Living Well

Smoothing the Road to Resolutions

Last updated: Dec 28, 2009


With the New Year just around the corner, many people will be making lifestyle changes to improve their health, behavior, and lives. But while New Year’s resolutions can be easy and inspiring to make, they can be difficult for even the most disciplined people to keep. Fatigue, being strapped for time, and the demands of work, family, and friends can take the wind out of your New Year’s sails before you have a chance to get underway.

Here are some steps you can take to help ensure you keep your New Year’s resolutions:

Make One Change at a Time
Research shows that people are more successful at making lifestyle changes if they focus on one rather than several changes at once. Choose the goal you most want to achieve and make it the focus of your attention. Once you’ve reached and can sustain your goal, consider a second goal.

Don’t Expect Perfection
Establish realistic goals that you can achieve each day or week. Remember that no one is perfect. Expect to make mistakes or fall off course on occasion. If you lapse into your old habits, try understanding why it happened, go easy on yourself, and get back on track. Making permanent lifestyle changes takes time and depends on your willingness to keep working on your goal even when you’ve gotten off course.

Refresh Your Routine
Duke University psychologist, Wendy Wood, says, “a person’s environment provides “powerful cues to behavior. To successfully change habits, she adds, “you need to change the context. You need to change the cues.” For example, if you typically drive to a local fast food restaurant for lunch, brown bag it and spend part of your lunch hour walking around your office parking lot to break the cycle.

Build Your Self-confidence
Inspirational articles, books, and CDs can help boost your self-confidence when it’s waning. Support groups, seminars, and lectures also can help strengthen your resolve to stick with your New Year’s resolutions. If you’re on a budget, check libraries and the Internet for free motivational materials.

Track Your Progress
Reminding yourself where you started can help when you’re feeling unmotivated. For example, if you're trying to lose weight, taking pictures of yourself at the start of your diet and periodically as you continue on your journey can help you persevere when you feel discouraged. Writing down your resolution and keeping a journal to track your progress can also encourage you to keep going. Putting a goal down on paper can help you visualize your commitment. Post your written goal on the refrigerator, bathroom mirror, or other place where you see it repeatedly and track your progress on a regular basis in a notebook or Word document.

Try Different Approaches
Different approaches work for different people. For example, weight loss groups work well for some people, whereas others prefer to tackle weight loss in a private setting. In addition, some approaches work better at certain times than others. If you’ve previously had success exercising on your own but feel you need to kick start your 2010 fitness program, take a gym class for a change of pace.

Remember that changing old habits and establishing new ones takes time and patience. If you’d like professional advice on ways to quit smoking, reduce your stress, improve your diet, and address cognitive behavioral issues such as anxiety and depression, please contact the Summit Medical Group Behavioral Health and Cognitive Therapy Center. Our expert physicians and staff will partner with you to help you achieve your goals for the new year.

Duke University Office of News and Communication. Key to changing habits is in environment, not willpower, Duke expert says. 2007. Accessed December 16, 2009.