January is the time when we resolve to quit bad habits and adopt good ones; resolutions that often last no longer than February. There’s a reason our good intentions melt away before the snow does; psychologists call it “willpower depletion.”
Most of us have only so much willpower, the theory goes, and it can be drained from overuse. Confront too many of those situations and your willpower is likely to give out, no matter how determined you are.
Here are some tips that will help you turn those resolutions into permanent changes:
Do one at a time – Quitting smoking, changing your diet and exercising more are all difficult; trying to do all three at once is nearly impossible because of our limited willpower. So pick one and pursue that. Don’t necessarily choose the one you think will be easiest or most difficult; pick the one where success will benefit you most and make you happiest and most proud. When you succeed at that, you can go after the others, armed with the knowledge that you can change.
Set mini-goals along the way – If your ultimate goal is to lose 50 pounds, don’t make it all or nothing. Start by losing five pounds, then another five, then 10 and so on. Having goals along the way makes it easier and allows you to celebrate those accomplishments.
Set a realistic timeframe – It’s rare for a smoker to quit cold turkey or for someone to start jogging 40 miles a week. Serious lifestyle changes take time, and a too-short deadline doesn’t allow for that or for the occasional backsliding.
Get help – There is a lot of free, helpful information out there to help you along the way. Find out what’s been proven the best ways to quit smoking or lose weight. See what’s worked for other people.
Make notes – Charting your progress will help keep you on track. Count calories or the number of cigarettes you’ve smoked. Technology, such as apps and fitness bands, makes it easier than ever to monitor your progress.
Don’t go it alone – Share your goals with others and look for a partner(s) who’s trying to accomplish the same thing. Discussing your resolution with someone – and maybe even competing with them – will keep you strong.
Forgive yourself – You’re going to slip up, skip a workout or have another smoke. That doesn’t mean you’ve failed; it just proves you’re human. Acknowledge the mistake and get back with the system.