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Abandoned your resolutions? Here’s how to get back on track

Zoey Larsen By | January 15, 2020
Medically reviewed by Anis Rehman, MD

Every year, millions of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, but 80% fail by February. Why? Many of us set our resolutions without setting ourselves up for success. If your resolutions fall by the wayside, you’re not alone, and it’s okay! It’s easier than you think to get back on track, with these tips.

Begin again with a more specific resolution

“I’m going to get in better shape this year” sounds great, but it doesn’t provide any tangible steps for you to stick to. Instead, refocus on a few individual, achievable items that allow continual, measurable growth. If your goal is to get in shape, consider setting a goal for the number of times you’ll visit the gym per week and focus on achieving that until it’s a habit. If you know cookies are a huge temptation for you, commit to keeping them out of the house. Once you’ve nailed these, add a second goal, such as achieving a certain mile time or eating a certain number of servings of veggies per week.

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Connect with why you made the resolution

“If your resolution is something that your doctor, a friend, or a partner suggested, but you don’t have any real internal motivation to make it happen, it doesn’t stand much of a chance,” says Kevin Heine, a health coach at the Center for Functional Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. “The trick is connecting that resolution with something that is a true motivator for you.” 

Think about it this way: Losing 10 pounds becomes much more likely if you frame it in terms of thinking about how that weight loss will make it easier to go on a hike with your kids or how it will make you feel more confident giving a presentation at work.

Make a game plan moving forward

A goal without a plan is a wish. If your New Year’s resolution was to get more sleep, spend some time sketching out what your ideal nighttime routine would be. “Most resolutions fail due to lack of planning around the objective,” says David Freeman, the national training manager of Life Time’s Alpha Program. “Motivation cannot be the only item that gets you to your health and fitness objectives.” By building yourself a roadmap, you’re creating different ways to think about your goal and get back on track. 

Play what-if

If your New Year’s resolution goes sideways, know that you can get back up again and get on track without penalty. After all, slip-ups and setbacks are bound to happen. By anticipating what-if scenarios, you’re setting yourself up not to quit in the moment but to adapt and thrive, says Freeman.

  • If you know birthday parties or other celebratory events usually create a challenge, eat before you head to the party so you’re less hungry and tempted by foods that don’t support your goal.
  • If you find working out boring, surround yourself with a group with similar objectives and share your goals with them. Social connections are fantastic for helping keep us accountable.
  • If you lose track of the motivation behind your resolution, write down your why on a sticky note and put it somewhere you’ll see it daily. 

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Give yourself some wiggle room

Set a plan, but be flexible. “Behavior change can be very challenging, but it is not all-or-nothing,” says Heine. If you realize a few weeks in that getting to the gym four times a week just won’t fit into your schedule, update your resolution! That’s not a failure; it just means that your resolution wasn’t quite right for you the first time. Plan to check in with your goals periodically and adjust as necessary. 

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Keep going!

If you do fall off track, don’t let it derail your entire goal. Start the next day new and begin again. “Aim for 80% compliance and let yourself be human,” adds Freeman. None of us are perfect.