It’s been almost one month since we ushered in the arrival of 2023, which means it’s time to check in on any goals you might have set at the end of last year. Be honest with yourself: How much progress have you made (or, admittedly, not made)? What’s your motivation like these days? Are you still excited by the same goals, or might it be time to rethink a few here and there? No matter where you are in your health journey, it’s totally normal to need a little help with maintaining New Year’s resolutions.
“With any New Year’s resolution, it’s easy to be gung-ho about it in the first few weeks, drop off, then feel guilty whenever you think about it for the rest of the year,” says One Drop coach, Lorraine Chu, a registered dietitian/nutritionist (RDN).
Rather than falling into those same patterns, remind yourself that you’re allowed to “start over” with your goals whenever you want—that you have the power to shift gears when you notice something isn’t working.
To help you stay motivated, here are some tips for maintaining New Year’s resolutions through thick and thin.
Focus On Specific Daily Habits Instead of Vague Long-Term Goals
If you live with a chronic condition or know that you’re at risk of developing one, you and your doctor have probably discussed health goals like lowering your blood pressure or improving your blood sugar trends. And even though there may be specific numbers and target ranges tied to these goals, the day-to-day work that goes into achieving these long-term objectives is often much more vague and unclear.
“Instead of setting a goal such as ‘lower my blood pressure,’ try adopting a specific habit that’s related to that goal, such as ‘reduce my sodium intake at lunchtime by bringing my own lunch two times per week,’” suggests One Drop coach, Jackie, RDN, certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES), and certified food safety manager (CFSM). “This will feel more attainable and may be easier to stick with well past the beginning of the year.”
From there, continues Jackie, you can think about adding more, equally small habits once you’re comfortable with the first one. That way, you’re not necessarily focused on a daunting, all-or-nothing goal that you either do or don’t achieve. Instead, you’re building habits and systems of behavior that can translate to tangible changes in your health.
“When making goals, the most important thing I recommend is focusing on goals around habits,” notes One Drop coach, Amy Crees, RDN, CDCES. “We may not be able to control an outcome, but we can dial into the behaviors or habits that can influence an outcome.”
For example, let’s say you want to lower your LDL cholesterol (the type of cholesterol that can contribute to fatty blockages in the arteries) by the end of the year. “What we want to do is focus on how to achieve that goal with behaviors that have an effect on cholesterol,” she says, such as soluble fiber intake (soluble fiber can help slow the absorption of LDL cholesterol into the bloodstream).
So, continues Crees, one way you could increase your soluble fiber intake—and, in turn, reduce your LDL cholesterol—is to make a very specific goal of including ½ cup of oats at breakfast four times per week. More often than not, she says, “these short-term, realistic goals are what help us reach those long-term outcomes.”
When creating a short-term goal, One Drop coach, Rukiyyah, a diabetes prevention specialist who’s certified in plant-based nutrition and health coaching, suggests using the “SMART” acronym to guide you: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Bound.
“This way, each goal really reflects what you want to achieve and is aligned with what can be achieved,” explains Rukiyyah, who also lives with type 1 diabetes. “For example, my short-term goal is to pre-bolus (or take a dose of insulin at a set timeframe before eating) for lunch and dinner daily. To make this goal ‘SMART,’ I would add that I will pre-bolus 20 minutes in advance for lunch and dinner this week to ensure I don’t have a post-meal blood sugar spike. This breaks it down into actionable steps and also gives me a timeframe that works.”
Health Goals: Know Where You’re Starting *and* Where You’re Going
Of course, you can’t know how you’re doing with your health goals unless you track your progress in some way. But, before you even consider where you might be going with your health, make sure you know what your starting point is, too, says Elena Welsh, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in chronic illness and mental health.
“Setting realistic goals requires that you understand where you’re currently functioning so that you don’t push yourself too far too quickly,” she explains. “I suggest that you take a week to track your current habits or behaviors in the area that you’re looking to change. This gives you great data to set a realistic goal, which would typically be only one to two steps above your current behavior.” (One Drop makes it easy to log all of your health data—from meals and medication to workouts and glucose readings—in one convenient place.)
For example, let’s say you currently exercise once a week for 15 minutes, but you want to work out more often. Again, it’s all about establishing realistic goals, rather than unrealistic goals, in relation to your starting point.
In that case, says Welsh, it would probably be unrealistic to jump to doing 60-minute workouts five days per week. “A more realistic goal might be something like three times per week for 15 minutes or two times per week for 45 minutes,” she suggests. “Once you have a successful few weeks at that level, you can take the next step, and so on.”
Along the way, tracking your progress is key, whether it’s your weight, meals, blood sugar, blood pressure, or even just your general consistency in maintaining different healthy habits.
“Since new habits and lifestyle changes take some time to show noticeable improvement,” explains Jackie, “tracking can help you see the small changes and trends in your numbers, which will keep you feeling motivated and confident that your healthy habits are making a difference! Oftentimes, we don’t realize how far we’ve come until we review this progress over time.”
Not only that, but even if you don’t necessarily meet a certain goal, it’s still valuable to learn from your efforts along the way, adds Welsh. “For instance, if you made some progress, but not all of the progress you’d hoped to make, you can determine a reasonable next step,” she explains. “You can also examine times you were successful versus times you struggled. What else was happening in your life? This can help you identify more clearly what support versus barriers you have in reaching your goals.”
Stay Motivated By Rethinking the Way You Reward Yourself
Hard work deserves recognition—but there’s more than one way to reward yourself.
According to Harvard Health, there are generally two types of rewards: hedonia (H-rewards), which includes concrete “superficial” rewards, like buying yourself a new outfit simply because it looks good, or treating yourself to an indulgent dessert because you know it will taste good, and eudaimonia (E-rewards), which refers to more abstract rewards that enhance your sense of purpose and meaning, like choosing to work out regularly because you know that doing so will help you stay alive and have the most quality time possible with your loved ones.
It’s not necessarily that H-rewards are “bad” or that you should avoid them; you have every right to reward yourself with a solo trip to the spa, a day out golfing, a day at the movies with a friend, or even just curling up for the afternoon with a good book if that’s what makes you happy. What really matters is whether that reward is actually helping you stay motivated. A shopping spree may bring you short-term happiness and celebration, but is it giving you an intrinsic sense of purpose that’s connected to your goals in some way? The answer might be yes if you’re buying something that holds more intangible meaning and importance to you (like quality workout clothes that will help you feel excited about exercising, or a professional outfit for an upcoming work event that will help advance your career). If the answer is no, then it might not help you stay motivated and committed to your resolutions in the long haul.
Not only can the right rewards help you stay motivated, but they can also help you reframe the way you think about your resolutions in the first place.
“Think of working toward your health goals as an act of self-love,” suggests Chu. “You’re doing it to improve yourself and your health, and that in itself is worth celebrating! Shifting this mindset from daunting to hopeful can make a huge difference in how we approach our goals. And giving yourself something to look forward to as a reward when you finish your goals (or stay on the path) can give you the push you need to keep going.”
It can also serve as a reminder that you’re doing this for you—that you’re worth celebrating, adds Chu.
“You have to be your own biggest cheerleader,” says Rukiyyah, especially when you live with a chronic condition. “When you care for others, you likely hear appreciation from them. But caring for yourself can feel like a full-time, thankless job. Treating yourself to something that makes you feel loved and appreciated can help create a healthy relationship with your chronic condition.”
Still feeling stuck? Here are some creative ways to reward yourself the next time you deserve a celebration.
This article has been clinically reviewed by Jamillah Hoy-Rosas, MPH, RDN, CDCES, and VP of clinical operations and program design at One Drop, and Dr. Harpreet Nagra, PhD, VP, behavior science and advanced technologies at One Drop.