February 2, 2016

Fallen off the resolution wagon? Vanderbilt expert offers four steps to get back on

 We’re now more than a month into the new year, and those optimistic resolutions that greeted 2016 have—heavy sigh—not exactly worked out as you hoped.

A Vanderbilt expert on lifestyle changes says that those who have come up short on their resolutions should take heart.

“It is important to remember in the process of making a lifestyle change that new habits take time, and setbacks are part of the process,” says Stacey Kendrick, a health educator at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “It is normal to be less than perfect when making change, and just because you failed one time or more does not mean you are a failure.”

Kendrick says that one of the biggest reasons people fail at resolutions is that they give up when they have a setback, rather than using a setback as a learning experience.

“The key is to recognize that you had a setback, and to try and identify the triggers that may have contributed to things not working as planned, so that you can learn and grow from it next time,” she says.

Kendrick says that when setting goals or making resolutions, the best strategy is to break large goals into small and realistic goals—seek to walk a half-hour four times a week, for example, rather than resolving to exercise every day from now on.

And always keep trying.

Four ways to get back on track when resolutions start to fizzle: 

  • Try something new to energize your goal. “Sometimes we just need a kick-start to get things going again,” she says. “Trying a new walking route, getting a workout buddy, joining a support group or cooking some new healthy recipes might be all you need. Think about ways to shake things up so they don’t get stale.” 
  • Identify a support person or persons and ask them to help you stay on track. “There is nothing wrong with saying ‘I am trying to get more active. Would you be willing to encourage me?’” Kendrick says. “You can simply check in with them, or they may want to work on the same goal as you, so you can support each other.”
  •  Take time to review any setbacks you had, and what caused them. Make a plan for the future. “Spend some time thinking about why you might not have been as successful as you wanted to be,” she says. “What could have been done differently, and how can you make it better by changing things up a bit? Identifying any triggers to a slip up can help. You may notice, for example, that by packing a lunch you are less likely to go out for fast food.”
  •  Be kind to yourself. “Remember, above all else, that making changes to a habit we have had for years takes time, often many months. Don’t give up, and try not to beat yourself up,” Kendrick says. “Some people find it helpful to leave notes around their house or office, or you can try keeping a list of everything you do that is a step in the right direction. The important thing is, when you are less than perfect, don’t berate yourself. Would you tell a friend that they are lazy, weak or will never be able to do this? Of course not—so don’t indulge in negative self-talk. Visualize success, and keep telling yourself that you can do this.”