January 02, 2009

How to Keep Your New Year's Resolutions

Are you currently working on some freshly-minted, sweet-smelling, sparkly, shiny, still-unbroken New Years Resolutions? Or have you instead just dusted off some cruddy, tarnished, shabby Old Years Resolutions?

Whatever! You don't even need a resolution to play; just a desire to keep slogging away at some sort of health and fitness self-improvement goal.

So here are some tips for keeping your resolutions that have worked for me! And by "worked" I mean I'm totally lying. None of these have kept me from breaking every New Year's Resolution I've ever made. But these tips "work" in the sense that now, if I'm feeling optimistic enough to even make a resolution, it takes me way longer to break it and I don't fail quite as abysmally as I used to before!

Sound encouraging? Welcome to Cranky Fitness!

(Regular readers may notice that many of these tips have already appeared on the blog in one form or another. But since I've completely run out of interesting things to say, new readers may have accidentally googled here seeking inspiration for their health and fitness goals, I thought it was time for a reminder!

So anyway, here are some tricks I find helpful when it comes to goals or resolutions:

1. Don't set yourself up for failure with unrealistic goals. Ever hear people make resolutions like: "I'm gonna stop getting so irritated with my kids and I'll never yell at them again!" "I'm going to start running this year and finish my first marathon!" "I'm going to lose 50 pounds in six months!" And you're thinking, yeah sure, and I'm gonna sprout wings and fly to London and have tea and crumpets with the Queen.

For me, it works best to pick more realistic goals: I'm going to cut down on gratuitous desserts--After all, I don't really need them after breakfast.

2. Write Stuff Down. Not forever, but when you're in the early, serious phases of working towards a goal. As we've mentioned before: writing things down is a pain in the ass but it works. Whether you're charting calories eaten, miles run, charitable acts performed, pages written towards your novel, money saved towards your financial goals or whatever--keeping some sort of record will keep you honest and can even be weirdly addictive and rewarding. (Until you get so sick of it you want to flush your cute little journal down the toilet.)

3. Expect to slip up. You will! "Broken" resolutions can usually be glued back together. Looking back a year from now, your success will probably have much more to do with how you dealt with your inevitable failures--and very little to do with how long you lasted until you screwed up.

4. Build up your resistance muscle. So this was a new one for me, but I found it a very helpful concept. We had an interview with Dr. Judith Beck, and in in talking about resisting unplanned temptations she said:

"Tell yourself: 'If I resist, I’ll build up my resistance muscle, which makes it more likely that the next time I’ll resist and the time after that and the time after that. The truth is that every bite matters; it’s not just the calories, it’s the habit.'"

Now at the time, I actually thought this tip sounded kinda corny. (Sorry, Judith.) But then I found myself using it! It really is a good reminder of how the habit itself is more important than the actual food you ate or exercise you got. The best part? You can give yourself "credit" (and can therefore feel smug) every time you resist a temptation--even if you're resisting the same damn leftover slice of pie 14 times in one afternoon. You might still eat the pie later, when you've planned for it, but in the meantime you've really worked out that "resistance muscle" and made it stronger.

(And for more on Judith Beck and Cognitive Therapy, make sure to check out Charlotte's helpful post over at The Great Fitness Experiment.)

5. Get concrete and specific about consequences. Often I just go around with a vague notion that exercise is good, watching portion size is smart, and that healthy meals are better for me than junk. But sometimes, when willpower is lacking, it helps to get more specific. How many Extra Miles on the treadmill will that Extra Value Meal cost? Picture yourself having to walk or run those miles before you decide to indulge. And then, if you decide to skip the trip to Mickey D's or the Colonel's place, it's almost like getting credit for those miles without ever taking a step!

I also like to picture the healthy food I eat and the exercise I get making all kinds of great changes in my body: building muscle and fighting off scary diseases and helping me sleep better and keeping my heart and lungs and bones and brains in top working order. I imagine myself growing younger instead of older every time I do something healthy. While this may not be entirely accurate, it's quite motivational!

6. Keep in mind that your sticking to your resolution probably won't suck this much forever. I always see people citing studies about the exact number of weeks it take to turn a new healthy behavior into a "habit." Really? I can't help thinking it's gotta vary a lot depending on the person, and on how unpleasant the new behavior feels. How long would it take me to make a habit out of riding an exercise bike every morning? About a thousand years, because I hate exercise bikes! But if some new study comes out saying: We Were All Wrong; You Must Eat French Pastries for Breakfast--well, that habit is not going to take weeks to instill.

But however long it takes, if the change you're trying to make is realistic and only slightly obnoxious, it really might feel like no big deal at all in a couple months. Give it enough of a shot to see if it gets better before you decide to give up.

7. Find People Who Will Support and Encourage You in Your Goal: Depending on where you live and who you hang out with, it can be a much harder struggle to stick to your guns if no one around you "gets it." This is part of what makes Weight Watcher's helpful for many folks.

And if you are relatively new to the online health world, may we suggest you spend some time clicking on links to the many health and fitness and weight-loss blogs and online forums out there? Explore for a bit and you may find a whole community of like-minded folks. I know I've been spurred on to break out of workout slumps by visiting some of the many awesome bloggers who comment here. And you can find great recipes, exercise tips, and all kinds of practical help. (Just don't spend every spare minute sitting on your butt in front of the computer--this could be counter-productive!)

8. Don't make New Year's Resolutions! It's the easiest way I've ever found not to break them.

So do any of you make health and fitness resolutions? Any good advice on how to keep them?


  1. My trick is to not tie them to a special date (that tip might be too late!) because then that gives me the option of quitting and waiting for another special date. Better to just slog along on a daily basis and keep going, perfect or not.

  2. I always try to set a more vague goal/resolution and then think of little specific things that I can do to achieve it. That way it does not sound so overwhelming.

  3. I resolve not to resolve & go general as well.

    this year I simply resolved to be OPEN to all the world might offer me.

    to not, at times, go with my initial reaction of NAH.

    to be a yes woman. a shorter, female, lessfunny, not dating jenny mccarthy version of jim carrey.

  4. I resolved to keep my nails short (although I love having longer nails, the amount of germs/bacteria living there, was, according to experts, outrageous), and to brush my teeth, floss, and rinse twice a day (or just the once before bed), because brushing only cleans 70% of teeth.

  5. Crabby:"I'm going to cut down on gratuitous desserts--After all, I don't really need them after breakfast."
    You're talking to a woman who regularly eats broccoli quiche and ice cream for breakfast!

    Not exactly a resolution, nothing so definite, but I had [planned?] [intended?] sort of kind of thought I would walk the three-tenths of a mile to the mailbox every day after I finally got it up. Probably taking the dog with me. Not. It's cold out there! And windy! I've done it a few times, but mostly I stop the car at the end of the drive either coming or going, and check the mailbox then.

    I expect that when the weather's warmer and I'm not as frantically busy with moving I'll manage to do it more often.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  6. #8 is my system! Works every year!!

    Seriously, never do the resolution thing. If I feel I need to make improvement, I initiate prn, one step at a time.

  7. I love #6! I think I get stuck in the moment a lot and forget that everything changes eventually. The hard stuff doesn't stay hard nor does the great stuff stay great. It's a reminder that you can stick anything out and to enjoy the good times while you have them. I kinda suck at living in the moment but I'm working on it!

  8. I'm going to work on the resistance muscle. I have done something similar in the past, but this time I'm going to acknowledge what I'm doing.

  9. Great Post! I've never really done resolutions, they just don't work for me. I try to maintain a positive attitude that if I focus on something enough, it will be attainable at some point, no pressure.

    Love the picturing yourself getting younger! Ha, Hilarious.

  10. I've been reading for a while, but these tips still seemed very fresh and new when you put them all together. Great list, and hopefully it will help with my resolutions (and oh boy do I have a lot of them!)

  11. Already have that self-improvement thing worked out. (My 101 goals) So making a New Year Resolution would be superfluous. In a way, it's like Alexia's thing. Not tied down to right here and right now, unless I feel like it...

    (Though I do like the feeling of starting January not so bad off as I usually do, owing to my December of kind of half-assed Discipline.)

    Happy New Year to Crabby and Merry and all the gang!

  12. Thanks to you and Charlotte, I'm totally rocking the Beck thing! I got all inspired and started a Beck Twitter group and then collapsed in exhaustion over my laptop around midnight last night! My resolution: be as nerdy has possible. Comes naturally to me, though, so perhaps that's cheating ;).

  13. y'know.. I've read almost all CF's posts, but somehow missed the resistance muscle. It actually makes ALOT of sense, and the timing is absolutely perfect for me! combine that with the husband not coming home with ice cream just because we're (read I'M) almost out.. i might actually get to my 1st big weightloss/fitness goal :)

    i didn't really make a resolution, but being after the holidays, it's the perfect time to really TRY again. I managed to lose 8 lbs... then I got prego and had to gain weight for the first time in my life!

  14. I'm with you on no8! If you don't make em, you can't break That one works best every time for me! Then you don't have to feel guilty, bad and horrible and try to stuff those feelings down with food which um.... well...frankly defeats the point.

  15. Oh Crabby, how I love you. You make me laugh and make me think, all at the same time!

    Number 3 is particularly important for me to remember. I have a tendency to think that my first slip is merely an indication of my TOTAL LACK OF WILLPOWER and then I throw in the towel. (Maybe this year I should resolve not to do that anymore! Ha!)

  16. The last one is my favorite! This year I'm focusing on continuing to do the healthy things I'm doing: eating healthy, forcing myself to exercise, not smoking, drinking less, etc. When I look at that list, I'm not even going to try fitting in a new resolution!

  17. Your honesty made me giggle. Thanks for the tips!

  18. Numbers 6 & 8. So true. So hilarious.

  19. Thanks for the reminders! My goals are all over my new blog. Come visit? I'm looking forward to visiting you for inspiration!

  20. "And you're thinking, yeah sure, and I'm gonna sprout wings and fly to London and have tea and crumpets with the Queen."


    I find the key to not breaking resolutions is to not make them. So, glad that you included that one in there. I like to think I'm smart but mostly it's just that I'm lazy.

  21. Expecting to slip up is the really big one. If you're expecting it, then you can get right back on track once you start sliding. And you'll be looking for it to happen so you can stop it quicker!

  22. You mean you've NEVER had tea an crumpets with a queen? Wait. You said THE Queen (with a capital Q)...

  23. I liked #3. "your success will probably have much more to do with how you dealt with your inevitable failures--and very little to do with how long you lasted until you screwed up."

    I forget that sometimes.

  24. Pretty sure that I was planning on blowing off my workout today until I read this...hopped up mid-post for an hour on the treadmill. Glad I did. Thanks! :)

  25. Thanks everyone, for stopping by with such great comments! Love to hear your new years' resolutions or damn good reasons for not making them.

    Just got back from our camping trip, which was great. No stomach flu, hooray! But caught a cold which I'm still in denial about because I NEVER catch colds. Harumph).

    And Evicting Gertrude, that's so cool you jumped on the treadmill for an hour mid post. And even more awesome that you came back to Cranky Fitness to comment afterwards!!!!

    See y'all soon, can't wait to catch up and find out what everyone's been up to.

  26. I resolve to eat more cheese. I know I know - cheese is supposed to be fattening and bad for you. But the Dutch are so thin! Who to believe? Such a quandary.

  27. i make resolutions every year - some things i can keep to (i kept one awesomely this year!) and others don't work out.

    perfect example from this past year - i finally wanted to learn how to kayak. given finances and some other various factors, however, it didn't work out. am i upset? no, because in the grand scheme of things, i can (theoretically) learn to kayak when i'm 90-years-old.

    this year, though, my resolutions are very similar to the boy's so we're going to push and motivate each other. it's only been three days, but so far, so good!

  28. My plan is to kick my own butt this year. I will run/ride a little farther and do it little faster than in 2008. I'm pretty slow, so 1st or 2nd place in this race is almost guaranteed.

    Though I must admit being intrigued by red flashlight's resolution to eat more cheese. I think that may be a good back up plan.

  29. Good suggestions for keeping the forward momentum on your new year's goals!

  30. Great Tips! Thank you.

  31. I guess it's time to review my new year's resolutions from last year.

    Uh ... what were my resolutions?


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