Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail — and How to Succeed

Five simple tips for staying on track
Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail — and How to Succeed

Every year, people make health resolutions for New Year’s — lose weight, drop bad habits such as smoking, exercise more, and so on.

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Every year, people also abandon those resolutions by mid-January. It’s easy to blame missed goals on human nature, but internal medicine physician Muhammad Ali Syed, MD, offers a few simple ways to avoid excuses and stay on the health bandwagon.

1. Make reasonable resolutions

Telling yourself you’ll lose 50 pounds in three months is a recipe for failure. Instead, set a target such as losing 5 to 10 percent of your body weight in three months. It’s a more realistic goal, which means you are more likely to stick with it.

“You have to have a reasonable target,” says Dr. Syed. “If you don’t have a reasonable target, you won’t be able to achieve it.” And when you don’t hit the goals you have set, you may abandon them.

The same is true for exercise and fitness: If you’re currently a couch potato, don’t expect to be able to climb a mountain overnight. Instead, set a feasible goal such as walking for 30 minutes each day, and work your way up from there.

2. Focus on accountability

If you answer only to yourself, you may fall short of your goals, Dr. Syed notes, so set up a system for accountability.

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For example, if you have a certain weight-loss goal, discuss it with your doctor. Then set one or more follow-up appointments along the way. Likewise, if you have decided to quit smoking, set a date, and check in with your doctor or other medical professional on that date.

If you can’t see a medical expert regularly, ask a family member or friend to help you track your progress. As for tracking, you have many options. Smartphone apps and other digital options are available for tracking weight loss and fitness. But you also can simply keep a daily diary by pen and paper.

“Think about this: When you learn to swim or ride a bike, you fail or fall many times before you succeed. You just have to start again. You have to refocus.”

3. Seek professional help for planning

“Often people will have an idea — like quitting smoking — but no plan,” Dr. Syed says. “Doctors can help if you need it. Patches. Medications. Counseling. People who are really goal-directed will take these opportunities.”

Smoking isn’t the only example. If you’re trying to lose weight, advice from a registered dietitian can change your daily eating habits. And your doctor, physical therapist or other fitness expert can give you advice on what exercises are appropriate for you based on your current health conditions and future goals.

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4. Reward yourself for success

When you make your resolution, pick a reward to give yourself if and when you hit your target. It could be as simple as a nice dinner with your spouse or a trip to the movies.

“If you put positive reinforcement at the end, you’ll be motivated to get there,” Dr. Syed says. “And you’ll feel that you have achieved something.”

5. If you fall off the wagon, hop back on

It can happen to anyone: You overeat at a party. You smoke a cigarette to deal with stress at work. You skip a week at the gym because you are just too busy. But you don’t have to abandon your resolution just because you hit a bump in the road.

“Think about this: When you learn to swim or ride a bike, you fail or fall many times before you succeed,” Dr. Syed says. “You just have to start again. You have to refocus.”

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