If you’re gearing up for a new year -- and a “new you” -- in 2017, you’re in good company. Even top health experts admit they want to take better care of their bodies and minds. Wondering how they stay on track? You're in luck. We asked nine experts, from doctors to dietitians, how they stay motivated to achieve their New Year's resolutions. Here are their top tips.
1. Get your priorities straight.
Every year, I set a few goals, but I use a tier-like system. At the top are goals I absolutely have to complete (this year, it’s being more mindful). Next are those I want to complete, and finally, I set a stretch goal that would be nice to complete by the end of the year (like completing a century ride or marathon). Often, I choose goals based on the previous year and how I can make my life easier or more enjoyable the next year. I recommend taking the time to write down what you want and why. (For example, being mindful helps me re-center and remember what counts in my busy life.) Keep that list somewhere visible, read or look at it daily, and remember the reason you’re taking this journey.
-- Brunilda Nazario, MD, associate medical director at WebMD
2. Go easy on yourself.
I view all new habits as an experiment rather than a judgment on my worthiness or skills. Meaning, I don't beat myself up if something doesn't stick the first time I try it. Instead, I ask myself: What worked? What didn't work? And what could I do differently next time to achieve better results? I do this until I have a clear understanding of what stops me from doing something and what keeps me doing it, then I make sure those conditions are met. If I can make it so an action is easy and rewarding enough to do regularly, then I win.
-- Darya Rose, PhD, author of Foodist: Using Real Food and Real Science to Lose Weight Without Dieting
3. Take small steps.
Scheduling small steps toward goals is a key to success. For example, I have set the goal of having dessert only 2 times per week (down from 4 times!) and going to yoga twice per week. For yoga, I will look at my calendar at the beginning of the week and see where I can fit it in. Even though sometimes this is challenging as a working mom, I will try my hardest to get it done. The hope is that after several weeks, it will become a good habit.
-- Hansa Bhargava, MD, medical editor and expert pediatrician at WebMD
4. Remember the real goal.
People tend to forget what health is for. Health is not the prize -- a better life is the prize. Healthy people have more fun: more vitality, more energy, more capability, more time. Once you understand how abundantly investments in health pay you back, staying motivated simply isn't an issue.
-- David L. Katz, MD, founding director, Yale University Prevention Research Center
5. Make it a joint effort.
I do the best when I link my health goals with someone else. I exercise in the mornings with my husband. I don’t like to cancel on him, so it helps me drag myself out of bed. I want my kids to have healthy eating habits, which motivates me to make good choices with them when we’re out to dinner or snacking at home. And at the office, I like to walk and do yoga with co-workers. If I put it on my schedule, I have to go just like any other meeting!
-- Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, medical editor at WebMD
6. Track your progress daily.
I write my resolutions in a daily planner, then review and re-read them every day when I sit down to check my calendar. Each of my resolutions is quantifiable on a day-to-day basis, and I have direct control over my progress toward achieving them. For example, the common New Year’s resolution of "weight loss" is not actionable: You can't wake up and "do" weight loss, but you can wake up and have eggs with a side of fruit.
-- Mike Roussell, PhD, nutritional consultant and author of The 6 Pillars of Nutrition
7. Thank your body.
Research shows that our mindset and overall approach to life have significant impacts on our health and well-being. Every time you hear a negative thought in your head (“I am fat, I am awful”), counter it with a positive one (“I am beautiful, I am wonderful”). It may feel weird at first, but over time, nurturing the positive voice strengthens it. Once you realize how hard your body is working to keep you alive 24/7, it makes sense to support it, giving it the tools it needs to be healthy such as eating a mostly plant-based diet, exercising, and managing stress.
-- Samantha Heller, registered dietitian, exercise physiologist, and author of The Only Cleanse
8. Schedule it.
In 2017, I will include at least 10 minutes of daily meditation, as well as deep breathing exercises throughout the day. The best way I’ve found to keep myself accountable is through a regular schedule. So I include 10 minutes of mediation at the end of my daily physical activity. That way, I can ensure I work on both a healthy body and healthy mind on a daily basis.
-- Michael Smith, MD, chief medical editor at WebMD
9. Find what's fun for you.
Instead of making exercise a chore, I do what makes me happy. For me, that means a twice-weekly dance class at my gym. It's fun, and that motivates me to show up each time!
-- Michelle Gielan, positive psychology researcher and author of Broadcasting Happiness: The Science of Igniting and Sustaining Positive Change