01/16/2015 05:52 EST | Updated 03/18/2015 05:59 EDT

How to Make Your New Year's Resolutions Stick for Real

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We see the new year as a fresh start, a clean slate to leave behind the habits that aren't serving us and go ahead full steam with grand plans of how we're going to change our lives. Now there's certainly nothing wrong with a journey for self improvement, but too often we put so much pressure on ourselves at this time of year that we wind up with fizzling motivation come February 1 that leaves us frustrated, disappointed and defeated. So what can you do to set yourself up for success to achieve lasting change?

Start now. It's never too late.

Whether it's January 1, 15 or November 30, go for it! Although we like to get all hyped up about new year's resolutions, it's never too late to start and there truly is no goal too small. The most important thing is to start...or to re-start if you've gotten distracted along the way. As the old saying goes, never put off for tomorrow what you can do today.

Align your goals with your priorities.

Choose goals that are meaningful to you. Not your partner, not your friend, you. Take some time to consider what your intentions are and dig a bit deeper to really identify why they're important to you. If you're deciding to make a change, the reasons are usually compelling enough to outweigh the benefits of keeping that habit in your life. Write out the key reasons -- beyond just wanting a bikini-ready body for your vacation -- and post them somewhere visible that you can refer to often. Reminding yourself why this change makes your life better will help you stick it out for the long haul.

Be realistic.

Don't set yourself up for failure. Be honest with yourself and make realistic goals. This doesn't mean go for something you'd do anyways. Challenge yourself, but think hard before committing. If your goal is to eat only home cooked meals, do you know how to cook? Do you work 15 hours a day? Address any potential barriers and make a plan. It's OK to take a step back and re-evaluate your goals or take smaller steps that will still move you towards your long term vision.

Be specific.

Break large goals down into smaller, manageable steps that you can start right away. Identify where you're at now and what the next step is for you to move forward. Setting a goal to "eat healthier" might feel overwhelming, but if you can identify what that means to you and start with say "eating five servings of vegetables per day, five days this week," that might seem more doable. Setting SMART goals is a great way to keep you on track.

Write it down.

I can't stress enough how much of a difference it make to write your goals down! Somehow it's just not the same as "knowing it in your head." It's a commitment to yourself, it holds you accountable and it makes it a lot easier to review or re-evaluate your goals to keep you moving forward.

Be open to learning from your mistakes.

If your day or your week doesn't go as planned, don't feel like you've blown it. Take a look at why it didn't work and what you can do moving forward to change that. Did you not have the groceries in the house? Did you forget to pack your lunch? "Failures" are usually the best learning opportunities.

Aim for progress and growth, not perfection. Let's face it, perfection is boring and stressful. Remember that progress is not linear. Some days you take a few steps forward and others, you might stumble back but overall you're still moving towards your goals. Change isn't easy, but it is definitely worth the effort.

So with these tidbits, take that motivation for a fresh start and a new year to keep the momentum strong all year long!


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