7333_134345893574_797101_n (1)I haven’t made a New Year’s Resolution in years. Like many of us, by the second or third week of January I’ve shoved the long list of resolutions denying myself candy, or promising to workout six days a week, and lose that pregnancy weight, deep under the pile of to-do items on my desk which I also vowed to clean up. But I like the idea of New Year’s Resolutions, reflecting on the year that’s gone, putting behind my failures and the clean slate of a whole new year – it’s like the ‘it’s a whole new day’ approach, but on steroids – It’s a whole new year! And despite how many of us feel about New Year’s Resolutions the evidence is that those who seriously make resolutions have a much better chance of succeeding than those who don’t, University of Scranton’s Professor John Norcross shared in a recent NPR Science Friday. After a little informal research about how to make New Year’s Resolutions stick I offer these suggestions for making 2013 the year we give ourselves the Gift of Health. Won’t you join me?

1. Don’t overdo it, pick one or two resolutions

In the past I’ve had a long list of resolutions. Resolutions to do with weight loss, travel, diet, education, community, housecleaning, but it seems that those who have one or two resolutions are more likely to find success. Our focus is on health, but ‘improve my health’ is too general. My specific goals are to increase my cardiovascular health by losing and keeping off 10 pounds through physical activity and dietary changes. What is your focus on?

2. Be specific, realistic, and make it measurable

Increasing your cardiovascular ability and being able to running a half marathon, or losing that extra pregnancy weight or reducing your cholesterol by 50 points are specific, but are they realistic? I’ve been carrying an extra 30 pounds around since pregnancy and have not managed to take AND keep off the weight. I’m not alone. As a country, our widening waistlines are impacting our health – losing weight is not uncommon, or unworthy goal. Now 30 pounds within the next year may not be realistically attainable, but taking 10 pounds off and keeping it off, well that might actually happen. Likewise, if you’re a solid couch potato, with bad knees, the TMC A-Mountain half-marathon next October might not be in the cards, but couch to a 5k program resulting in the TMC Meet Me Downtown 5k June 1, that is more realistic. Check out this 8-week beginners program from Amby Burfoot to get you started .(You can also check out Amby’s connection with TMC & Tucson right here.)

3. Identify why achieving this goal is important to you

This is the time to think about why you want to achieve this goal. If you have a goal you’re passionate about you’re more likely to achieve it. What drives you? If this is a goal you’ve had in the past and not achieved, what stood in the way?

Apparently, getting into that size 8 dress is not enough of an incentive for me, but improving my cardiovascular health so that I can run around with my kids, and grow old gracefully and watch them become adults IS important to me. As is having a healthy body image that I’m not ashamed to share with my daughter. Both Rachel Tineo and Kim Verdugo touched on what they tapped into to finally change the patterns of behavior that were encroaching on their health earlier this year in posts during National Women’s Health Week.

4.What are you passionate about?

What thought can you hold firmly to that will help you surmount those barriers that are getting in the way of achieving what your health goals?

Okay, so now you’ve got a measurable goal, hopefully a deep seated desire to attain it, and you may have identified what’s stopped you attaining the goal in the past. Next, come up with an action plan.

5. Make an action plan

An Action Plan in the making

An Action Plan in the making

Break your goal into small attainable steps and plot out when you’re going to address them. Attempt one change at a time, plan on repeating it often enough that it becomes a habit. The oft-repeated statement that if you repeat something for anywhere between 21 and 30 days then it will become a habit isn’t completely without merit, although it seems though it may take longer. A study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that such habit-forming generally took a little longer, on average 66 days. Lally et al (2009). They also found that missing a day here and there wasn’t typically disastrous to the habit-forming.

As you come up with your action plan, think about the challenges you face to achieving it and incorporate solutions into your action steps. For example, I know that part of my battle of the bulge has to do with late night snacking. After the kids are in bed, I’m often tempted to stay up late and munch on left overs or make a few slices of buttered toast and drink a glass of milk. I’m not actually hungry. Perhaps thirsty. My action plan is to substitute the buttered toast and glass of milk for some nice licorice tea or glass of water with lemon, and a piece of fruit if I’m actually hungry after the tea and water and go to bed earlier. I’m going to focus just on this for several weeks before adding any other dietary changes. What are the steps you’re going to take and when are you going to take them? Plan it out. Check out the Action Plan post we shared back in 2012. Particularly important is the section on confidence. As you make your action plan consider the confidence level you have in succeeding. Prime yourself for success, set achievable mini-goals.

6. Be kind to yourself, forgiving and flexible

So you slip up. It’s going to happen. That’s alright, don’t waste time beating yourself up about your folly, get back on track. If part of your action plan isn’t working figure out why and try to come up with a solution.

7. Use the buddy system
Having a few friends or family to support you can make all the difference. Someone you can call, email or connect with when you face a temptation or are looking for a solution, or just a cheering team can make a huge difference. You don’t have to have the same goals, just be there to support one another. Julia shares how she used a private Facebook group to make healthy changes in 2012 in a recent post.

8. Put it in writing and make it public
Declare your resolution to the world. Nothing like everyone knowing to make you more accountable. Track your progress in a written form or perhaps using a smart phone or online app. There are many free ones available. And with that I publicly declare that my New Year’s Resolution is to improve my cardiovascular health by losing 10 pounds through dietary changes and increased physical activity. My action plan will follow! I hope to see you along the way. Happy New Year.

If you’re hoping to address medical concerns with your New Year’s Resolutions share your action plan and resolutions with your physician. Primary care physicians are typically very supportive of patients who seek out their help to make an action plan.

Here are some resources to get you started if you’re looking to start running, biking or face issues with stress eating (me!)

Getting started as a runner for women http://www.womenshealthmag.com/fitness/become-a-runner

Get better on a bike http://www.bicycling.com/beginners/bike-skills/it-gets-easier-cycling-advice-new-cyclists

Stress release and relaxation https://www.healthwise.net/tmcaz/Content/StdDocument.aspx?DOCHWID=af1003spec

Mindful based stress reduction https://www.healthwise.net/tmcaz/Content/StdDocument.aspx?DOCHWID=abl0293

Healthy eating to avoid stress https://www.healthwise.net/tmcaz/Content/StdDocument.aspx?DOCHWID=ta4631