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Tips to stay committed to your New Year's resolutions

A GW psychologist says sticking to a few small strategies can have big payoffs.
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

WASHINGTON — We're about a week into the new year and it's usually right around now that the zeal we originally had for our New Year's resolutions starts to wear off.

The newness fades and the task in front of us starts to feel like real work.

When that sets in, it can be easy to give up.

But a psychologist at George Washington University says there are strategies you can deploy right now that can increase your chances of sticking to your goals.

The first is to make sure the goal you've set is specific enough, according to Tonya Dodge, an associate professor of psychology at GW.

Vague goals can leave you vulnerable to disappointment. 

"[M]ore specific goals allow us to set a clearer path than vague goals," says Dodge. "Specific goals also afford us more opportunities for monitoring."

In other words, telling yourself you're going to 'get fit' in the new year might not be the most effective approach. The vague nature of the goal makes it tough to be able to clearly check in with yourself along the journey to see if you're moving closer to the goal.

Instead, Dodge says consider aiming for more specific, measurable goals, like running a certain number of times per week or getting a set number of steps per day. That way, you can more easily track if you're meeting your goal or not.

Second, Dodge suggests establishing short-term goals within your larger aspirations. For example, if your goal is to run a 5k road race, consider breaking that down into sub-goals, like logging a certain number of miles of running each week leading up to the race. These sub-goals "can let us know if we're making progress and...whether we need to make adjustments," says Dodge.

Finally, Dodge says "it's important to acknowledge...that we're going to encounter setbacks or plateaus in our progress." The key is to make sure small setbacks don't turn into a total failure.

Sometimes, according to Dodge, those setbacks can be a sign that change might be needed. 

"As an example, if the resolution was to go to the gym 3 days a week but you only go once or twice then maybe the gym isn't for you," she said. "Reflect on whether the gym is really the best fit for achieving the goal. Maybe walking at lunch or before work is a better exercise fit for you."

Keeping things in perspective is critical.

"[I]f you've not gone to the gym regularly in several years and now you're going 1-2 times each week, you're getting there!," said Dodge. "Think about how it's about establishing a long term behavior change and even small steps will have long term benefits."

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