by Karissa Peyer
Did you make a New Year’s Resolution this month? Even if you did not formally announce it or frame it as a resolution, perhaps you still had thoughts of exercising more, eating better, quitting smoking or getting more sleep. According to statisticbrain.com, over half of Americans make New Year’s Resolutions and the most popular resolution is to lose weight or eat healthier. Despite all these resolutions, nearly 50% of people fail to carry out these behavior changes beyond the end of January! So how do you stop yourself from joining this statistic?
There are a number of theories (Bandura, 1989; Deci & Ryan, 1985; Prochaska & Velicer, 1997) discussing what it is that makes people stick with health behavior changes, but they have many common threads. Among these is to identify WHY you are making the change, what barriers or supports are in your environment, and tracking your progress. Below are some tips for sticking with your goals this year:
- Know your “Why.” If you know your “Why” you will find your “How.” Spend some time to really think about why you are trying to make this change. What benefits do you expect to see if you are successful? What will happen if you fail? How does this change affect those around you? The answer to this question is different for everyone. While it sounds good to say that you are going to eat healthier because you want to lower your cholesterol, if the truth is that you just want your spouse to stop nagging you, own it!
- Adjust if needed. Maybe your original goal was to go to the gym five days a week but you’ve been struggling to make it just two nights a week. Cut yourself a break and acknowledge that two is more than zero! It is better to back off a bit than to quit completely.
- Identify barriers. This goes along with #2. What are the things that made it hard to hit your 5 day/week goal? Maybe you’re more likely to make it to the gym if you go in the morning because work or family commitments tend to eat up more time than expected in the evening. Perhaps you struggle with your healthy eating or smoking cessation goal in certain social situations. Identifying these triggers will help you to plan for them.
- Find your support. There’s a wealth of research (and personal experience!) showing that people are more likely to stick with behavior changes, especially exercise if they are receiving social support. This be a friend who meets you at the gym, a group exercise class where you make friends and people will notice if you miss, or just sharing regular updates with a friend or on social media to hold yourself accountable.
- Track, track, track. Keep track of your progress, including notes about what worked and what didn’t. This can be a reward in itself when you look back at the end of the week and see how much time you spent at the gym or how many vegetables you ate! Adding notes about what you enjoyed or tricks and tips that helped you stick to your goal each day will be good reminders when you struggle in the future.
- Reward yourself! While better health is certainly a reward on its own, sometimes we want something more immediate and more tangible. It is ok to reward yourself sometimes for your hard work! Make a contract with yourself to treat yourself to a new workout outfit or a new pair of shoes after 15 trips to the gym. Buy yourself that awesome new dinner set to eat all your healthy food off of when you stick to your meal plan. Just be sure your reward doesn’t negate all your hard work! A scoop of ice cream for hitting your target at the gym is great – an entire gallon just spoils all that effort!
- Most importantly, find what works for you! Your initial goal may not be going as planned, but that’s no reason to quit. Evaluate your plan, make changes as necessary and keep working at it!
Bandura, A. (1989). Human agency in social cognitive theory. American psychologist, 44(9), 1175.
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York ; Plenum.
Prochaska, J. O., & Velicer, W. F. (1997). The transtheoretical model of health behavior change. American journal of health promotion, 12(1), 38-48.
Karissa Peyer Contact
Karissa L. Peyer, Ph.D. is an assistant professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She received her Ph.D. from Iowa State University in Physical Activity and Health Promotion. Karissa’s research focuses on physical activity, childhood obesity and behavior change in both children and adults. Karissa enjoys running, biking, swimming and hanging out with her dog, Mika