8 Realistic Goals for a Healthy New Year

If you’re like most goal-oriented people, you probably don’t consider your New Year’s holiday complete until you make at least a few resolutions. The beginning of a new calendar year is a great time to make positive changes and decide what you’d like to improve upon in the months to come. Plus, lots of other people will be doing the same thing. It’s always nice to feel like “we’re all in it together.”

However, making New Year’s resolutions is one thing. Actually following through with them is another. Most people get carried away, wind up expecting the impossible of themselves, and quickly become frustrated when they can’t measure up or don’t see instant results. The key to success—especially when it comes to getting healthy and staying fit—is to set realistic, attainable goals. The following are a few suggestions to keep in mind.

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Think “SMART” when it comes to your goals.

The first order of business when it comes to achieving any goal is to adjust the way you approach goal-setting in the first place. Whether you’re looking to lose a few pounds this year or reach a new personal best when it comes to your lifting routine, it pays to think “SMART” (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely). Here’s how:

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Specific: Goals that are vague and unattached to any real definition are much harder to pursue and, ultimately, meet. Instead of simply saying you want to “get healthy” this year, take a moment to define what getting healthy means to you. Does it mean establishing an exercise routine? Drinking less? Losing weight? Be specific about what it is you’re really looking to do and let that be your goal.

Measurable: Let’s say you’ve decided your goal is to lose weight. Now it’s time to break it down even further by assigning numbers to it. Decide on a specific number of pounds you’d like to lose or a goal weight you’d ultimately like to reach. Then decide on a plan for tracking your progress that you can stick with, like weighing yourself every Friday morning and keeping a record of your ongoing results.  

Attainable: While it’s fine to have high standards for yourself, it’s important not to harbor unrealistic expectations. For instance, no one goes from being sedentary and morbidly obese to being marathon material in a matter of months. Definitely set a goal that pushes your usual limits, but that you also know you’ll actually be able to accomplish within reason.

Realistic: It’s important to make sure the goals you set make sense as far as where you currently are in your life. Will you realistically be able to devote the time, energy, and resources required at this particular point in your life? It’s important to make sure this is something you’re doing for yourself and not for someone else.

Timely: Journeys don’t just have starting points; they have destinations. Set a realistic deadline for meeting your goal to help keep yourself on track. For instance, let’s say your goal is to lose 20 pounds at a rate of a pound a week. That would put your deadline at five months from your start date. Mark it on your calendar so that you don’t forget.

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Start each day with a plank.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming your health-related New Year’s resolution has to be big and complicated to be worth making in the first place. Even small changes to your daily routine add up to big benefits over the long haul. Adding a daily plank to your routine is a great example.

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Planks are among the best, most effective exercise moves out there. They activate multiple muscle groups, including those in your core, and they are ideal for building strength, endurance, and discipline. Decide you’re going to start each day by holding a plank for one minute. If you can’t do a minute right off the bat, start with 30 seconds and work up to a minute later.

A single minute is a time commitment even the busiest person can safely commit to. Plus, doing it at the very start of your day cultivates a habit of literally putting fitness first, as well as reminds you to be as active as possible all day long.

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Say goodbye to “all or nothing” thinking.

A whopping 80% of all New Year’s resolutions fizzle out by the second week of February. That means only one person out of every five actually manages to hold onto that “can do” attitude he or she started the year with for longer than five weeks. Laziness isn’t the main reason why the other four fail, though. It’s the unrealistic “all or nothing” attitude so many people adopt that defeats them in the end.

Instead of gradually working their way up to where they want to be, people try to go from zero to sixty pretty much immediately. For instance, they expect to go from leading a completely sedentary lifestyle to working out several hours a day every single day of the week. When they inevitably can’t stick with that, they simply give up and go back to doing nothing at all.

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Avoid this common trap by keeping goals approachable in the first place. If you’re totally sedentary right now, start by deciding you’re going to achieve the doctor-recommended minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. If you can’t manage that or wind up falling behind, don’t give up altogether. Instead, do whatever you can. Even 5-10 minutes of exercise a couple of times a week is better than nothing.

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Focus on achievable performance goals.

Let’s face it. All people who decide they’re finally going to get healthy are doing it for their own sets of reasons. Some people might be doing it to lower their risk of disease, set a healthy example for their children, or retain their mobility into old age.  

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While there’s definitely nothing wrong with wanting to look better or maintain an impressive body fat-to-muscle ratio, it’s often easier to stay motivated when you focus on performance instead. Try aiming for being able to touch your toes, master a kettlebell windmill, or do 20 push-ups without stopping to rest. Improved performance and better aesthetics tend to go hand in hand, so you’ll come out of the process looking fantastic. This approach allows you to enjoy other aspects of the overall journey as well.

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Join forces with a fitness buddy.

Although there’s certainly nothing wrong with deciding you’d rather get healthy on your own, you should know there are some great benefits to doing it with someone else. Having the right exercise partner can make you twice as likely to meet your goals. Working out in the company of others has been proven to help people over plateaus and make exercise more fun. Other people help hold you accountable for sticking with the program when maybe you’d rather just quit.

Your fitness buddy can be anyone whose company you enjoy and who shares your desire to get healthy. Some people decide to make it a family affair and get their spouses or their children involved. Others join groups or sign up for fitness classes. Whichever route you go, getting healthy is always more fun when you know others are cheering you on every step of the way.

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Don’t forget to take care of your mental health.

Whether you’re interested in getting healthy to get a handle on medical issues you already have or simply feel ready to do something good for yourself in general, it’s important not to let the process become too stressful. Yes, hard work does pay off, but it’s definitely possible to take that way of thinking too far. Push yourself to the point of exhaustion too many times, and you risk burnout, injury, and discouragement.

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Taking care of your mental health and exercising proper self-care is essential. Self-care helps offset the negative effects of stress and keeps you focused on your goals. It prevents you from eventually cracking under the pressure. That said, schedule rest days as needed. Allow yourself small, healthful rewards on occasion for sticking with things, like treating yourself to that fitness tracker you’ve been wanting. You’ll be that much more likely to succeed in the end.

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Understand how importance self-forgiveness is.

Speaking of important self-care principles, it’s impossible to underemphasize the value of self-forgiveness when it comes to maintaining a healthy, fit lifestyle. The fact of the matter is that nobody’s perfect. Even the most disciplined, dedicated fitness enthusiasts have bad days once in a while and give in to the temptation to skip a workout or overdo it on the chocolate cake at their best friends’ birthday parties.

Life will get in the way of your perfectly orchestrated workout schedule sooner or later. You’ll get sick or have to work late and may or may not keep your promise to yourself to make it up later on. Don’t give in to the temptation to beat yourself up over your mistakes. Forgive yourself with the assurance that you’ll do better next time. Every single day is another chance to rededicate yourself to your fitness goals and give it your best shot all over again.

Try making things easier by coming up with a backup plan for when the going gets rough. Does your hectic work schedule make you worry about how you’ll stay on top of your healthy diet plan? Embrace the magic of meal prep so you always have something wholesome to grab in a flash.

Worried about keeping up with your cardio routine once the worst of the winter weather sets in? Invest in an elliptical machine or an indoor rower for your spare room so you can get in a solid workout at home if you need to. A little resourcefulness goes a long way!

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Embrace ways to make staying healthy fun.

When a plan to get in shape, lose weight, or get healthier is brand new, it’s not as hard to feel motivated or get excited about things. This is especially the case when you notice the results for the very first time. Sooner or later, though, the going will get tough. You’ll hit a plateau or get bored with your routine and start to see going to the gym as a chore. That’s a good sign that you’re focusing too much on losing weight or achieving the numbers you’re after in the weight room and need to inject a little fun into the mix.

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Fitness doesn’t have to be a drag, nor does every routine have to the same as every other. Maybe your best friend has found her bliss at spin class, but you hate it. That’s totally okay! Find something else that you really do enjoy. Take up swimming, hiking, tennis, or kickboxing. Join your office’s softball team. You’ll find it much easier to stick with things if you’re having so much fun, you actually forget you’re working out.

The same goes for healthy eating. Yes, kale is good for you and makes a wonderful addition to a healthy diet … if you actually like kale. If it’s not for you, though, don’t sweat it. Establish a healthy diet packed with wholesome foods you truly enjoy eating. You won’t even be tempted to cheat on a diet that really doesn’t feel like one in the first place.

At the end of the day, a healthy life well lived is a life full of joy, enthusiasm, and—most importantly—fun. Approach things that way right from the get-go, and you’ll definitely be one of the success stories this New Year!