How’s your diet going? Been to the gym lately? It’s April, which means if you did make a New Year’s resolution, you probably failed (a long time ago). In fact, a study published in March by an Australian university found that two-thirds of study participants reported failing on their New Year’s resolution within the first month.

I work with hundreds of people every year on their health-related goals. Most people come to Mercer Wellness with a weight loss goal. Others want to start strength training, run a 5K, better handle their stress or manage a chronic condition. No matter what goals they have, almost all of them have one thing in common: They fail.

At least at first.

Creating and maintaining healthy habits is hard. Exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, creating a joyful life in the midst of general global chaos — these things are tough. And they’re especially tough to do day in and day out, week after week, and for months at a time.

But there is good news! When it comes to healthy habits, whether you’ve failed once, a hundred times or never got started in the first place, you can start again today and be successful. In my experience, almost everyone fails along the way. But after that failure (or failures), it’s important to get back on track — but differently.

Let me give an example: Person A wants to lose weight. Person A goes on a diet, drastically cutting their calories resulting in being hungry pretty much all the time. They exercise six days a week. They are sore. They are tired. They have no more joy in life. So they have a little “cheat.” And then they black out and wake up six months later, heavier than they were when they started. Fail.

So what can Person A do when they are recommitted to losing weight? Choice A: They can do exactly what they did before; exercising to the extreme, cutting calories and being miserable, and being surprised when it doesn’t work (again). Or Choice B: They can choose a different path where they make modest changes that don’t feel like torture and allow them to enjoy their life.

Too often when we fail at our goals — especially those relating to diet, exercise and weight loss — we just do the same (failed) things all over again. But why? If it didn’t work the last time, it’s not going to work this time. Stop the insanity; there is a better way.

First, take stock of your failure. What went wrong? Why didn’t your plan work? Can you adjust the plan, or do you need to scrap it entirely?

Next, write down your goals, and be specific. Saying “get ripped” or “lose weight” are not specific goals. How about “lose 10 pounds by June 1” or “bench press 225 pounds”?

And finally, draft a modest plan that is tailored to your goals. If you want to improve your fitness, start with three workouts a week, not six. If you want to lose weight, cut back on some calories, not all of them. When it comes to healthy habits, small changes over a long period of time trump big changes you can only sustain for the near future.

Failure is a normal part of making healthy changes. The only real failure is failing to try again.

Looking for fun and rewarding ways to incorporate healthy habits? Join one of Wellness’ great spring challenges or receive individualized support right here.

 

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Rachel Woodson is director of employee wellness at Mercer University.