It’s the season of new beginnings, when it’s out with the old and in with the new. Come January 1, we eagerly hang up our party hats, ready to leave a season of excess far behind. This year, we’ll be better, do more and waste less. With our sights set high, we make impressive (if not practical) resolutions: Compete in a marathon (no, ultramarathon!), drop down to our college weight, adopt a raw, vegan diet and hey, why not cut our spending in half to boot?
Before diving head-first into burnout, let’s consider this: the higher our reach, the more likely our failure. In fact, most of us will abandon our resolutions before we’ve undressed the Christmas tree. But don’t despair—it’s possible to set achievable goals. Read on for ideas to turn fling-like resolutions into long-term commitments.
MAKE HEALTHY EATING A LIFESTYLE
Maybe your doctor urged you to lower your cholesterol, or you’re dying to fit into those skinny jeans again. Maybe you just want to get in shape so you can keep up with your kids. Whatever your motivation, successfully achieving resolutions depends heavily on the meaning behind it. Maplewood-based nutritionist Shelley Weinstock, PhD, says to start simple. If you’re not already getting the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, start there. Make a specific plan of action consisting of small changes that’ll be easier to stick with over time.
“The hard part is getting started and changing habits. People get frustrated easily. Look at it not as a short-term diet plan, but a lifestyle. If you don’t exercise at all, begin with a half-hour of exercise two to three times a week. If you love sweets and eat dessert every night, limit it to one to two times a week instead,” Weinstock says.
See the trend? Reasonable goals are attainable goals. Got a passion for pizza? Don’t cut it out entirely, or you’re bound to wind up feeling deprived. Too many dietary restrictions or an all or nothing approach can quickly lead to frustration.
What’s more, strive to let the way you feel rather than the way you look be the measure of your success. “The best motivator is feeling good. As you lose weight or get healthier, you feel better,” Weinstock says, recommending the use of a food tracking app to stay on course. You’ll get a clear picture of what you’re actually eating and establish long-lasting, healthy habits one by one (that Ben & Jerry’s is way less tempting when a food log is holding you accountable).
SMALL STEPS TOWARD BIG CHANGES
Celebrity trainer Ben Bruno advises breaking long-term goals into more tangible ones. “The key to being successful is to make your goal attainable and realistic. Be gentle with the process and coax change gradually; trust that it’ll come. If you’re a new runner with a goal of being able to run five miles without stopping, start at a half-mile and build up slowly from there,” Bruno says.
Set clear, realistic targets; don’t be vague. If your goal is to lose weight, look at it as a marathon, not a sprint. “When people talk about weight loss, they mean fat loss. If you go too fast, the weight usually comes right back. With fitness, it’s better to slow-cook the process, otherwise you’re setting yourself up to fail. Instead of saying, ‘I want to lose 20 pounds,’ aim for a steady loss of about one pound a week,” Bruno says.
If your motivation starts to wane, try a page out of Bruno’s own playbook. “If you don’t have a trainer, the best thing you can do to stay consistent is schedule your workouts with friends. I’ve had good success with making appointments to work out with friends.” After all, it’s much harder to skip a workout if you’ll be letting down your bestie.
USE GRATITUDE TO BOND WITH YOUR FAMILY
You crave more quality family time, but it’s tough with everyone’s busy, conflicting schedules. Colleen Georges, author of Rescript the Story You’re Telling Yourself and life/career coach, says scheduling time for connection is a great way to make it happen.
“Decide what parts of your evening or weekend will be devoted to errands and work, then choose a time to shut that stuff down. During the week after 8 pm, we put everything else aside to do something together as a family,” Georges says.
This time of year, budgets are tight, so take advantage of simple acts of togetherness. Georges carves out time each night with her 10-year-old son, Josh, to reflect upon the day with gratitude. “We talk about what was good about our day, what we’re grateful for. Focusing on the positive and being grateful makes you become more optimistic and hopeful for the future. You’ll feel more likely that you’ll achieve the things you want to achieve,” Georges says.
INCENTIVIZE SAVING BY LOOKING AHEAD
When cutting back on expenses, it pays to identify a clear purpose for saving. Doing this lessens the blow to your standard of living. With a clear grasp on your “why” (maybe it’s a much-needed family vacation, or to contribute more to your retirement), the “how” will feel more attainable.
Now, put an action plan in place. “Evaluate your spending habits over two weeks, noting things you can cut back on. Have a specific day/time that you transfer a specific amount of money into a savings account that you don’t touch. Know the purpose. When we know we’re saving for a vacation or family activity, we can more easily cut back on those less important things,” Georges says. Instead of giving in to your daily Starbucks craving, try indulging just once per week; it won’t feel like such a sacrifice when you’re soaking up the sun in Bali.
Whatever your 2020 resolutions may be, set clear, realistic targets and be patient. Small steps made with intention bring us closer to making lasting changes. Remember to reflect with gratitude; optimism is everything when it comes to meeting goals. You may even find your cup is already pretty full.
—Heidi Borst is a mother, writer and lifestyle coach based in South Orange.