How to Make Your New Year's Resolutions Work—from Someone Who Lost 90 Pounds
In December of 2004, I was faced with a decision. Do I make a New Years Resolution to lose weight… again?
After spending my entire life overweight, and setting many resolutions that didn't stick, this dilemma was all too familiar.
There is nothing more debilitating than setting goals, having all the hope in the world, and then not showing up for yourself the way you wanted to. I was the queen of this cycle. But when I hit 230 pounds in late 2004, I knew in my heart that this impending New Year's resolution had to work this time.
It was that year that something clicked. For the first time in my life, I set a resolution to lose weight and it worked! That year in 2005, I lost 90 pounds—and I've kept it off for 15 years (learn more about how I did it with hard work, strength training and eating good food).
Here are some tips that I recommend for setting goals that will work and last.
1. Take time to reflect
Before you begin setting any goals, take some time to deeply reflect on your previous attempts with your health journey. What you did, how long it lasted, and why it didn't work. You'll begin to draw parallels and come to some incredible revelations. Through this reflective process, I realized that I was notorious for quick fixes, fad diets and extremes. I fell for them all the time. But they clearly weren't working for me because they never stuck. With reflection came clarity, and this exercise allowed me to be fully ready to adopt a new and more effective approach.
Take time to reflect on what's worked or hasn't worked for you in the past and what you're hoping to get out of the new year.
2. Commit to truly (and I mean truly) developing a lifestyle
We know the cycle. First, we get really excited about setting a new goal and immediately go all in. But sadly, before we know it, we fall off the wagon. The reason this happens for so many of us is because we seldom go into a new health journey with sustainability in mind. We want immediate results, take the extreme approach and set unrealistic expectations to get there.
It's time to approach this journey with a new perspective. Whatever you commit to, ask yourself: "Can I do this for the next 5 years?" If this answer is no—reevaluate. Coming from someone who's lost a lot of weight, I want to let you in on a little secret—the journey never ends. Once you lose the weight, you've got to maintain it! That's why you shouldn't do anything on January 1 that you don't want to be doing a few days, weeks, months and years down the road.
It's also important to enter this lifestyle approach with patience. It didn't take you two weeks to get to this point, so it's not going to take you two weeks to achieve your goals. Small steps lead to big and lasting changing. So commit to a lifestyle, be patient and make it realistic and sustainable. This will benefit you immensely in the long run.
3. Set habit goals instead of weight-loss goals
You might have a really big weight-loss goal or state broadly that you want to be healthier. But often, it can feel so overwhelming or vague that we don't know where to start. So this year, instead of big weight-loss goals, try starting with habit goals. What habits do you need to start? What habits need to be curbed? Maybe you want to eat a healthy breakfast every day or make sure your dinner always has a vegetable. Commit to walking four days a week or doing 10 minutes of yoga to start your day.
List out the top habits you'd like to start or stop and let them be your focus for now. This is truly the key to build a lifestyle that will stick. The weight loss will inevitably come and the habits formed will help you get healthier and allow it to stick for good.
4. Create a sustainable and realistic action plan for your new goals
This is where you can now take those habits and put them into action. I recommend focusing on one habit for a month because it gives you time to really focus on that habit and see change. You also don't want to overwhelm yourself by trying to change everything at the same time. Starting small and moving steadily forward can help you reach your bigger goals.
Take one of the habits you listed above and make it the focus for January. Whether it's cutting out sweets, moving your body more or drinking more water, pick just one and make that your only focus for the month. (Read about what happens to your body when you cut out sugar.)
And here's what's going to happen. After one month of focusing on that habit, it will start to become second nature to you. The new habit will be formed and seamlessly integrated into your lifestyle because of the level of focus you were able to give it. You weren't pulled in 100 different directions that left you feeling overwhelmed. You were hyper focused and able to make the radical shifts necessary to allow it to stick.
Then in February, you can focus on starting (or curbing) a new habit. Over the months, those habits will stack and in December 2021 you'll have up to 12 new healthy habits under your belt.
5. Build your support
It's time to make sure you have support in place. The key is inviting people into your process where the goals, the approach, and the attitude toward this journey are in full alignment. Approach a few people that you trust and feel have a true desire in their heart to achieve their goals. You are the sum of those you hang around most, so be in control of the influence you surround yourself with. With this new and aligned support group, you can start a group chat, commit to a regular check in call, set your goals together and share your action plans.
6. Invite grace into your process
I'm going to be blunt—there's a strong likelihood that you won't be committed all of the time. You'll have your days/weeks where you just can't give this journey what it needs. And you know what, that's OK. No one is perfect, and it's time we remind ourselves of this. Falling off the wagon is normal and we all experience it. But it's those that get back on that are most successful long term. Feeling shame and guilt when this happens is not going to serve you. It never has and it never will. In fact, the shame associated with not being committed 100% of time is often the reason we stay off the wagon and fall back into old self destructive habits. So as you set new goals this year, remember that grace will always win in the end.
And finally, while I know people roll their eyes at those of us that set new years goals, I'd like to offer some advice to you. I spent my entire life struggling with my weight (like, my entire life). After dozens of failed new year's resolution attempts, one year it actually worked. It took the excitement and momentum of the new year to give me the hope and desire to keep going. It was that year I realized that if I didn't act now, another year would pass and I would have missed out (yet again) on the opportunity to be my healthiest self.
So here is your affirmation. If it is your calling this year to take control of your health journey, follow that instinct. 15 years later I'm so happy I did.