By Dev K. Mishra, M.D., President, Sideline Sports Doc, Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University
Key Points:

  • New Year�??s goals can be achieved with the right set of guidelines to help you
  • Pick a relatively small goal and go bigger when you succeed with the smaller one
  • Use a visual key like a big red X on a calendar for each day you succeed
  • Reward yourself for successful days and weeks
  • Go easy on yourself if you miss a few days and then get back on track

This is the time of year when patients will come in to the office for a �??tuneup�?� prior to starting an exercise regimen. This commonly happens for my 40-60 year old patients but it�??s an occasional teenager who has the same objective. They�??ve made getting fit and losing weight a New Year�??s resolution. Unfortunately, the majority of those folks will fail, and will fall off their new program within a matter of a few weeks.
One of the keys to sticking with any new exercise or lifestyle change is to turn it into a habit.
Creating a new habit and then making that habit permanent can be tough but with some key steps it can be achieved by anyone. If you�??re interested in making a major habit change I�??d strongly encourage you to read Charles Duhigg�??s book: The Power of Habit. In the introductory video you�??ll see him describe the three parts of any habit, whether a good habit or a bad habit. There�??s a cue (the stimulus), an action (that�??s the habit), and a reward (the thing you get from the habit).
It�??s interesting to think that a bad habit is associated with a �??reward�?� but Duhigg provides compelling evidence. And so it is with diet and exercise. If you resolve to cut out processed sugar you need to make this a habit. Ditto if you have a resolution involving fitness.
Of the three parts of a habit, I find that the �??reward�?� part is really underappreciated. Too often there�??s a feeling that there has to be substantial pain involved in making a new habit but that�??s not the case at all. On a daily basis you could give yourself a tiny reward for accomplishing a goal, and perhaps a bigger reward for a larger accomplishment. Just don�??t make the reward something that undoes your hard work! For example, if your goal is to eliminate processed sugar during the day don�??t reward yourself with a nighttime candy bar!
There are a lot of great people writing about the best ways to pick goals and change habits. Besides Charles Duhigg, I also really like Tony Robbins. There�??s also a very nice set of guidelines by Jen Miller in the New York Times.
Here are my overall keys to success for any goal:

  • Pick the right goal. The acronym associated with good goal setting is �??SMART�?�, which means pick a Specific goal and not something vague, make it Measurable, be sure it�??s Achievable, choose something Relevant to your life, and put a Timeline on it.
  • Start small. This is related to picking the right goal. You�??ll feel empowered to continue if you succeed in very small goals initially, then build with new goals. Many folks pick huge audacious fitness goals but this can be a setup for problems, especially if it�??s something totally new for you. I find this is particularly true surrounding exercise. If you�??re coming from a place of minimal activity, start with a 20 minute walk rather than a half hour fast run.
  • Use an actual calendar to mark off your progress. Believe it or not, paper actually works best. Keep a calendar where you see it every day. For every day you achieve your daily goal put a big red X on the day. Keep making X�??s.
  • Reward yourself on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis for keeping your new good habit going.
  • Go easy on yourself if you have a setback. Things happen that are out of your control and even with the best of intentions you might miss a day or a few days with your new habit. This is not a failure, just a speedbump.

Here�??s to your success- Happy New Year!

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