The holidays are a wonderful time to reflect, but once the ball drops, it’s a cue to look forward and map out your goals for the upcoming year. For many, that invariably includes a vow to be more physically active. And why not? Regular exercise is shown to strengthen muscles and bones, boost mood, reduce disease risk, and increase longevity. It can also help you keep your weight in check, if that’s on your list of resolutions. Yet, the best intentions don’t always lead to unwavering self-discipline and habits that stick.
If this sounds familiar, consider whether wellness pledges of years past have lacked clarity. “The problem is often a goal we think we should set, versus one that’s actually important to us,” says Allison Grupski, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and vice president of behavior change strategies and coaching at Weight Watchers. “Or, it’s that we haven’t gotten a clear idea of what [a goal] will look like when we reach it.”
If you’re dedicated to making your goals come to fruition this year, use these research-backed tips to inject new momentum into your intentions, and transform your get-healthy resolve into a reality.
1. Identify the “Why”
If a goal doesn’t resonate with you personally, you may be less inclined to see it through. In a 2021 study published in JAMA Cardiology, participants who chose their daily step goals and were able to implement them immediately had significantly higher physical activity levels than those who were assigned goals and gradually ramped up over the six-month period.
“We know that the more something matters to us, the more motivated we are,” says Grupski. Before committing, she recommends having an honest self-dialogue, listing all the reasons this goal is important to you. What will life look like if you achieve it? How disappointed will you be if you don’t? This thought process will either enhance your resolve or help you formulate an objective that’s more meaningful to you.
2. Delve Into the Details
Fitness resolutions typically reflect general intentions rather than specific objectives, which are difficult to quantify and can feel overwhelming at the outset. A multitude of studies dating back decades have linked specific, challenging goals to increased performance, persistence, and motivation, as compared with vague and easy goals.
Think critically about how you’ll go about achieving your goal, breaking it into manageable, measurable steps, and include a timeline that’s realistic. Rather than saying, “I’ll get back to the gym this year,” for instance, you might try, “I’ll work out at the gym 12 days this month.” In lieu of “I will strengthen my upper body,” shoot for “I’ll do 20 consecutive push-ups in six weeks.” Grupski says: “The more you can zero in on the details of what success will look like, the better.”
3. Track Your Progress
If you finally nailed a headstand in yoga class or are feeling less winded when climbing stairs, record it. These mini milestones are worth noting as you continue on your journey. Experts often recommend keeping a fitness journal. In it, you can record miles or steps logged, increases in weight lifted or reps completed, and bumps in energy level or mood. Keeping tabs on your progress is one way to ensure you’re making meaningful changes and to acknowledge how far you’ve come. “It’s those feelings of success that drive us to keep taking steps forward,” says Grupski.
Wearable gadgets and gizmos, of course, can provide instant feedback, but don’t underestimate the power of stepping on a scale, like the WW by Conair Digital Bathroom Scale. “Some find that regular weigh-ins help them stay accountable and observe general trends over time,” says Grupski.
And if weight loss is one of your goals, don’t stress if the numbers on the scale don’t budge—it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not making strides. You may be building muscle and lean tissue, while losing fat. That’s where a tool like the WW by Conair Bluetooth Body Analysis Scale comes in. It measures body fat percentage, body water percentage, bone mass, and muscle mass. Sync it with your smartphone to track your changes over time. “If things aren’t moving, you now have some data to help figure out [how to make changes],” she says.
4. Optimize Your Surroundings
“This means really looking around you and getting creative so your environment can help you rather than get in your way,” Grupski says. There are lots of ways to prep your space, from stocking the fridge with healthy foods and designating an area to stretch out, to putting a workout class into your calendar and laying out your exercise clothes the night before.
It can also be helpful to give family members and friends a heads-up, letting them know what you’re doing so they can support you. “It’s important to remember that your environment is not just your physical space,” she says. “It’s also your social life.”
5. Acknowledge the Effort
If you’re not a morning person, making it to that early a.m. Pilates class is probably not in the cards for you. Jam-packed schedule? It may not be the right time to train for your first 10K race. In a 2020 study, researchers found that people tend to be motivated by rewards when they first set a goal. Then, once they start putting together a plan of action, the focus falls on the difficulty of the effort required to execute it.
“One of the first things I always encourage people to ask themselves is why they haven’t met that particular goal yet,” Grupski says. “What’s been getting in the way? What changes are you going to have to make, and are they realistic?” A goal that is too ambitious or doesn’t align with your values or lifestyle can lead to burnout or resentment, which may put you off exercise for a while. “If it’s not do-able,” she says, “it’s probably worth rethinking the goal itself or the way you plan to achieve it.”
6. Do What Moves You
If resistance machines and cardio classes at your gym aren’t doing it for you, head outside. Hit the ski slopes or the tennis or pickleball courts, hop on your bike, or go for a brisk walk or hike. Love to dance? Make a night of it. Partaking in activities that make you feel good is more sustainable over the long haul than ones that feel like a chore.
Still, some days you might need a little more incentive to break a sweat. “Connecting with something you already do can be really powerful,” says Grupski, who recommends a strategy called “piggybacking.” Do some squats and leg lifts while watching TV, listen to a podcast while fitting in your steps. “Whenever I call my friend or my mom, I’ll go for a walk,” she says. “You’re sort of hitching that new habit onto an old one and making it work for you.”