It’s a common refrain: People embark on their New Year’s resolutions with gusto and zeal, determined that this will be the year they shape up, eat better, save more money or finally kick their smoking habit to the curb. But within a matter of weeks, determination wanes and resolve crumbles. Gym memberships collect dust; savings go down the drain; cigarettes are lit up anew.
What gives? Why are we so apt to slip back into our old ways? Are resolutions doomed to fail, or is something else impeding us from attaining our goals?
“A lot of times, I think people bite off more than they can chew,” says Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, psychologist, TEDx presenter and best-selling author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. “They set these lofty goals, but they don’t know the proper way to accomplish them.”
Another barrier to success, Dr. Lombardo adds, is our desire for instant gratification. We want to lose weight, and we want to lose it now. But it doesn’t quite work like that. Making a significant lifestyle changes requires a good deal of patience, commitment and determination—lots of it. “When we don’t immediately see progress, we tend to get frustrated and give up,” Dr. Lombardo notes.
Want to make this the year you stay true to your New Year’s resolutions? These 6 easy tips from Dr. Lombardo are guaranteed to help you keep your eyes on the prize.
1. Start simple. Don’t set the bar too high, Dr. Lombardo warns. It’s better to focus on small, attainable goals rather than on big, lofty goals. In other words, if you want to lose 50 pounds, aim to lose 5 pounds first. “When you break it down, it seems more achievable,” says Lombardo, who recently teamed up with Weight Watchers to launch Simple Start, an uncomplicated, straightforward, two-week starter plan designed to jump-start weight loss. “You get started; you get on the right path; you start to lose some weight; and then you realize, ‘Wow, I really can do this.’”
2. Be realistic. “If you have never been to the gym before, don’t have the expectation that you’ll go five times every week,” Lombardo notes. “You’re setting yourself up for failure.” Everyone is different, so work within your lifestyle and find a plan that works for you.
3. Make a game plan. Making a resolution without formulating a plan of attack is like taking a road trip without a map. Without a concrete strategy, you’re bound to lose focus. “It’s really important to have a specific behavioral pathway in terms of how you are going to accomplish your goals,” Dr. Lombardo says. “How are you going to exercise? What are you going to eat? How are you going to save the money?” For example, if you’re on a diet, this means creating weekly meal plans and grocery lists to ensure that you don’t cave to impulse purchases at the store.
4. Don’t be “all or nothing.” It sounds counterintuitive, but being a perfectionist can actually jeopardize your goals, Dr. Lombardo says. “I’ll have clients who are trying to lose weight. If they cave and eat one cookie, they figure, ‘Oh well, I already blew it—I might as well have the whole plate,’” she says. If you momentarily stray from your goals, don’t dwell on your mistakes. Just pick yourself back up and keep plugging away.
5. Reframe your thinking. Nothing squanders motivation faster than feeling deprived. Whenever you are making a significant lifestyle change, it’s inevitable that there will be a sense of loss and sacrifice, which is why it’s important to reframe your cognitive thinking. “Instead of focusing on what you can’t have, focus on what you will have. Focus on the results that you want,” says Dr. Lombardo. So if you’re trying to lose weight, don’t fixate on the negatives of dieting—such as not being able to eat certain foods. Instead, “Focus on the fact that your body is going to look better, you’re going to be healthier and you’re going to sleep better at night,” Dr. Lombardo suggests.
6. Be positive. “Happiness is a mindset—it’s how we view the world,” Dr. Lombardo says. “We often think that success will bring happiness, but happiness leads to success. Research shows that happier people perform better at work, have more fulfilling marriages, and so forth.” So when the going gets tough, shift your perspective and think about the positives. “Focusing on happiness will help you get to where you want to be.”