For many Americans, the month of December is chock-full of holiday parties, drinks with colleagues, and hours spent ticking off that gift list. The result? Over-indulging in high-calorie foods, and little sleep and exercise.
That’s why some look to January to drop a few pounds, make the gym a priority, and adopt other healthy habits like quitting smoking or flossing regularly. In fact, a recent survey found that 46% of Americans wanted to lose weight in the new year. A solid 42% wanted to improve their overall health and 18% wanted to make it to the gym regularly. And 11% said they wanted to go to the doctor more regularly.
For many, however, the best intentions typically fall flat by February—if not earlier.
“Most people are trying to change too much, all at once,” says Tara Allen, a registered nurse and certified nutritionist, health coach, and personal trainer. “While it feels great initially to aim high and try to optimize everything at once, human behavior cannot keep up with this and we will eventually fail.”
The good news is that with a few tweaks, it’s easy to keep up with the promises you made to yourself in the new year.
Give yourself time
If you’re trying to adopt a healthier habit, be it going to the gym Monday through Friday or eating five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, you’ll need to be patient.
That’s because “studies show one needs to stick with the new habit for 21 days to have it become a new habit,” says Kristine Blanche, PhD, CEO of the Integrative Healing Center.
Other studies have found that it could take as much as 254 days until a new habit takes root.
But whether you’re up against three weeks or three months, it’s possible to make some adjustments to better ensure you’re able to honor your resolution.
Focus on mini-habits
If you’re looking to lose 20 pounds, you may be tempted to cut out all processed food, desserts and alcohol until you reach your goal. Or, if you want to tone up, you might vow to take a 45-minute spin class each morning before work.
While these are noble pursuits, for many they fall into the “too much, too soon” category, and are likely to fail. Instead, says Allen, start small and build up from there. That might mean swapping out that afternoon bag of chips for an apple, then the next week trading that bowl of sugary cereal for oatmeal. The same goes for the gym. If you’re new to working out, commit to going twice a week, then upping that to three times the following week and so on.
“The best way to go about setting—and sticking to—any healthy living goal is to pick one thing to start with and make it so manageable that it seems too easy,” says Allen. “We become more confident when we are able to accomplish this small task consistently. Along with that confidence comes momentum and motivation to keep going, allowing you to set and stick to your next small goal. This snowball effect ends up yielding big results over time.”
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