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The Secret to Turning Your New Year’s Resolution into a Lifestyle

February 6, 2019

It’s February now, the end of New Year’s resolution season, and we couldn’t be happier. Not only because the gym is starting to empty out (thank goodness), but also because we can stop hearing all the “New Year, New You” messaging (we love the “old” you, thanks), and dig into what your goals are and how to get there realistically and sustainably. But seriously, how do you make sure they stick?

Why Resolutions Fail

It’s no secret that New Year’s resolutions usually fail; about 80 percent by the second week in February. And once that happens, not only are we left with our goals unmet, there’s also that terrible feeling of failure, like we could have done it if only we’d been “stronger” or had more “willpower.”

The truth is, the reason people usually aren’t successful in their resolutions probably had nothing to do with their perceived character flaws. It was probably the resolution itself—if it was either too vague (“get healthier”) or too extreme (“start going to the gym, and go 6 days a week”), that hurts your chances before you even buy that head of kale or lace up your sneakers.

It’s understandable why we set these big goals; in our culture, bigger is often better—the big romantic gesture, the lottery win. “Too often, we convince ourselves that massive success requires massive action,” writes James Clear in his book Atomic Habits. “If you can get 1 percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done.”

It’s not unlike saving a little bit of money every week—putting $20 under your mattress once a week doesn’t feel like much, but by the end of the year, you’ll have more than $1,000. (Don’t put cash under your mattress; we’re just making a point here.)

What to Do Today

So what does this mean for you and your goals for 2019 and beyond? Instead of thinking about making giant, sweeping changes and blowing up your life, take small steps. It’s less glamorous in the moment, but more effective in the long run.

“You have to take baby steps in order to make change,” says holistic health coach and yoga instructor Koya Webb. “It takes small steps, ‘one breath at a time’ is usually what I say. You’re able to feel your way through the process, and that’s how you make lasting change. That way, you’re moving based on your own internal guiding system, instead of making a decision based on things outside of you. If you’re really gentle with yourself, and let yourself change and evolve, you’ll find yourself making those lasting changes.”

In practical terms, here are some common New Year’s resolutions and how you can achieve them with baby steps.

Resolution: Eat less sugar

The old plan: I’m never eating sugar again.

  • Baby step alternative 1: Eat a protein- and fat-rich breakfast instead of a sweet, carby one.
  • Baby step alternative 2: Slowly reduce the amount of sugar in your coffee until you’ve eliminated it. So if you usually add a packet of sugar, reduce it to ¾ packet until that feels normal. Then go down to ½ pack, then ¼ pack, then none.

Push ups at the gym

Resolution: Get into the best shape of my life

The old plan: Go to the gym every day/5 days a week, etc.

  • Baby step alternative 1: Do a 5- to 10-minute workout at home, like the 7-Minute Workout
  • Baby step alternative 2: Try a 30-day challenge like this push-up challenge
  • Baby step alternative 3: Work movement into your day every day, by taking the stairs, getting out a subway stop earlier/parking farther away from the entrance at work, etc.

Resolution: Lose weight

The old plan: Both of the above old plans, plus other non-sustainable extreme measures, like never eating out, restricting calories, etc.

  • Baby step: Replace 1 portion of refined carbs with a vegetable every day (e.g., make your sandwich open-faced and pile on extra lettuce)
  • Baby step: Drink an extra glass of water every day
  • Baby step: Do one of the exercise baby step options

A few important things to remember:

  • Every single thing you do counts: If a thought creeps into your head telling you that you aren’t doing enough, or that what you’re doing won’t make a difference, shut it down. Remember that weekly $20 under your mattress (but still don’t put cash under your mattress!).
  • If you miss a day, start again the next day: Forgetting, having a crazy-busy day or whatever reason life throws at you that keeps you from success on one day is not a license to give up. These are baby steps. The habit police will not bust down your door for missing a day. Dust yourself off and start again. No harm, no foul. “Keep that consistency, keep that commitment,” Webb says. “Some days you’ll find you can get that 60 minutes in or 30 minutes in—but even when you can’t, you’ve had that 5 or 10 minutes, and that is something. Consistency makes a real difference.”
  • Trial and error is your friend: If you give a baby step alternative a try and it isn’t for you, that’s ok. Try another one. Switch up your baby steps to prevent boredom. The important thing is to do it as consistently as humanly possible, no matter what it is.

Healthy Transitions

This month Clean Plates is sharing our best wisdom and strategies around turning your New Year resolutions into sustainable healthy habits that you can carry throughout the year. Over the course of the month you’ll find a collection of helpful tips, stories, and recipes to support your best choices.

We want to hear from you in this journey! Share your progress with us—we’ll give you a virtual high five any time.

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