4 Motivation Tips to Achieve Your New Year's Resolutions

January 6, 2014

   The conventional wisdom seems to be that writing New Year's resolutions is a "fun" annual ritual of jotting down our personal wish lists -- but not to be taken too seriously because by February they will be forgotten. The reality is resolution-making is a powerful tool we can use to bring about healthy lifestyle changes.

   A study published in the journal Addictive Behaviors a couple of decades ago examined how successfully people achieved their New Year's resolutions. The top resolution, unsurprisingly, was weight loss cited by 38% of the study's participants. Smoking cessation was 2nd at 30%. Half of the people (55%) in the study dropped out after just one month. And it might be easy to assume the other half failed after two months. But that wasn't the case. Most of the remaining resolution makers (40%) were still on the path to their goals 6 months later! I like seeing the glass half full rather than half empty so I think that's remarkable.

   As a fitness trainer it tells me that making a New Year's resolution is a very worthwhile strategy. It's motivating to know, statistically, you have nearly a 50/50 chance of success right out of the gate. But I'd like to increase those odds so I asked a few experts for some tips to stay motivated throughout the year to fulfill your resolutions. Not every motivational technique will work for everyone. I hope one of these tips resonates with you.

[1] Pursue Small Easy-to-Fulfill Goals

   I find this very effective for my clients. Instead of trying to accomplish one big goal, break it down into a series of smaller ones. If you want to incorporate walking into your lifestyle, such as taking a 2-mile walk five times a week, don't start by forcing yourself to walk a mile every day. True, you might be able to do it but chances are you won't actually like it. It's better to begin by taking a 15 minute walk three days a week. In so doing, you will set yourself up to be successful. And nothing breeds success like achievement, each step of the way toward your larger goal.

[2] Take It One Day at a Time
- Trainer Jane Howard

   It's easy to think, "one day at a time... well, I already knew that." True, it's probably the oldest technique in the book. But if you really take it to heart, it's also one of the most powerful, which is why so many 12-step recovery programs have adopted it.

   Jane Howard is a fitness trainer in Cambria and she echoes this. "We all tend to become overwhelmed sometimes when the task at hand like losing weight or becoming fit can seem so large and looming over us," she told me. "This becomes too much for any of us. Stay with one day at a time. If you mess up, that’s okay, get back on track the next day. Don't beat yourself up. You are human!"

[3] Moderate Behaviors - Coach Dennis White

   You know when changes have really taken hold when they become a part of your lifestyle. That's when, for example, a bike ride is no longer just a planned exercise activity but something you look forward to for fun.

   Dennis White, who has coached Coast Union High School's volleyball team in Cambria, feels that moderation is a key way to evolve a change into becoming a part of your lifestyle. "If you're trying to cut calories," he offers (I love this one), "eat sandwiches with just one piece of bread." Do the math: if you eat five sandwiches a week, you'll avoid eating a loaf of bread each month without feeling deprived.

   A similar thing goes for alcohol. Limiting yourself to wine or beer on the weekends is a great way to cut out a lot of calories from your diet. And you can easily add some exercise to your day, too. The next time you go shopping, relish the availability of the open parking spaces further from the store and get a nice walk in. Dennis says it's for a good cause. "Taking care of ourselves will ensure we have an active retirement with minimal limitations. Good health will ensure quality time with our children and grandchildren."

[4] Minimize Distractions - Marlena Tanner, RD

   Sometimes it's not enough to get motivated, but rather tackle those things which can demotivate us. A busy schedule poses a major challenge for most people. Recently, I read about a woman who wanted to exercise in the morning but rarely did because in the first minutes of rising from bed, her head was quickly filled with an overwhelming list of things she had to do. So she started going to bed in her exercise clothes and woke up ready for her work out. Great idea!

   The media also can be a diversion. "In today's American culture we tend to get distracted by technology and by constant visual stimulus including the images of what we should look like or the things we should strive to own and achieve," says Marlena Tanner, a dietitian in Cambria who serves the Central Coast as well as guest lectures at Cal Poly. Whether it's buying into unrealistic images of what Madison Avenue says we should look like or having to be always-on for every email and tweet that comes our way, turning it down or even off can be surprisingly effective.

   "Taking care of our selves involves not only our physical, but also our mental, emotional and spiritual being. Becoming more connected to our own bodies will allow us to eat better, move more efficiently and understand our selves better."