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17 Ways to Make a New Year’s Resolution You’ll Actually Keep

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Ted Spiker is the chair of the department of journalism at the University of Florida and the author of DOWN SIZE: 12 Truths for Turning Pants-Splitting Frustration into Pants-Fitting Success.

17 strategies for constructing a New Year's goal

Many of us who have used this time of year to turn our bodies around have fallen into the same cycle of failure: We’re frustrated with our size or weight, we vow that this is the year of skinny jeans, and we promise to skip the daily fataccinos.

On January 1, we’re all in. I’m going to do it! A month, a week, or a day later, we’ve backed out. Helloooo double-decker corned beef! To avoid the same fate in ’15, use these tactics while creating your diet and exercise declarations.

  1. Nowadays, the word “resolution” almost comes with the understanding that you’re going to fizzle out by February. Better to re-frame the process and call it a goal. Or give it a life of its own with a name, like Operation Less-Jiggle, or The 2015 Strategic Body Re-Engineering Implementation Strategy, or Fred.
  2. Vague platitudes (“lose some weight”) are less effective than specific directives (“I will set my alarm for noon every weekday for a 30-second stretch of my adductor longus muscles”).
  3. Go back to the drawing board if your resolution includes the words “more selfies in the gym locker room.”
  4. Motivation research tells us that three things need to be present to sustain your fire over time: autonomy (you control what you do, rather than letting others dictate it); competence (you have some success the more you do it); relatedness (you share the experience with others). Which means: You can manufacture your own motivation by choosing an action that includes all three elements.
  5. Resolutions often fall into the all-or-nothing category. Therefore, rates of failure increase if you attempt an outright ban on gravy.
  6. The common characteristic of exercise-quitters: Too much too soon. For newbies, three days a week in January will be better in the long run than six. Slow and steady won’t win many races, but it will this one.
  7. Trying to stick to a daily resolution comes with pressure and stress that often leads to midnight lasagna binges. Instead, try weekly metrics. Rather than count daily calories, which can be frustrating and destructive if you miss your mark, give yourself a weekly benchmark to hit. (Note: There is some debate about whether calorie-counting works for everyone, but self-monitoring certainly can be effective for some people.) That gives you some flexibility to stray, incentive to eat well most of the week, and more of a global picture for what you’re trying to accomplish—that is, eat right most of the time. If you want wiggle room in your clothes, you have to give yourself wiggle room in your expectations.
  8. Tweet/Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat your goal so that you can feel accountable.
  9. Do not do No. 8 when the reasoning centers of your brain may be compromised, such as at 12:03 a.m. on January 1. #HappyNewYearImGivingUpBreakfastMeatsFOREVER won’t stick.
  10. If you want to rid yourself of your dietary Achilles heel, cold turkey can be a rocky road. But eliminating your most evil temptation can work if you can choose some kind of substitute behavior for the addiction or habit, so that you give your brain something to do in its place.
  11. Do not make the substitute barbecue corn chips.
  12. If your resolution involves a new exercise plan, make a 5-minute backup workout for times you just don’t have the oomph to complete your intended session. It can be as simple as a handful of pushups, jumping jacks, lunges, and squats (no equipment required). The point: Do something that gives you some energy, so that you don’t beat yourself up for missing your workout on days when life gets in the way.
  13. Pick a skill rather than a size. One of my favorite yearly goals came when I vowed to stand up on a surfboard (on a wave). Picking something you physically can’t do right now (run a certain distance, climb a small mountain) requires you to break down the steps that will help you get there—physically, nutritionally, mentally. The declaration of a goal isn’t what gets you to the goal; process is what gets you to the goal.
  14. One of the best goals I heard in 2014 came from one of the spiritual leaders of the Sub-30 Club—a club I started a few years ago for people who wanted to run a sub-30-minute 5K, but includes many folks who were already speedier than that, like Laurie Canning. Laurie had said that her only running goal this year was to run with as many new people as she could, including those she had never met from our virtual group. Between training, new races, and meet-ups all over, she ended the year running with 25 new people. She says, “I have never enjoyed running as much as I have this year—ever.” By the way, Laurie also completed the year doing 20,000 strict military pushups and crushed her previous best marathon time, running a 4:11. My takeaway: You can use a deeper goal to help achieve other ones.
  15. The best resolutions are also ones that you can share with other people. Recruit a couple of friends to join you (live or digitally). Report your progress, kick each other’s butts, high-five successes, hold regular meetings to discuss ups and downs.
  16. Do not bring cupcakes to those meetings.
  17. Set a date on the calendar, not a number on the scale. Find something—an event, a vacation—that means something to you. That’s where you’re headed. That’s why you’re running or swimming or getting your butt whooped by a boot-camp instructor. That’s why you reach for radishes when you need something to crunch. No, it’s not a finish line in this seemingly never-ending struggle, but it does give you a vision of where you want to go—and a few hints about why you want to get there.

Ted Spiker (@ProfSpiker) is the interim chair of the University of Florida Department of Journalism and writes the Big Guy Blog for Runner’s World. He’s also the author of DOWN SIZE: 12 Truths for Turning Pants-Splitting Frustration into Pants-Fitting Success.

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