Just in time–New Year’s resolutions that will actually help you achieve your goals.

There are just a few more hours until you have to get started on your New Year’s resolutions.

There are also a few more hours to make New Year’s resolutions, if you are a procrastinator.

The most common resolutions are changes to improve health, including quitting smoking, losing weight, and starting an exercise program. Many people who make these–and other–resolutions get off to a good start, but most will end up failing to meet their goals.

While there are many reasons why people don’t keep their resolutions, part of the problem might be that these should not be the only New Year’s resolutions you make. Resolutions should be the things you need to do to achieve your goals, not the goal itself. Here is an example:

Losing 20 pounds is a good goal for many people. But what that really means is learning about a healthy way to eat, shopping for and preparing appropriate meals, finding time to exercise each day, and focusing on turning these behaviors into lasting habits. In this example, learning how to shop for and prepare healthy meals would make an excellent resolution that would lead toward the goal of losing 20 pounds.

The idea of making resolutions that are steps in the process leading toward a goal instead of the goal itself is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week. Here are a few resolutions that can help you achieve your health improvement goals, whatever they may be:

Be realistic
Many people fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions simply because they don’t set realistic goals or aren’t realistic about what it will take to meet those goals. For example, running a marathon is an ambitious goal for almost everyone, especially someone who doesn’t exercise at all. It is possible that someone could get in shape to run a marathon, but it will take a long time. A resolution to work up to jogging five days per week, with a goal of completing a 10 k run is more realistic and achievable.

Focus on learning
Making most health behavior changes involve learning as much as doing. Something as simple as eating a healthier meals requires learning about the nutrients that make some foods healthier than others, learning to read food labels to select healthy foods, and learning how to cook and prepare healthy meals. If your resolution is to learn about healthy meals you will be able to achieve that goal and be well on your way to eating a healthier diet.

Manage your time
Most health improvement projects require taking time to learn about, implement, and maintain those healthy behaviors. A major reason the people fail to really get started with or sustain a weight loss or exercise program is time. If you resolve to manage your time to include exercise or meal preparation in your daily schedule you will be much more likely to meet your goals. Trying to add these new activities as “extras” to your already busy day will inevitably lead to them getting squeezed out.

Plan ahead
Most people already know that changing health behaviors can be challenging, even under the best circumstances. It’s no wonder that holidays, travel, and other life events can complicate or even derail an otherwise successful diet or exercise program. Make it your resolution to think about what you can do before, during, and after these (and other) disruptions to your routine to keep yourself on track. Planning ahead and thinking “what if” can make the difference between giving up and catching up on your diet or exercise program after a vacation.

Have a happy and healthy New Year!

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