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A Guide to Making New Year’s Resolutions Last

Though most people are initially enthusiastic about the new year’s resolutions they’ve set, within a few weeks they often find they’ve lost momentum. Whether you want to quit smoking, introduce more physical activity into your life or learn a new skill, this guide should help you set achievable, long-term goals that fit around your lifestyle.

Start by having a clear picture in your head of exactly what you want to accomplish. Making your goal a tangible thing gives you the chance to properly prepare for and assess how you will get there. Be sure to exercise patience. Progress isn’t an overnight thing and results may vary. You might even hit a wall despite developing and maintaining a routine but remember that change takes time.

Try not to think of things in terms of willpower. This doesn’t need to feel like a cold, rigid workload. Be resilient – if you fall, get right back up again – and develop the skills that will help you reach the finish line.

I want to get fit.

Don’t: Join a gym and vow to go every day. Even the most dedicated exercise enthusiast has to take some time off to allow muscles to heal. Plus – it can be tricky balancing a busy lifestyle with very frequent trips to the gym.

Do: Try and figure out a schedule that suits you, and stick to it. Find a class or activity that you know you’ll enjoy, and commit to one or two outings a week. Bring a like-minded friend and encourage each other’s progress.

I want to quit smoking.

Don’t: Go cold turkey on January 1. Smoking is both a physical and psychological addiction and attempts to quit in one abrupt move can result in extremely difficult withdrawal symptoms, like feeling irritable and agitated, having trouble sleeping and experiencing bouts of depression.

Do: Cut down on cigarettes smoked (if this is a more manageable goal for you to begin with) and don’t be disheartened if you do give in to the odd craving. Research the withdrawal symptoms you’re likely to experience so you’re prepared for them, and surround yourself with a support network – friends and family will want to see you succeed! Keep your mouth and hands busy, drink water regularly and try to avoid situations where smoking is commonplace.

I want to lose weight.

Don’t: Crash diet. An intensely restrictive change in your diet effectively sends the body into a state of shock in order to force it to lose weight quickly. That initial loss is countered when the body enters ‘starvation mode’ and begins to burn muscle instead of fat. Once the crash diet is completed, your body will store most of the calories you consume as fat, resulting in instant weight gain that may surpass previous levels.

Do: Think long-term. Making little changes to your lifestyle builds healthy habits that you’re more likely to keep. Simple food swaps are a great way to start; for example, replace chocolate treats with superfoods like berries and nuts. Don’t think of it as depriving yourself of certain foods, but adding healthy options to your palate in their place. Try to plan meals in advance and avoid on-the-go snacking.

I want to learn a new skill.

Don’t: Expect to be a master immediately. That old joke about how to get to Carnegie Hall still works because it’s true – practice! Writer and journalist Malcolm Gladwell once argued that it takes 10,000 hours of focused practice to become a master of any skill, but it’s worth noting that every single minute counts.

Do: Realise that it will take time to work this new hobby into your lifestyle, but that’s all part of the fun. Don’t be discouraged if you find it difficult at first; new languages, skills and sports can be mentally and physically challenging to begin with, but the long-term rewards are priceless. Think of it like a ladder system and embrace each step up.

I want to be less stressed.

Don’t: Put too much pressure on yourself. Events, circumstances and even other people can be beyond your control, and that’s okay.

Do: Take a good look at your current lifestyle and identify the triggers that bring on stress. Can any of these be alleviated? Maybe you’re working too many hours, taking on too many projects, or simply not asking for help. Identifying the source of the issue is the first step to making change. A stress diary can help you keep track of regular causes of stress in your life, how you felt both physically and mentally and how you acted as a result. Consider making positive lifestyle changes; a balanced diet and regular exercise have a proven effect on relaxing the brain and boosting mental health.