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New Year, Better You

5 Alternative Ways to Make a Healthy Change

The majority of Americans don’t make New Year’s resolutions for many reasons – in fact, only eight percent of the people who do make resolutions actually fully achieve them. If you’re part of that group, congratulations! If you’re not, there might be a way for you to see the dreaded New Year’s resolution – or at least the underlying healthy habit – in a new light.

The key to making a healthy change is to set yourself up for success. Whether you’re looking to lose weight, gain muscle, sleep more, disconnect from your devices, or just live a happier life, there are strategies you can use to set a New Year’s resolution that is actually achievable.

Here are five tips for accomplishing healthy goals when New Year’s resolutions seem too intimidating.

1. Mix it Up Month by Month

If your goal is to be healthier and live a better, more fulfilling life, consider making a list of beneficial changes and then focusing on one each month. One month, you could focus on reducing your sugar intake. Next month, focus on exercising regularly. The next, eating a healthy breakfast every morning, and so on. Having a set time to really focus on one positive change at a time can make resolutions feel less daunting and more achievable.

And who knows? There’s no reason your short-term resolutions can’t carry over and turn into year-long habits. That would be the ultimate achievement.

Resolution Tip: One resolution you might want to consider is getting enough sleep, which might just be the most important and most underrated goal. Succeeding at any new healthy change will require self-control, focus and energy – all of which are hard to come by if you’re short on sleep. According to researchers, a well-rested person will have a much easier time resisting that piece of cake than a tired one. So if you find yourself struggling with willpower or stamina, you may just need to sleep on it.

2. Tap the Power of Positive Peer Pressure

If you’re trying to accomplish a monumental achievement like quitting smoking or losing 50 pounds, you’ll have a better chance of sticking to it if you talk about it. Feeling accountable to others and getting the support of friends and family greatly increases your chance at success.

Tell your family, friends and coworkers. Shout it from the rooftops and invite people to help you on your journey. Find a loyal gym buddy, an encouraging healthy eating partner, or someone who will subtly and kindly swat that cigarette right out of your hand. Your own personal team of supporters will come in handy when you find yourself struggling or experiencing a moment of weakness.

If you’re more of a private person, there are still ways to get support from others without asking your desk partner to snack on carrots with you. There are countless online support groups, programs and even apps for your phone, that can help you stay on track whether your goal is to lose weight, get in shape, or quit smoking.

Resolution Tip: Don’t be afraid to be selective when it comes to forming your support group. Surround yourself with people who share the same healthy visions you do. Try to limit your interaction with negative people or influences, and know that it’s perfectly okay to make yourself and your personal goals a priority.

3. Use Milestones to Manage Expectations

If you want to choose one goal and stick to it for the full twelve months, consider breaking the year down into digestible timeframes. Many people miss out on making positive changes because they immediately think, “I can’t hit the gym five days a week for an entire year! What about holidays? What about summer? What about [insert excuse here].” Instead of choosing a resolution that sabotages itself before it even starts, write out a list of attainable achievement points. Exercise five days a week for one month. Then do two more months. If you know you’re coming upon a busy month, reduce your workout schedule to three days a week, or an amount you know you can manage. You can always increase your plan for the next milestone. This way, you won’t feel crushed and tempted to just forget the whole thing.

This same strategy can work for losing weight, eating healthier and getting more sleep. Using milestones can help you manage your expectations and hit your goals without feeling frustrated and defeated when life throws you a curveball, or your schedule changes.

Resolution Tip: Planning ahead and rewarding yourself go hand in hand when it comes to successful resolutions. If your goal is to lose 50 pounds, break it into five pound milestones, and reward yourself with each success. Just make sure you choose a healthy reward like new workout gear, fresh flowers or a day trip somewhere fun, not a hot fudge sundae.

4. Pile on the Positive

New Year’s resolutions don’t always have to be about cutting out unhealthy behaviors. Try adding something to your life rather than taking something away. Instead of vowing to never eat chocolate again, plan to add more protein to your diet, or eat a vegetable with every meal.

If you do decide to completely give up one of your vices like cookies, caffeine or alcohol, be sure you have a game plan in place that will help you stick to your goal when temptation comes knocking, or when your body starts to fight back.

Resolution Tip: Giving up or even cutting back on caffeine can be tough on your body at first, bringing on symptoms of withdrawal like headaches and irritability. But be patient! It’s completely possible to combat fatigue in the morning and throughout the day without caffeine by doing simple things like staying hydrated, practicing stimulating breathing techniques and exercising.

5. Think Outside Yourself

Most people see making a resolution as a chance to better themselves. To look better, feel better, save more, earn more, and the list goes on. That’s great, but you could also consider a resolution that focuses on others instead of yourself. Some people find that it’s much easier and more rewarding to keep a promise to someone else rather than themselves.

The options are truly endless, and can start right in your own home, and reach across the country. Doing things like visiting nursing homes, donating food and clothing to charity, sending letters and cards (not email!) to family and friends, even just vowing to have more family dinners around the kitchen table, can have a profound effect on your life and health. Research shows that volunteering makes people feel healthier and improves their mood, stress levels and provides an overall sense of purpose. One study even showed that volunteering created the greatest health benefit for people 40 years and older. The benefit increased as people got older and volunteered more.

Resolution Tip: If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to volunteering, think about causes you’re truly passionate about. Local parks, neighborhood hospitals, schools, senior centers, food pantries and animal shelters are usually always looking for volunteers.

In the end, there’s really no such thing as an unsuccessful New Year’s resolution. Every time you try to better your body, mind or spirit, it’s a good thing – and it can happen any time of year. The best way to form a healthy habit is to choose something you like to do or have been meaning to do for years, and just start doing it. The better you can seamlessly add your goal to your everyday life, the more likely you are to succeed.