The ritual of making a list of goals on a slip of paper doesn’t face strong odds of success. In fact, 88 percent of all resolutions end in failure, according to a 2007 survey of more than 3,000 people conducted by British psychologist Richard Wiseman.
Experts say we often set ourselves up for failure by zooming in on big, lofty goals without a step-by-step plan for achievement. Can you go from couch potato to running a half-marathon in a couple of weeks? Probably not, but you can walk a little bit farther than you did the day before.
At the same time, it may be hard to overhaul your entire diet overnight, but you can take small steps toward a healthier diet, such as drinking water instead of soft drinks, and incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet. Elizabeth Dixon, wellness director at Chick-fil-A, suggests reducing portion size as a good first step toward losing weight.
Experts say it’s important to remember changes, even good ones like going to the gym, don’t necessarily feel good right away. It takes time — at least 21 days. That’s about how long experts believe it takes to change a habit.
In other words, patience is the key.
“Someone may say on Jan. 1, I want to lose 20 pounds, and by Jan. 15, they are down 2 pounds and it may seem so daunting, but really, they are on the right track,” said Dixon, who lives in Hampton, Ga.
Wendy Ellin, an Atlanta-based workplace productivity consultant and author, recommends people struggling with their resolutions keep a daily log to track progress.
Expect slip-ups, she said, adding that it’s inevitable.
“So what? You slipped up. You can decide tomorrow is a new day, and you can make a conscious effort to have a better day … I lost 23 pounds. Am I perfect? No. Do I eat white sugar and white flour? Yes, but I don’t do it that often,” Ellin said.
For Isha Edwards, 40, meeting resolutions is all about getting in the right mind-set. For her, that begins with calling them goals — not resolutions — and avoiding Jan. 1 for getting things started.
She also likes to give her goals fun names such as “30-day spend fast” to describe her money-saving plan. She took on the money-saving goal last September to boost her savings. For one month, she fought the temptation to buy new items for her wardrobe.
The Atlanta marketing consultant still made her weekly trips to clothing stores, including her favorite, Loehmann’s. But for one month, Edwards only looked at merchandise. She passed on what seemed like the perfect shoes and the perfect accessories. By the end of the month, she boosted her checking account by $500.
Edwards feels like she not only met her goal for September, but has seen a lasting impact.
“A lot of times, I live in the moment,” Edwards said. “And I learned how to go into a mall and not spend any money. During that month, I built up my willpower.” Edwards hopes to soon go on a vacation to Italy; she said she’ll have enough saved up to pay for the entire trip — before she goes.
Meanwhile, she’s just started a new goal for the year: learning Italian.
Steeling Your Resolve
Five tips for getting your resolutions back on track — and staying there:
1. Think big and start small
Will you be able to do a hundred pushups next month? Probably not. But you can start with a few. Take those small steps, and they will build on one another.
2. Don’t keep your goals a secret
Start spreading the word to friends, family and colleagues about your plans to improve your life. This can help keep you accountable and can be a source of support. Next time you are beating yourself up over slipping in your goal, they can remind you tomorrow is another day.
3. Keep a daily log
Getting your goals on paper is a good exercise. Track the changes you are making and analyze what’s working — and what’s not.
4. Remember change can be uncomfortable.
Even if it’s a good change — going from the couch to the gym can feel downright weird. Give it time, and little by little, these changes will start feeling right.
5. Don’t beat yourself up.
No one ever sticks to a plan 100 percent. We all slide back into our old habits from time to time — it’s human nature and imperfection at its finest. So just resolve to get back on track the next day.
Sources: Wendy Ellin, Atlanta-based workplace productivity consultant and author, and author Tom Connellan.