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Starting small: How to stick with your New Year’s resolutions

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Author name: Lee Health

It’s going to be different this year. 

After a month or two of heavy holiday eating, relaxation, and maybe a little partying you have finally decided to dedicate yourself to eating healthy and getting more exercise in the new year. And this year, it’s going to stick.

But by mid-January, you find yourself falling back into old habits. You trade your gym membership for junk food, and the guilt mounts. 

Another year, another resolution abandoned by spring. 

Don’t beat yourself up about it. After all, New Year’s resolutions often fail because people try to do too much, too soon and then either get tired of a new routine or get frustrated that they aren’t seeing the results they crave. It’s human nature, but it’s also hard work.

Here are six ways to make sure your New Year’s resolutions stick:

1. Exercise smarter, not harder

“We see a lot of members who are motivated to work out and they want to see results quick, only to start too fast, overwork themselves, or be disappointed when they do not see results immediately,” says Mathieu Knapp, Wellness and Program manager, Healthy Life Centers.  

This kind of thinking sets you up for failure before you even get started.

Knapp stresses that you need to determine what your specific goals are and determine your baseline data points -- such as weight, fat mass, muscle mass, body measurements, and strength and cardio baselines. 

Basically, the more you know where you begin, the more you can see yourself progress and change. While most people just watch their weight, Knapp warns that, in reality, you may be gaining muscle and losing fat, so your weight may not fluctuate as much.

But by having more data at the start, you could see individual changes in muscle versus fat, plus your measurements could change or you may gain strength or cardiovascular fitness.

Knapp says little wins and achieving goals are what will keep you going long term. Set goals, gather data, and start slow. If you need help, seek help. Trainers and health experts want you to be successful and live your best life, so use their expertise.

2. Be reasonable

You aren’t going to lose 50 pounds in a month. You probably aren’t going to develop washboard abs in six months. 

The American Psychological Association reminds us that the New Year is not supposed to be a time for sweeping character changes. Instead, reflect on your life, your accomplishments and then set small goals: Lift weights twice a week. Cut out sweets for just one day. Go to bed early on the weekends. Go for a nice, leisurely stroll after dinner. Do one thing at a time. If you start small, you will make it big.

3. Get some support

Besides getting a pep talk and the OK from your doctor, include your spouse, friends, and family in your plans, experts say. They can cheer you on and help along the way. Confide in your pet if necessary. Your dog would love to go on more walks. And your cat…well, your cat wants you to be ready for playtime and naps.

And a professional trainer may sound intimidating, but they can help at every turn and they strive to see each person as an individual. “Certainly, we recommend exercise for almost everyone,” says cardiologist Richard Daum, M.D.

“However, not all exercise is right for all people. I don’t want someone to start running before they walk. Weights are a great option, and lighter weights are effective. Often, people are afraid to exercise because they are not as fit as someone younger, or who has been involved in physical activity for a long time. Starting small can have great benefits. The data suggest that even people with significant heart disease benefit from an exercise program, with a higher quality of life.”

4. Reward yourself

The APA says that minor missteps along the route are completely normal. You had a soda for lunch? A brownie at the office party? Big deal. It’s important that you simply notice it and try to do better.

When you do reach a weight or diet goal, it’s a good idea to remember that you can be nice to yourself. Allow yourself a nap, a reality TV show, a treat. You’ve earned it. 

And instead of negative thoughts about how you look, try staring into the mirror and talking out loud about the things you like about yourself or even how cool you are.

This may make you feel silly, but who cares? Who is going to know? Your friends and family can help pump you up, and your pets will probably get a kick out of private monologues.

5. Have fun and be honest

There are countless exercise options these days. You don’t have to make yourself miserable by jogging 10 miles in the Southwest Florida heat if you don’t want to. Yoga. Pilates. Dance classes. Spin classes. Walks. Bike rides in beautiful places. Swimming.

Pick something that you have always wanted to do, and be honest about why you want to do it. Is it to be more attractive, to feel better, to help your heart, or your libido? 

6. Failure is OK

Remember that if you fail, you can simply try again. Resolutions don’t have to start in the New Year, after all. Do it in April, for the summer, for your birthday. Do it because it’s Thursday. Whatever motivation you need, you can talk yourself into anything.