A new year and resolutions to improve health go hand-in-hand. For many, it might mean changing exercise routines, implementing strength training or making time to meal prep. While these are great goals, New Year’s resolutions are notorious for being broken, especially by mid-February. However, the good news is, making mistakes is part of the process, and even better — these missteps can help you achieve your resolutions in the long run.
“There’s a lot that goes into making a change that actually sticks and works for you,” says Bill Daniels, a certified personal trainer. “It’s important to let go of an all or nothing mentality and understand that reflecting on your journey can actually make a world of difference, even if things haven’t gone as you planned.”
Here, experts offer their best tips for better reflecting on resolutions that have gone off track:
The first thing to do when you hit a snag with your resolutions is to ask yourself why you want to achieve this particular thing, says Daniels. “Connecting emotionally to your ‘why’ is critical if you want to make a change,” he adds. “If it’s just a number on the scale, that’s likely not strong enough to pull you back in if you make a misstep.” Instead, Daniels recommends going a little deeper: “What’s beyond that? Maybe you want to feel better about how you look, improve at whatever sport or activity you enjoy, or want to keep up with your kids.” If you slip up, don’t be too hard on yourself, he adds. Research shows people with perfectionist tendencies are worse at achieving their goals. Instead of dwelling on overeating or a missed workout, instill healthy habits at the next opportunity.
It’s normal to have big aspirations, but sometimes you have to take a step back and ask yourself if you’re trying to do too much at once. “Ideally, you’re coming up with goals that are related to one another,” says Bianca Grover, an exercise physiologist and personal trainer. For example, “if you’re trying to lose weight, we know this isn’t something that comes just from exercise.” Thus, it’s a good idea to set adjacent nutrition goals like sipping more water and adding more quality protein and veggies to your meals. Check-in with yourself and look for roadblocks. If you’re not hydrating because you’re bored of regular water, try seltzer or adding fruit. If you’re having a hard time adding veggies to your diet, prep them in a different way (i.e., roasted instead of steamed) to keep things exciting.
By now, you’ve likely heard of the “SMART” acronym: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timebound. When you’re reflecting on your resolutions, ask yourself if they fall into all of these categories. “The more specific you can be with what you want, the better,” says Grover. For example, instead of going after a lofty goal to lose 30 pounds, shift it to a time-bound, attainable goal of 1–2 pounds per week. This boosts your motivation to keep improving week over week.
If you’re struggling (and even when you aren’t), it’s always a good idea to get some external feedback from professionals. “Seek out a coach who understands your goals,” says Grover. “They’re there to help, and two brains work better than one.” Working with a registered dietitian, physician, personal trainer or physical therapist who can create an individualized plan might just be the boost you need to hit your goals. The right coach also empowers you to discover some of the answers for yourself, she adds. “Your goal should be to become efficient over time with their instruction.”
Remember, more often than not, things won’t always go according to plan, and that’s OK. With weight loss, “there will be ups and downs,” says Daniels, which is why it’s a good idea to plan for those problem days. “Anticipate roadblocks that could pop up, and ask yourself what you will do when something happens.” For example, if you tend to give into cravings in the evening, have a plan for what you’ll snack on. Making healthier swaps, such as Greek yogurt with berries instead of a bag of chips, can help you sleep better without breaking the calorie bank. Or, if you aren’t able to fit in the 45-minute workout you’d planned because you have a last-minute work deadline, find ways to squeeze in some extra movement like a few yoga poses at your desk or quick 10-minute walking breaks. When you have a backup plan, you’ll be better equipped to handle the hurdles as they arise and be successful long-term.
Long-lasting change takes time, and it’s important to make sure you’re acknowledging the small steps along the way. When reflecting on resolutions, ask yourself if you’re rewarding yourself for good behavior. Small wins are just as important to the big picture as the final destination. In fact, research shows immediate rewards make you more likely to stick with your resolutions, especially when it comes to achieving long-term goals like weight loss. These rewards can be small, like treating yourself to a warm bubble bath post-workout, or bigger, like buying new walking shoes. Writing them down helps keep you motivated to check off each win along the way.