1. Be realistic.
The best intentions run amok when people attempt to make unrealistic lifestyle changes. They tend to be wishes more than goals. One of my most important goals as a psychologist is to help people separate fantasy from reality. I want people to deal with reality. Take a hard look at your resolution in the light of day to make sure it is something you can achieve. Unattainable goals are left unfulfilled and lead to disappointment.
2. Establish step-wise objectives.
Pursue your larger, overall goal in incremental steps. If your goal is to lose 50 pounds, start small. Instead of overhauling your entire diet, replace one guilty pleasure — such as cookies or ice cream — with something healthier that you enjoy, such as your favorite piece of fruit. I know exercise is good for mental health, but I never tell patients to start exercising 30 minutes a day, seven days a week. Instead, I tell them to start doing something three days a week, even if it is just walking the dog around the block. Do what you can; you can always up the ante as your progress toward your overall goal.
3. Be persistent.
Go easy on yourself. If you stray off course, don’t give up. Just because you succumbed to a bowl of ice cream on Saturday night, does not mean you have to resume making ice cream a regular part of your diet. Consider your relapse a learning experience. Try to figure out why you fell back into a bad habit, and what you can do to prevent it from happening again. Nobody’s perfect.
4. Reward success.
When you reach a goal, do something you enjoy. See a movie or buy a new outfit — whatever makes you feel good.
5. Seek support.
Find others who share your goals and pursue them together. Like-minded individuals are easy to find this time of year — in exercise classes, support groups and smoking cessation programs.
6. Take one day at a time.
Follow the practice of 12-step programs and stay in the present. “Forever” is a long time; thinking too far into the future can make chasing a goal seem like a marathon more than a fun run.
7. Focus on one behavior at a time.
People trying to exercise, lose weight and stop smoking all at the same time are destined for failure. Pick a “target” behavior that is important to you and that you have wanted to change for a long time. Make one goal and go after it.
8. Keep a diary or journal.
Writing things down helps you state your goals and track your progress. It’s an expression of your commitment and a good way to look back and see how far you have come, which can motivate you to continue.