When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, the good news is that 75% of them last through the first week of January. The not-so-good news? Only 46% make it past six months, according to a study from the University of Scranton, and just 8% of all those who make them actually achieve their goals.

If you’re one of the approximately 45% of Americans who make resolutions every year, Dr. Rick Bowles has some tips for how to be among those who succeed. Bowles, who practices family medicine at Pacific Medical Centers, has specific recommendations for anyone interested in making a lifestyle change.

Set realistic goals. “People ask what’s realistic,” he says, noting that it’s important to take into account where you are now and factors like age. “I’m 61 years old. If I’m going to lose weight and tone up, I’m not going to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger,” he says.

Start planning early. “One of the mistakes people make is they’ll wait until two days before the new year and say, ‘Here’s my resolution,’” says Bowles. “Plan at least several weeks ahead. Put the date you’re going to start on all of your calendars – what you’re going to do and what you’re going to achieve.” He recommends putting sticky notes everywhere to remind yourself of the approaching date and what your goals are. “It’s almost like self-hypnosis,” he says.

pacific medical centers
Dr. Rick Bowles practices family medicine at Pacific Medical Centers. In this article he gives practical advice for reaching New Year’s resolutions. Photo courtesy: Pacific Medical Centers.

Watch out for negative friends or relatives. Other people in your life may be struggling with the same issue, which can lead them to undermine your efforts, says Bowles. “You’ve got to watch out for negative friends and family. People who want to lose weight or stop smoking are often surrounded by other people who eat too much or smoke. Those people know they should quit smoking or lose weight and they feel subconsciously guilty, so they sabotage you. Sometimes you just have to stay away from them.”

Celebrate small victories. “You shouldn’t wait until the very end. Notice small changes,” he says. After a strong start, interest can dim as weeks go by, and that’s where a trustworthy friend or coach can be helpful. “Someone who gives positive reinforcement, who can say ‘It’s been two months and you haven’t smoked’ will help to keep your interest when the newness is over.”

Get psyched. Bowles recommends thinking about lifestyle changes the way you would think about running a marathon. “You have to get psyched up.” The sticky notes are part of the process, so that people are constantly bombarded with the message of what they’re trying to achieve. “It should be the last thing on your mind before you go to sleep and the first thing on your mind when you wake up,” he says. Using pictures as inspiration is also effective, as long as the pictures are realistic. “Find people that have moderate body shapes,” he says. “The message is ‘I’d like to be able to wear these types of clothes.’”

Plan for missteps. It’s important to realize beforehand that you’re going to have ups and downs, says Bowles. “You’ll go out and eat more than you planned or smoke your cigarette. Don’t beat yourself up.” When those happen, people can be tempted to give up entirely but it’s critical to get back on the path to achieving your goal. “Get back on track if that happens,” he says.

Realize that you’re making a permanent lifestyle change. So many people gain back the weight they lost, says Bowles. If you are going to lose weight, it needs to be thought of as a permanent change. Think of this as an exciting new change and experience in your life. People often think that when they reach their goal, they are done. But they aren’t, it is just a fantastic new beginning.

For more information about Pacific Medical Centers, visit www.pacificmedicalcenters.org or call 1-888-4-PACMED.

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