When it comes to setting New Year’s resolutions, most people shoot for the moon. We tell ourselves that this will be the year we’ll give up carbs, go running every morning, become a vegan or quit drinking.
Inevitably, three weeks later, we find ourselves right back where we started. What gives?
When it comes to health goals in particular, all-or-nothing goals ― which are usually based on unrealistic expectations and don’t leave any wiggle room ― are a setup for failure.
Only 8 percent of people actually keep their New Year’s resolutions, according to one commonly cited statistic. There are many reasons people can’t stick to their resolutions, from setting too many of them to getting derailed by small failures. Setting overly ambitious and restrictive goals ― like quitting sugar when you haven’t already been making small changes to improve your diet ― is one major cause of failure. While you might initially feel inspired and energized by setting blowout goals for 2017, the luster of these resolutions fades quickly when we realize how difficult they are to keep.
Small, incremental lifestyle changes may feel less sexy, but they have a much greater chance of creating real change. According to Dr. Roberta Anding, a registered dietician and nutrition professor at Baylor College of Medicine, moderating your resolutions could be the difference between giving up in February and creating a lasting lifestyle change.
When resolutions are too ambitious, we struggle to change our habits, become discouraged when we fail and ultimately give up altogether. So instead of making hard-line resolutions this year, Anding suggests increasing your chances for long-term success by approaching your health goals as a “reset.”
“January 1 signifies a new beginning. However, each day allows for a new beginning, and hence it is a reset.”
What’s the difference? While a resolution represents a firm decision to do or not do something, a reset is an opportunity to “set again,” or set your habits differently. With a reset, you commit to moderate, realistic goals and making small changes every day ― not just on Jan. 1. A reset also allows for flexibility as you progress and figure out what does and doesn’t work for you.
“Resolving not to eat something anymore, such as pasta, may not be the most practical goal,” Anding told The Huffington Post in an email. “A reset allows for a plan B, and the thought is that you set goals that are doable for you, your family and your circumstances.”
Say you’re thinking about giving up red meat as your resolution for 2017. Taking Anding’s approach, you might decide to only indulge in a burger once a week, or cut your meat portion sizes in half and add more vegetables to your plate instead.
“You can have a favorite food, but the portion size is the key,” Anding added. “It allows for social situations, eating out with your boss and family parties.”
Another disadvantage of resolutions is that they typically have a clear start date, like Jan. 1, which tricks your brain into thinking that they have an end date, too. A reset, on the other hand, is about creating healthy habits for the long term.
“January 1 signifies a new beginning. However, each day allows for a new beginning, and hence it is a reset,” Anding said. “If your goal is eating more fruits and vegetables, you can reset this goal every day. If you didn’t achieve this goal, you can re-evaluate every day.”
But being realistic doesn’t have to mean compromising on your goals. If your “resets” are successful, you can work up to eliminating a certain food completely or making a new habit an everyday one.
Whatever you decide to commit to, the important thing is to use the energy of the new year as an opportunity to make important changes for your health.
“When setting goals for a new year, make them health-related,” Anding said. “This is your most important 401K: investing in your body and your sense of well-being.”
If you need a little inspiration, check out our list of 50 healthy New Year’s resolutions that don’t involve losing weight.
2017, we got this.