We all want to enjoy better health in the upcoming year, but how do you make healthy resolutions that you can really stick to? It all has to do with the science of how people make and break habits. Here’s how to be successful at the three most popular healthy resolutions:
Changing your Diet
The holiday sugar rush is over, and now you want to start the new year with a new diet. There are many reasons why people decide to change their diet, including weight loss, overall health benefits, or as a treatment for a chronic condition. Regardless of your reason, it’s best to start out with a clear goal of what you ultimately want your diet to look like and then take baby steps towards that goal. Most people who quickly change their diet in an extreme way are unable to stick with those changes long term.
Before you take that first baby step, you should check in with yourself and see if you have the necessary life skills to succeed at a diet. According to Psychology Today, if you’re going to stick to a diet, you need to know how to motivate yourself every day and how to tolerate mild hunger. It’s also important to know how to get back on track quickly after a slip-up. If you feel these are things you’ve struggled with in the past, consider working with a counselor or mentor to help improve those skills before you start making changes to your eating habits.
Most people find it easier to stick to a diet if they ease into it. If your goal is to cut out 500 calories a day, start with cutting out one high-calorie food that you eat often and replacing it with a lower calorie option. If you want to eat more vegetables, start by making a vegetarian meal once or twice a week. After you have adapted to one small change, add in another. Keep doing this until you’ve achieved your goal.
Lastly, make sure you identify situations that will challenge your diet, like dinners out or social gatherings, and strategize beforehand.
Getting More Exercise
If your goal this New Year is to get moving more often, some of the same rules apply as for changing your diet. Namely, you need to take it slow. If you hit the gym like a pro athlete for a week after months or years of a sedentary lifestyle, you will probably end up feeling sick and not sticking to your plan.
Instead, come up with an ultimate goal and then break it into smaller goals. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. This breaks down to 30 minutes five times a week. If that is your ultimate goal, start by working out for 30 minutes twice a week, then when you feel ready, add a day to your routine. Keep doing this until you have you are working out five days a week. The same process can be used for someone who is already active and looking to push their fitness level higher.
It’s also worth noting that most people find it easier to stick to an exercise routine if some of their exercise comes from activities they enjoy. Instead of just heading to the gym, consider signing up for a sport, dance class or yoga class. The chances are that even if you skip out on one of your other days, you won’t miss your class.
As with any habit change, your workout routine will only be successful if you learn how to get back on track quickly after taking time off.
Studies show that about 70% of smokers want to quit. If you fall into this category, then it’s likely that you’ve quit before but have never been able to kick the habit fully. To make this year different, keep in mind that negative habits have to be replaced with new positive habits. For instance, if you usually smoke after eating, you will need to find something else to do after a meal to take the place of a cigarette, like chewing gum or taking a walk. If drinking puts you at risk of lighting up, drink less often, or switch to coffee instead of alcohol.
Many people start smoking as a way to cope with stress. Consider replacing your cigarettes with other stress-relieving self-care activities. Mild exercise can relieve stress and help with withdrawal symptoms. Other habits like using essential oils, learning to meditate, or being more social can also help with stress. If you think you may have an anxiety or mood disorder that is contributing to your need for nicotine, talk to a counselor. A good therapist can help you learn healthier coping methods that you can use to replace your addiction to cigarettes.
The only way to persevere through withdrawals is to remember why you are going through all this. Write down your reason for quitting and consider turning it into a daily affirmation. For some extra motivation, try putting the money you would usually spend on cigarettes in a jar and use it to buy yourself something nice after you meet your goal.
The most important part of beating any addiction is to have a relapse prevention plan. You can find information online about how to come up with one yourself, or you can work with your doctor or therapist. The point of a relapse prevention plan is to help you identify what triggered the relapse, learn to get back on the wagon quickly after a relapse and prevent future relapses. You should have this plan in place before a relapse happens.