Health Take-Away: Already struggling to stick to your 2020 resolutions?

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If you find yourself struggling to stick to your New Year's resolutions, or even if you've already fallen off track, you're not alone. By the end of January, around 80 percent of people will have failed to keep the well-meaning promises they made to themselves the first day of the year. It's a disappointing success rate for sure, but it shouldn't be cause for surrender. It's simply a signal you may have set your expectations too high, and it's perfectly alright to reset the bar and get yourself back on course.

Bad habits are hard to break and easy to go back to. Good habits are hard to start and even harder to keep. The reason so many resolutions fail is that they're too lofty or vague and therefore don't properly prepare us for the journey from bad to good habits. It's still worth the trip. That's why so many doctors, wellness coaches and other health professionals suggest patients take the SMART approach to choosing and keeping New Year's resolutions, following the letters of that simple acronym.

Be Specific. People often make the mistake of choosing goals that are too broad, like "lose weight," "exercise more," "stress less" or "get more sleep." Give your goals more definition. You can "focus on losing x pounds the first two months;" "start by exercising at home three days a week for 20 minutes;" "do 10 minutes of stress-relief breathing every day at lunch;" and "sleep seven to eight hours a night Monday through Thursday."

Make it Measurable. Those specific numbers are just examples. Everyone's different. But it is important to set deliberate, measurable targets, especially if your goals are fitness or weight related. You can set those targets in gradual increments over time.

Keep it Action-based. Whether your specific, measurable goals are around things like quitting smoking, spending more quality time with your children or improving your workday organization, the idea is to stay in motion, focusing on clearly defined action steps that will help you achieve your goals.

Be Realistic. It's OK to be ambitious in your resolve, but trying to take too big a step too fast isn't being fair to yourself and may set you up for failure. If you say you're going to start hitting the gym five days a week for 60 minutes, when you've haven't set foot in one since high school, you may run out of steam the first week. Better to choose challenging, yet achievable goals that sustain, not drain you. Rather than proclaiming, "I'm going to lose 70 pounds this year," you might approach it by deciding you're going to make specific diet and lifestyle choices with the goal of shedding, say, 10 pounds by the end of February, then set additional milestones from there. Without "cheating" on your initial promises, you can recalibrate your resolutions over the course of the year.

Set Time-related expectations. Your resolutions should have defined time frames, ones that motivate you to apply the focus and discipline necessary to achieve them. But the timeline must be realistic so you don't get discouraged. Particularly with weight loss and exercise, if your goals are important enough, it's fine to take the time you need to build those new behaviors steadily over time.

If you're having success with your 2020 resolutions, keep up the good work! If you find yourself teetering on the edge — or even if you've already "broken" your resolve — don't beat yourself up. When it comes to your health and wellness, any day you start or restart a resolution is a good one.

Timothy Korte is a Wellness Program manager with Berkshire Health Systems.

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