Eight Tips for Salvaging Your “Get in Shape” Resolution

“This is the year I’m going to get fit/lose weight/exercise more.” If you made any version of this common New Year’s resolution, you probably meant every word you said. It’s likely that you stuck to your gym schedule through the first week of January, and maybe even through the second. But by this point, you may be finding pressing reasons why you can’t work out, why other things on your to-do list need to take precedence. And soon, you’ll stop trying to fool yourself at all. Another year, another failed resolution, huh?

Believe me, I get it. Making big lifestyle changes is tough. And it’s not like you don’t have five thousand other responsibilities to focus on, right? Between your job, your kids, your house, and the million other chaotic details of everyday life, how did you ever expect to find the time to sweat off those extra 20 or 30 pounds?

Well, don’t throw in the towel just yet. Even if your exercise regimen is starting to slip, you don’t have to join the 92 percent of people who typically fail at achieving their resolutions. There’s still time to salvage your “get in shape” resolution—trust me! I’ve been down this particular road a few times myself, and as a result, I’ve learned a few things about staying on track—and about getting back on the wagon when you’ve fallen off! In this blog post, I’d like to share a few tips that may help you to breathe new life into your New Year’s resolution:

*Get rid of the excuses. The number one excuse that people use to not keep an exercise resolution is that they simply don’t have the time. But consider this: If you don’t take or make the time to take care of yourself, the stark fact is that you’ll probably have less time to spend on this earth. Also, it doesn’t take an expert to confirm that if you don’t care for your physical and mental well-being, you’re going to spend more time feeling sick and tired. So think of taking care of yourself physically as an investment—because that’s exactly what it is. Looking at exercise through this lens, weigh it against other activities and obligations in your life, and see which one comes out on top.

*Ditch your gym membership. Yes, seriously! That’s because the key to instilling a habit into your life is to make it doable. If you’re not exercising at all now, realistically, you probably won’t become a gym rat overnight. (And you’ll feel bad about yourself when you don’t get your money’s worth out of the membership fee.) So for now, put the running clubs, spin classes, and personal trainers on hold. Those can come into play later if you choose. At this point, all you need is a pair of walking shoes and the willingness to get off the couch for 15 to 20 minutes every other day.

*Start small. To start, try taking just a 20-minute walk every other day. That’s it. For example, you might walk around your neighborhood first thing in the morning (it’s a great way to start the day!), or maybe take a few laps around your office building at lunch. You could even go to a track or use a treadmill. I’ve found that the earlier you take your walk the better, because if you wait till evening “life” tends to get in the way. (Oh, and if you’re so busy that you don’t have 20 minutes to spare every other day, two 10-minute walks will work, too!) Over time, you can consider increasing the pace, duration, and frequency of your walks.

*Find some company. Consider exercising with friends or family members. Knowing that you have someone to whom you’re accountable will prevent you from slacking off too much, and the company will make your walks, workouts, or whatever else you choose to do more enjoyable. Especially if you have kids, I suggest making exercise a priority for the whole family. Being active together will instill a healthy habit in all of your lives, and it will also bring you closer together. Even if you don’t exercise together, though, make sure that your family understands and supports your own quest to become healthier. This is very important. You’ll need their support and understanding to make this big change.

*Schedule your exercise. If you leave your exercise up to chance, it probably won’t happen. “I’ll get around to it” is not a strategy for success. But if your workouts are on your calendar, they’re one step closer to becoming reality. When you know beforehand what time you plan to work out, and for how long, other excuses are much less likely to take precedence. And guess what? If you consistently schedule your exercise for long enough, it will become a habit.

*Make it easy to get started. After a lifetime of exercising, I’ve learned that the most difficult part of a workout isn’t pushing through to the finish when you start to get tired. It’s taking that first step out the door! Seriously, the comfort of your couch (or your bed) is the number one enemy of your New Year’s resolution. I recommend taking a good look at your particular routine and figuring out how to make that “first step out the door” easier. If you exercise first thing in the morning, for instance, maybe you lay out your workout clothes the night before—or even sleep in them! Or if you want to get in a walk after work, bring your athletic shoes to work with you so that you don’t have to stop by your house—and risk falling prey to your easy chair—first.

*Plan on making some mistakes. If you manage to salvage your exercise resolution mid-January, you’re doing great—better than many of your peers. But that doesn’t mean it will be smooth sailing from now till December 31st. Actually, I can pretty much guarantee you that you will fall off the wagon at some point this year. Probably multiple times—and that’s okay. Slip-ups are what make us human. But you know what? One of the other great things about being human is that what the future looks like is our choice. Even if you failed to lace up your athletic shoes for a week…or two…or three (or more!), you can still choose to put them on today.

*Remember that it’s not just about getting in shape. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Exercise is the single most important thing you can do to improve your life and your happiness level right now. That’s because physical activity is a fantastic energizer (mentally and physically!). It will make you feel more relaxed and less stressed. In fact, it can be just as effective as taking an antidepressant medication…without the potential side effects. Just imagine the effects a consistently improved attitude might have on your 2014!

If your goal is to have a healthier, fitter 2014, know that I’m in your corner—and that I’ll be exercising right along with you. Remember, you don’t have to run a marathon or work off all of your body fat to consider your New Year’s resolution a success. All you have to do is get out there and move.

The Resolution Project

Ninety-two percent of the time, we don’t end up keeping our New Year’s resolutions. That’s a shame—not just because we don’t experience the outcomes we’ve dreamed about (e.g., losing weight or socking away a certain amount of money) but because we also deny ourselves a lot of happiness on the way to achieving them.

Yes, you read that right. I understand for most people, doing things like slaving away in the gym, cutting calories, and curtailing “fun” spending might not seem like a recipe for joy. But according to multiple experts, working toward a goal does boost your happiness. Here’s what Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., of the University of California-Riverside has to say: “People who strive for something personally significant, whether it’s learning a new craft, changing careers, or raising moral children, are far happier than those who don’t have strong dreams or aspirations. Find a happy person, and you will find a project.”

Find a happy person, and you will find a project. I tend to agree. Throughout my life, I’ve noticed that projects, whether they’re for work, part of a hobby, or (yes!) even a New Year’s resolution, give you purpose and structure. They keep you from sitting around twiddling your thumbs, which inevitably leads to discontent. And when you accomplish milestones on the way to finishing your project (not to mention crossing the big finish line), your self-esteem and sense of accomplishment grow. And those things are all big contributors to an overall sense of contentment.

That being the case, here are some of my tips to help you stay on track and keep your 2014 resolutions:

Stick to one meaningful resolution. First of all, don’t overcommit. If you divide your attention and energy between multiple goals, you decrease the chances that you’ll follow through on any one of them. Even if there are several things you’d like to accomplish in 2014, I encourage you to narrow down the list (especially if your past resolution track record isn’t so good!). Identify one thing that means a lot to you, then devote your time and energy to accomplishing it.

Sit down now and plan out how you’re going to get there. Big accomplishments don’t just happen—they take thought, planning, and commitment. And most of the time, they’re built on a series of smaller, consecutive achievements. So figure out what baby steps you’ll have to take and which milestones you’ll have to hit before the clock starts ticking on January 1st. Write them down. If you can see exactly where you need to go, you’ll be less likely to stall out or make a wrong turn.

Schedule dates for your milestones. If something is written down on your calendar, it’s more likely to happen. (Face it: Saying, “I’ll get around to it one of these days” isn’t exactly a reliable strategy.) For example, you might say, “By March, I’d like to have lost five pounds,” or, “By May, I’ll have turned in my application for that online master’s program I’ve been eyeing.” These deadlines aren’t meant to be set in stone; they’re just guidelines to keep you on track and prevent you from procrastinating for months at a time!

Expect to slip up… Here’s the truth: Nobody’s perfect. Not me, not you, not anyone. I can tell you that during every project I’ve ever successfully pursued, I’ve still made mistakes, dropped some balls, and backslidden. I’m not saying this to discourage you, but to assure you that when the same thing happens during your resolution project, you haven’t failed outright!

…but don’t let those slip-ups derail you. Remember, tomorrow’s a new day and a new chance. You may have fallen off the wagon on Tuesday, but you can climb back onto it on Wednesday, or Thursday, or even next Friday. Whenever you slip up, spend a little time refamiliarizing yourself with your goal and refocusing on why it’s important. Always remember: Quitting or continuing is your choice.

Reward yourself for small and large victories. Yes, you’ll derive satisfaction from the work of progressing toward your goal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate small victories along the way! Every time you lose five pounds, or save another hundred dollars, or pass any milestone, reward yourself. Even if it’s just a cup of your favorite tea or a night at the movies, acknowledging your progress will give you the fuel to keep going.

Build a support team. It’s hard to sustain any important work for a year without external support. Tell your friends and family members what you’re doing and ask for their understanding, help, and encouragement. And if you know anyone with the same goal as you, think about becoming accountability partners. If you know your friend is waiting for you at the gym, for instance, you’ll think twice about skipping your workout.

Take your project’s “temperature” each month. On a monthly basis, it’s a good idea to reexamine your resolution. Make sure this is still something that you want to do and that it’s taking you to a place you still want to go. The truth is, people and circumstances change. It’s completely possible that what made sense on January 1st no longer honors who you are on September 19th! Remember, this is a project that’s supposed to make you happier, not crazier and more stressed. There’s no shame in changing course mid-year if it’s done for your well-being.

Here’s to a productive, happy 2014!