The Washington Post

How to keep your New Year’s resolutions in check

Revelers erupted in cheers and celebration in New York's Times Square to welcome in the new year. (AP)

1) Find Your Motivation

Nobody can change you, but you! Sustainable change in health outcomes must come from within. Some are motivated by loss, like those who train for breast cancer runs. Others are motivated by serious health challenges, like a concerning diagnosis. Still others just want to be healthy enough to run around with their children and not get out of breath.

Remind yourself that health is not an “end” in itself but the means to many desirous outcomes: improved self image, self-confidence, productivity in relationships and on the job, participation in activities with loved ones, enjoyment in outdoor adventures, etc.

So cut out a picture of that “itsy bitsy teenie weeny yellow polka dot bikini” or if you’re a guy get a picture of the biceps and abs you want to sport on the beach and put it on your refrigerator. Whatever your motivation, success is determined by identifying that inner conviction, and making it your impetus for action. What’s your motivation?

2) Keep it Simple

New behaviors are extremely difficult to add to our daily lives.  Ever try taking a daily vitamin for a month and end up with extras?  Then you know what I’m talking about. According to Dr. Fogg of Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab, the first critical step in persuading yourself is to select the simplest behavior you have the ability and motivation to complete. For example, give up your favorite parking location to park a bit further - a very simplistic change to increase the number steps taken per day. Then do it for 21 days, the time it takes to build a new habit.

3) Learn Your Activity System

Grab a sheet of paper and write out your “activity system,” the routine, day-to-day activities, conducted from the time you awake, to the time you go to sleep. Now, add the environment in which the activity takes place (i.e. car, work, home, child’s sports practice.) By learning your activity system and its corresponding environment, you can insert triggers that will prompt you to incorporate a health-related action.

For example, if you spend long hours driving (activity = driving, environment = car) try keeping a small lunch bag of healthy snacks on your passenger seat. This will trigger you to eat, therefore, keeping your energy levels high. It also keeps your blood sugar from falling thus eliminating those quick fast food stops.

4) Take Baby Steps

If you’ve never run before, trying to run a marathon by next month may not be realistic. Start with something you know you will have the ability and motivation to execute. For example, if you have a dog set a goal for simply walking your dog one extra block. After two weeks of consistency, try jogging it instead. Add things that are already in your activity system, require minimal resources, and doesn’t require a drastic change in your schedule.

5) Celebrate all wins again and again

Create goal markers along the way and truly celebrate your accomplishments. For example, if your goal is to walk your dog an extra block, at the end of the first week, celebrate! Now your celebration must not obliterate your effort, like binging on your favorite fast food. But it could mean sharing your accomplishment with friends or treating yourself to a relaxing massage. So celebrate, get back to work, and celebrate again!

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