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Resolve Better

It’s the same old story from one year to the next: We make our resolutions, we flood the gyms in hoards, and we promise ourselves that this is going to be the year we finally get in shape and lose the weight. Yet 25% of us give up by the end of the first week, 36% by the end of the first month, and just 46% of resolvers are still at it after 6 months, according to researchers at the University of Scranton. This year, rather than counting on willpower to make the difference, try one of these proven strategies for setting resolutions that stick. (Hint: posting pictures of supermodels inside your fridge or writing “I will lose 50 pounds” a zillion times over are NOT on the list.)

* Learn from last year.
Think about what you resolved to do last year. Did you do it? If so, good for you. You can stop reading now. (Kidding!) But seriously, think about what did—or didn’t—work for you, and use that experience to better tailor this year’s goal. Did you aim to go to the gym five times a week and give up when you couldn’t reach those kinds of numbers? Maybe twice a week is a better starting point—or even once if you’re starting from scratch. Did sharing a resolution with your spouse keep you on target longer than if you’d been going at it solo? If so, consider doing that again. Turns out that an active spouse can triple your chances of exercising regularly yourself.

* Don’t do it all at once.
It’s easy to succumb to that New Year, new you optimism that this is going to be the year everything changes. But let’s get real. If you ordered pizza more than you exercised last year, you’re not going to wake up January 1st as Fitness Barbie. You’re far more likely to succeed if you start slow and take small, achievable steps. Instead of vowing to walk for 30 minutes a day, give yourself credit for lacing up your sneakers and walking just 5 minutes a day. While it may seem insignificant, just carving out the time and going through the motions is at least half the battle. And remember, January 1 is not your only opportunity to make a healthy change. Consider issuing yourself one or two tiny challenges a month and think where you’ll be at the end of the year.

* Give yourself props.
Yet another reason for giving yourself achievable goals: Getting a win is far more motivating than berating yourself for the workout you didn’t do. So when you do succeed at your goal, the tinier the better, give yourself a hearty pat on the back. Brag to your partner about how well you did. Post it on Facebook and revel in the “likes.” When you see how good it feels, you’ll be all the more likely to do it again.

* Decide on an endgame.
Just don’t make it about what the scale will read next month, or what size bikini you’ll slide into by June. Consider instead, choosing a physical feat to work towards—a race to sign up for and complete, or a hiking or biking expedition to look forward to come spring.

* Set some stakes.
Turns out money can buy motivation. That’s the basis of the website stickk.com, which was developed by Yale economists to allow users to bet against friends on their own goal-achieving success. The idea: You sign up, set your goal, put money on the line, and designate a “referee” to keep you honest. If you’re successful at achieving your aim, you get to keep the cash. If not, the money goes to the referee or to a charity you designate (maybe even a charity you don’t support, just to keep things interesting). It turns out that this kind of a scheme can multiply peoples’ odds of successfully reaching a goal weight by five.

How did last year’s resolutions work out for you? What resolution(s) are you setting this year? Did you make any tweaks after reading this?

Here's to a healthier you in the New Year, one little step at a time!

(P.S. Check out these tips from my co-blogger Rachel Meltzer, MS, RD, for making your healthy eating resolutions stick: http://health.walgreens.com/expert_blogs/show/634733/Resolve-Better.)
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