How to Stick to Your Wellness Goals in 2020

We've all heard the saying, "New Year, New You," and probably convinced ourselves we’d do our best to achieve it.  However, the next thing you know, it's almost February, and while it is the "new year," there’s still no “new you.”  According to a study by Strava, a social network for athletes that tracks runs and bike rides, most New Year's resolutions don't make it past January-- Sunday, January 19th, to be exact.  Deemed "Quitter's Day," the 19th is when Americans are most likely to bail on fitness resolutions.

However, according to Dr. John Norcross, a clinical psychologist and distinguished professor at the University of Scranton, about 40% of "resolutioners" are successful at the six-month mark.  "Contrary to widespread opinion, a considerable proportion of New Year resolvers do succeed," Norcross says.

The thing about New Year's resolutions is, they take time, strategy, and persistence. Here are five expert-approved ways to help you stick to your goals.

1) Change one behavior at a time.

Be patient and remember that replacing unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones will take time.  Don’t try to reassess your whole life at once.  Work towards changing one habit at a time.

2) Stay accountable.

Use social support, like group workout classes, to hold you accountable and keep you motivated.  Having people to share your successes and struggles with can make your goals seem less intimidating.

3) Maintain motivation.

Sometimes all you need is to remind yourself why you set the goal in the first place.  Remembering the deeper reasons behind your goals can help motivate you to stay on track.  Hal Hershfield, professor of marketing and behavioral decision making at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, also suggests something called “temptation building.”  “You essentially pair whatever it is that you’re experiencing some pain with, and pair that with something that’s pleasurable,” he says.  For example, tell yourself you won’t watch another episode of your show until after you exercise for 30 minutes.

4) Reward yourself.

Be sure to track your progress and reward yourself with a healthy treat or compliment when you cross small milestones.  Learn what it takes to get yourself to complete dreaded tasks and come up with a reward system.

5) Don't get discouraged.

The American Psychological Association wants you to remember that minor slip-ups are completely normal and okay.  Don’t throw all of your hard work out the window just because you ate a brownie and broke your diet.  Early slip-ups may just be a sign that you need to refine your action plan.  “Remember that you’ve made progress, and sometimes progress is two steps forward and one step back,” says psychotherapist, Amy Morin. “Know that every time you slip up is an opportunity to grow stronger and get better, and you just have to learn from it.” 

If you still can't seem to stay on track, you may need to re-evaluate your resolution. 

Norcross says achieving your goal has more to do with how specific, attainable, and realistic it is, rather than the goal itself.  Make sure your goals are SMART-- specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely.

  • Specific:  Don’t just say “I want to lose weight.”  How much weight do you want to lose and at what time interval?  A more specific goal may be, “I want to lose five pounds over the next two months.” 
  • Measurable: You need to have measurable goals to help you track incremental progress and stay motivated.  Try logging your progress by writing in a journal or making notes on your phone or in an app.
  • Attainable: Make your goals ambitious, but not impossible.  Be sure the process of getting there is realistic.  If you don't have the time, supplies, or location, make adjustments. 
  • Relevant: You must set a goal that matters to you.  Consider why you want to set that goal in the first place. 
  • Timely: Every goal needs a target date so that you have a deadline to focus on and something to work towards.  This timeline should be realistic to give yourself enough time to achieve your goal with lots of smaller goals set up along the way.

As January comes to a close, it’s not too late to re-evaluate your goals and make changes if needed.  After all, a resolution is more like a marathon-- not a sprint.