Do These 5 Things to (Actually) Stick to Your Goals

You made New Year’s resolutions at the beginning of the year to stop smoking, lose weight, exercise more, think positively? And then remember how easy it was about six days later to slide back into old patterns?

Why are your goals so hard to stick to? Because there’s a big change. It’s frightening.

But with the same resolution you don’t want to hit next January. What a boring thing. How tedious it was. How the year before!

So what are you going to do? For a start, place one foot in front of the other. You got ta lose weight? Go to the fitness center. Must you think positively? Give each day a mirror mantra. You have to stop smoking? Buy a nicotine gum for yourself.

Change begins in a small way. I’m not expecting you to be free of smoke by tomorrow’s end. Nor do I think Thursday you’re going to drop those stubborn 10 pounds. It took me a long time to lose the 50 pounds that I’ve been carrying for years. What I expect you to accomplish your goals every day— whatever they may be.

Here are a few small steps to help you achieve your dose of change every day — to actually meet your goals:

1. Devote your change for at least 15 minutes a day.

Even if it’s just a walk around your neighborhood, do it, read an inspiring article, one less cigarette. Also mix it up. No one wants some tedious workout regime to be stuck. It makes it look so much more miserable, isn’t it? So pick up the paddle ball set, tennis rackets or the Frisbee and go and spend time with your family or friends.

2. Fork over the truth.

Until I decided to be honest about why I was reaching for chips rather than taking healthy risks with myself, I thought it was all about food. In reality, for stuffing food down my face, I got a huge payoff — I got to play it safe. What’s your non-changeable payoff? You will never be able to stick to your plan until you can become real. Modification of behavior teaches us to repeat behaviors that make us feel good. What that means to you is that until the goal gets bigger than the payoff, you will always choose to feel good about feeling uncomfortable.

3. Set realistic goals.

Instead of focusing on losing 20 pounds in 20 days, my goal was just to start eating 5 fruits and vegetables a day. I really believe that good choices lead to better choices (alas, it works the other way too!), and my goal was simply to honor the five-day plan. I didn’t expect a miracle or a transformation of my body overnight. Rather, before adding anything else to my plate, I spent months developing this new behavior pattern; in other words, one behavior at a time.

4. Never eliminate. Replace. 

I want to popcorn when I go to the movies. My husband selects only the heavily buttered and salted kind, so I sneak in my Jolly Time 94 percent Fat Free buttered popcorn (hey, I would buy it if they sold it!). If I just tried to eliminate eating popcorn in the movies while munching with sheer delight next to me, I would probably find my hand covered with grease before the previews had finished. If your goal is to eliminate a specific behavior, if you want permanent change, it must be replaced with a new behavior. If we don’t replace a behavior, we end up creating a large void that leads to obsessive thinking, eventually leading to falling back into old patterns.

5. Find support.

Very few people can get on their own where they’re going. Throughout our change journey, we all need encouragement and support. Perhaps it’s a friend for you to hold you accountable or a group that’s like-minded where they want to go. There is power in numbers, and to our advantage we can use this. Although over the course of a year I had embraced many healthy eating habits, I felt I needed some additional encouragement to continue.

It’s not easy to change. But it’s something you can achieve as long as you don’t seek the quick fix, but are willing to make daily choices that will bring you lasting results. You’re going to have setbacks a few days, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to throw in the towel. It’s just a chance to commit yourself to your goal. Have fun with that!