Experts say it's wiser to change now.
Despite good intentions (a cleaner diet, a commitment to strength-train), New Year’s resolutions are inherently flawed. Research shows as much: A study from the University of Scranton found that six months into the New Year, fewer than half of us are still on the track we set out on.
Yet the solution isn’t to stop goal-setting: That same study found that having a resolution made a person more likely to achieve success than those who didn’t bother with one.
It might just be that our timing is off. “January 1 is an arbitrary date,” says Damon Bayles, Psy.D., a New York-based clinical psychologist. “If you're actually committed to your health, and you know that healthy behaviors get tossed to the wayside over the holiday season, why not start now?”
Introducing pre-resolutions: specific goals and plans you can put into action right now. They’ll propel you through the holiday season stronger, healthier, and happier— and that’s important. After all, between November and January, the average person gains about 1 pound. While that doesn’t sound like much, researchers say we usually don’t lose that pound. Holiday weight gain, then, is a major contributor to overall weight gain (and thus diseases risk, like diabetes, down the line).
So set your pre-resolution today and use this guide to stick to it all year long.
1) Build Your Support System: Once you have a specific goal in mind, ID who you need around you in order to succeed. This might include fit friends, a registered dietitian, or a personal trainer, says Bayles. Start your research now and consider reaching out—you’ll beat the crowds and the stress that comes with them. Research from the International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association finds the busiest time of the year at gyms is between January and March.
2) Consider Relapse The Rule: Falling off the bandwagon every so often isn’t the exception, it’s to be expected, says Bayles. Thinking you’re going to make it through the holiday season on a diet of smoothies is not setting you up for success. A better suggestion: Plan indulgences. Building them into your day helps you sidestep debilitating feelings of guilt, says Bayles.
If you’re faced with an out-of-nowhere challenge, use your past experiences to guide your decisions, he suggests. Maybe an a.m. run helped you beat stressful family gatherings last year; so wake up early for some cardio. “Really think, ‘What strategies could I employ to help me through this?’” he says. This kind of thinking, as well as the experiences and solutions you’ll gather throughout the season, will help you tackle issues throughout the year.
3) Find Time For Daily Zen: “After three months of daily mindfulness practice, some of the impacts can be increased concentration, increased attention, decreased anxiety, decreased stress, and increased immune system functioning,” says Bayles. Start now. No matter your goal, guided breathing exercises, classes (like Unplug Meditation), meditations apps like Headspace or Calm, and books can help you build a stronger mental framework to stay fit in the New Year. Don’t throw in the towel if things aren’t coming naturally. “This is muscle that needs to be grown,” says Bayles.
4) Reassess January 1: “Efficacy can get generated for individuals who are successful in this holiday time period,” says Bayles. After all, if you can be healthy throughout December, you can be healthy in January. So use the New Year not as a time to start a new goal but as a time to enter ‘phase 2’ of your original plan, he suggests. Ask yourself: How are you going to continue to manage your goal for the next few weeks and months? What will you do differently? What worked? What didn’t?