Nashatker says. If they help you eat healthier, they’re worth it.
Your resolution: Eat less sugar
Small step: Start at home
It’s easier to control what you eat at home, so focus on the meals you make there first, Nashatker says. If that’s breakfast, consider changing your oatmeal or muffins to a savory but quick meal such as omelets or egg muffins you make ahead of time. Or if you have a candy bowl, swap that for fresh fruit. “If you take something (such as sugar) away, you want to add something,” Nashatker says. “Having food on the table keeps it in sight” so you’re more likely to have that than, say, the cookies in the pantry.
Your resolution: Work out daily
Small step: Work out three times a week
If you don’t exercise at all, going from zero to daily is setting yourself up to fail. Consider the length of time you plan to exercise and create a weekly goal that aligns with your schedule, suggests Shana Verstegen, fitness director at Supreme Health and Fitness in Wisconsin. If you confidently feel you can work out three days a week, go for it! Something is always better than nothing. “Remember, also, that rest and recovery days are essential. Even the world’s top athletes don’t work out daily,” Verstegen adds.
Your resolution: Get a six-pack
Small step: Strength train at least three days a week
Any bodybuilding judge will tell you, it’s tough to measure the development of a six-pack. “Visible abdominals come from decreasing your percentage of body fat through gaining muscle and decreasing fat,” Verstegen explains. Focus on strength training, which helps build muscle and boosts your metabolism to burn more calories.
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Your resolution: Be stronger
Small step: Determine why, then make a specific plan
Are you trying to gain strength for a sport, to make daily activities easier, or is your goal actually to do 10 pullups in a row? Once you know why you want to be stronger, you can take aim at that target. For example, if you want to do pullups, you can follow an exercise progression toward that. Or maybe back squats will help you with your sport, so pick a specific 1-rep max to reach in a certain timeframe, Verstegen says.
Your resolution: Work less
Small step: Spend 10 minutes every morning planning
The way to work less is to have a clear idea of what you need to do. Each morning, take 10–15 minutes to consider what’s on your plate, what your priorities are and how you will execute those things that make the biggest impact, says psychologist Camille Preston, PhD, founder and CEO of AIM Leadership and author of “Create More Flow.” “Having a clear list will help you move faster, because you won’t need to think about what you need to do, and you’ll execute on projects more quickly,” she says. Plus the high you’ll feel as you check things off creates momentum to keep crushing it. Be sure to make your list before you walk into the office (try on your commute or sitting in your car in the parking lot), because we all know how crazy it gets once you’re in those doors.
Your resolution: Meditate daily
Small step: Maximize the ways you’re already meditating
What we think of as “meditation” is great. But that’s not the only way to reap the benefits. “Don’t let society say you have to meditate. Find the place that creates white space in your brain,” says Preston, who meditates while she runs. Or maybe you’re like one of her clients, who finds that cleaning her home is her mediation. Whatever yours is, schedule time for it into your week.
Your resolution: Be less stressed
Small step: Be conscious of your stress
It’s normal to feel some level of stress 24/7, but many of us aren’t aware of our stress. First, tune into your body and mind so you can notice when you are stressed. Ask yourself what’s causing the stress. Knowing this can help you take action to remedy it, Preston says. Also create a go-to habit for when you are frazzled, she adds. Maybe you take a walk around the block, drink a glass of water or scroll through a folder of photos of loved one on your phone. Do something simple, yet effective, to help you see the big picture again.