Positive lifestyle changes can dramatically improve your health, well-being, and life. Your improvement may impact the lives of those around you too. While you can make a fresh start on any occasion, the New Years' tradition means you'll find plenty of social support for making changes in January, which can improve your likelihood of success.
"Making lasting change isn't often easy unless you are smart about it," says Karl Dietrich, MD, family medicine provider at Cheshire Medical Center. "You have reasons for living the way you do now, even though it may hurt you long-term. Being honest and realistic with your goals helps you succeed in whatever you strive for—such as enjoying better health and well-being."
Focus on the process rather than the outcome
"At first, my patients often make resolutions that focus on the end result—completing a 5K, losing 10 pounds, sleeping 8 hours a night—without getting specific about exactly how they will do that," says Dietrich.
He explains that you can be much more effective by centering your goals around the day-to-day process of reaching a milestone achievement. Focusing on the journey makes you less likely to abandon your new lifestyle once you've reached your milestone.
"When imagining a better life in 2023," Dietrich says, "focus your goals on the habits you want to stick with rather than just the results."
Example: Instead of "I want to lose 10 pounds," try "I want to walk for 30 minutes four times per week."
Small incremental steps go a long way
"Big goals can be motivating, but sometimes they are so intimidating that people never make progress," says Dietrich. Instead, he suggests breaking up your big, ambitious goals into smaller incremental steps. Achieving "easy" wins for each small step also helps you keep your momentum over time.
Example: When saving for a big purchase, come up with a weekly or monthly savings goal.
Use both short-term and long-term SMART goals
"Setting vague goals like "be healthier" doesn't work well," says Dietrich. "It's hard to tell if you're accomplishing them and people tend to lose momentum. SMART goals are much more effective."
The SMART goal structure (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) helps create goals that are easier to track, stick to, and achieve.
- Specific: Well-defined, clear, and unambiguous.
- Measurable: Make specific criteria to measure your progress.
- Achievable: Attainable, not impossible.
- Realistic: Within reach and relevant to your other goals.
- Timely: A clear starting and target date.
Example: "During January 2023, I will bring my lunch and a snack to work 4 days per week."
Make your goal the EASIEST choice
"Patients' goals often focus on something they've struggled to do in the past, so it's important to make it easier for yourself to achieve those goals this time," says Dietrich. "What changes can you make so your new healthy habit becomes the easiest option for you to choose?"
"If you want to eat a healthier diet but often eat unhealthy snacks out of convenience, ensure healthy snacks are always easy to grab where and when you usually eat them," he says.
Example: "I will cut vegetables into pre-portioned snacks twice a week while making dinner and keep a bowl of my favorite fruit on the kitchen counter."
- Healthy lifestyle changes that last (apa.org)
- Making your New Year's resolution stick (apa.org)
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
Karl Dietrich, MD, MPH, director of Cheshire Medical Center's Family Medicine Residency
A New Hampshire native and former high school science teacher, Dietrich earned his degrees from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and has been a Family Medicine provider since 2014. He cares for patients at Cheshire while developing our new Family Medicine Residency program. Dietrich and his distinguished faculty look forward to welcoming our region's first cohort of physician residents in 2024.
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Learn more about Cheshire's Family Medicine Residency