Maybe you’re an enthusiastic resolution-maker—you look at the New Year as a clean slate where you can reevaluate your habits and make some changes in your life. Or maybe you’ve made resolutions in the past that didn’t stick, and you want to improve your odds of success this year.
Either way, Yazhini Srivathsal, MD, a psychiatrist with Banner Behavioral Health Hospital in Scottsdale, AZ, has some advice to help you make your healthy lifestyle and weight loss resolutions an ongoing part of your life.
Frame your resolution’s ‘why’ in a positive light
Dr. Srivathsal said that sometimes people start from a negative space when they are setting their goals. For example, someone might set a goal to lose weight because they hate the way they look. “When you are feeling that negatively about yourself, it is very hard to love yourself and live a healthy lifestyle,” she said. “It’s important that your goals come from a positive place.”
If you’re resolving to lose weight, some positive ways to frame it might be that you want to lose weight because:
- You want to be healthier
- You want to boost your energy levels
- You enjoy cooking and want to cook healthy meals
- You enjoy exercising and want to improve your fitness
Make a realistic, year-long plan for your resolution
Many people fail at their New Year’s resolutions because they start too ambitiously and can’t maintain a significant life change for long. For example, if you haven’t been exercising, it’s unrealistic to expect yourself to go to the gym every day.
Dr. Srivathsal said to make a realistic plan, ask yourself where you want to be in a year. Once you have that goal in mind, you can create a plan to meet it. For example, you could set a goal to consistently go to the gym five times a week by the end of the year.
Then, you can set small goals that helps you work toward your end-of-year goal. For example, you could:
- Start the year by going to the gym twice a week
- In April, add a third day
- In August, add a fourth day
- By the end of the year, add a fifth day
“This more-realistic plan is better long-term than going to the gym every day for 15 days, burning out and never going again,” Dr. Srivathsal said.
Understand why you might be tempted to give up on your resolution
“Sticking to your resolutions requires a lot of mental strength,” Dr. Srivathsal said. “It becomes a little easier if you understand what’s going on in your head when you get the urge to give up on your goals.”
Here’s how she explained it. Your brain has a primitive part that leads you to act on impulse and wants instant gratification. This part of your brain will tell you to go ahead and eat a donut if you want it.
The adult part of your brain thinks things through rationally and can delay gratification. This part of your brain tells you eating a donut is not part of your healthy eating plan for today.
The primitive part of your brain might tell you eating the donut will make you happy right now. The adult part of your brain understands that you can get more happiness from sticking to your resolution and achieving your goals. “Your adult brain knows that everything will be okay even if you don’t have that donut, and if you do not have the donut on day one, then you can use the same logic to not have it on day two, and so forth,” Dr. Srivathsal said.
Dr. Srivathsal also pointed out that you can work foods like donuts—or whatever food you love—into your eating plan. You just can’t eat them every time an urge comes up. For example, you might decide to have dessert after dinner every Saturday. Or you might choose to have a cheat meal, which Dr. Srivathsal prefers to call a pleasure meal, once a week.
View setbacks as opportunities, not failures
Don't give up if you find yourself struggling to stick with your resolutions after a few weeks. Maybe you set a resolution that wasn’t realistic. Can you adjust it in a way that sets you up for success?
And if you’re meeting your goals most days but you have a day—or a few—when you don’t, forgive yourself for being human and get back on your path toward success. Don’t let a setback cause you to give up on your resolutions altogether.
The bottom line
The new year can be an opportunity to set resolutions to make healthy life changes. By positively framing your resolutions, creating a realistic plan, understanding how your brain views your goals and dealing with setbacks, you’ll be in an excellent position to stick with your resolutions for good and work towards making a lifestyle change. If you would like to talk to a behavioral health professional about setting realistic, achievable goals, Banner Health can help.