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New years

How to set healthy New Year’s goals

Studies show we aren’t very good at keeping our word when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. But it’s not surprising given the approach we often take.

“We know that 30% of people have already stopped before the end of January,” Robert Israel, M.D., who leads the USA Health Integrative Health and Wellness program, said on FOX10 News Medical Minute segment, “and less than 50% continue past March.”

Millions of people resolve to make sweeping changes at the start of a new year, thanks to the “fresh start effect” or the promise of a new beginning.

But all isn’t lost when it comes to setting goals for yourself and trying to achieve them. There are just better ways to do it than simply resolving to exercise more, eat healthier, lose weight, save more money, stop smoking, and so on.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is just that — they are too big. Eating healthier, for example, requires smaller, more actionable steps to reach the end goal.

Israel recommends a more fundamental approach to identify behaviors and motivation to help you understand how you can be successful.

“So how do you make goals that you can achieve? I think two things that help are to ask yourself a couple of questions,” he said. “One is, ‘Why don’t I already do it?’ And the second is, ‘What am I going to do it for?’

“The first gets to the issue of what barriers there are to keep you from doing this, and the second is what your motivation is,” Israel said. “Those two answers can help you keep those resolutions for the new year.”

How to set New Year’s resolutions that stick

Set SMART goals.

In 1981, Management Journal coined the acronym SMART, a way to approach goal setting. It stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound, and if you break your resolutions down the same way, there’s a greater chance you can make positive changes and be successful.

Understand the heart of the matter

Make changes because you want to, not because someone else or societal pressure is forcing you. When trying to form or break a habit, understand the root cause of why you are or aren’t doing a particular thing. For example, if you reach for sweets when you’re stressed, what is a healthier substitute you can turn to instead?

Go easy on yourself

Change is a process, so if it takes longer to undo an unhealthy habit or you face a setback, don’t beat yourself up. Habits aren’t built in a few days or weeks or months, and undoing them in the same amount of time is likely unrealistic. Embrace the process of change, but don’t lose sight of your goal.

Build a support system

Staying motivated and accountable can be especially challenging if you feel like you’re alone. Reach out to like-minded friends, family members or groups to join you or support you, and you get the added bonus of camaraderie, which can actually help make your hard work fun.

Remember your ‘why’

Early on, sticking to your resolutions is relatively easy. But when discomfort or temptation threatens to derail you, that’s when you need to remember your original motivation. Keep a journal to track the behaviors or emotions that trigger your struggles so you can understand challenges and how to deal with them. Don’t forget to jot down your wins and inspirational moments, too!

Reframe your setbacks

If you aren’t sticking to your goals the way you had hoped, remember, it’s not over. Notice if there are changes you can make to be more successful on the next attempt. Making changes, even smaller ones, can take time. You’re worth the effort to keep going and keep trying!

Feel free to start fresh

Feel like you missed your goal? Good news! Resolutions don’t have to be tied to the new year, so you can start again tomorrow, the beginning of next week or any other day that means something to you. This won’t guarantee success, but it will guarantee that you did anything but give up.

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