How to make a New Year's resolution that will actually work

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What’s the smallest thing you can do? Imagine one behavior you can create that would fit seamlessly into your day.

With the new year approaching, it’s time to set goals, get inspired, and create a new routine for your health and wellness. Making a great New Year’s resolution and sticking to it can cause significant change in your life.

Unfortunately, many set themselves up for failure during the process because they don’t design a great plan. The most common mistakes people make are a mix of the following: 1. Their goals are extreme and lead to an unsustainable plan. 2. They set a lofty resolution without making a plan to create the new behaviors they will need to carry it out. 3. They act because someone is nagging at them, or they feel they ought to make a resolution but don’t really want to.

So, should you make a New Year’s resolution this January? And if so, which resolutions are most likely to succeed?

1.  Think small.

What’s the smallest thing you can do? Imagine one behavior you can create that would fit seamlessly into your day. Add one serving of vegetables at lunch. Have one piece of fruit as a snack. Take three deep breaths when you feel stressed. Walk around the block at work every day. Set aside 30 seconds to floss your teeth. Do five squats or five push-ups in the morning. Drink a glass of water when you wake up. Go to sleep 15 minutes earlier.

We often try to create huge resolutions in the hope that a big goal will force us into changing our ways. Consider the opposite and experience the thrill when you achieve baby steps. You’ll also notice that little steps add up to huge strides. Add a small habit every month, and see how much change can occur in a year.

2.  Have fun.

Do something enjoyable. Resolutions around health and wellness can often feel depriving and boring. Consider a fun way toward better health. Add a hobby to your life to find exercise in a playful way. A dance class, new or favorite sport, rock climbing, outdoor adventures, horseback riding, snow sports, anything that seems fun and interesting. Not only is it a workout, but you can also use your brain in a new way, learn a new skill and have fun while doing it. Use nutrition in playful ways, too. Start a cooking night with your kids, buy a fun cookbook, try a new recipe or take a cooking class to use food in a new way.

3.  Treat yourself.

Instead of saying no to something, consider adding some luxury to your day. Buy really soft sheets, or a package of exercise classes or a fitness trainer to jump-start a workout routine. Try a meal delivery service to try new dishes and exercise portion control and enjoy someone else cooking for you for a period of time. Consider a new piece of kitchen equipment, or a splurge for you to get you in the mood to enjoy cooking and eating in line with your values. For example, to promote batch cooking, buy a slow cooker and containers to take on the go to set you up for success. All these are additions to your life that will promote learning skills to support long-term change.

4.  Delay action.

Sometimes we set super-specific actions as our goal, but we haven’t done the work to understand the deeper behavior. You cut out alcohol for the month of January, but for the next 11 months you drink as much as you want. Why can’t you drink less throughout the year? Replace the alcohol in that scenario with sweets, fried foods, soda or pizza. Or replace it with the other scenario in which you have a great workout routine for January, but drop off by February and never consider how to implement a consistent exercise strategy into your life. Sub out exercise for sleep, meditation, eating vegetables, or healthy cooking. Why can’t you keep healthy habits going all year long?

What if you spent January figuring out how to create long-term habits, rather than just going all out for one month? What needs to occur for you to create a true shift in your behavior? Take some time to understand the deeper root of what’s preventing you from long-term change. Pay attention, and notice how empowering it can feel to live a healthy lifestyle.

5.  Do what you want.

What do you want to do? Forgt about fads and trends, or what you should do, or what your doctor, spouse or friend thinks you should do. What’s driving you? Improved energy at 4 p.m.? Less pain when walking with friends? More muscle? Improved mood? Improved lab result or data point? Focus on you and what interests you to change. What will motivate you to stay focused? What tools do you need to achieve success? As you get clear on what truly drives you to change, ideally it will be more pleasant to achieve your goals. Take action Feb. 1.

Start the new year with a plan that leads you toward success. Enjoy the process and create goals that will provide you with the health and wellness you want.

Berman is a registered dietitian, a personal trainer and owner of Jae Berman Nutrition.