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10 Ways to Stay on the Path

It’s January, and the gym has been crowded. My trainer said, “Just wait a couple of weeks, and most of these people will be gone.”

This happens every year; it’s completely predictable. Most people abandon their New Year’s resolutions early in the year—for exercise and for many other goals.

01-14 Los Gatos Creek Trail

Here are some fixes for this, with a couple of examples.

  1. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Don’t pick too many resolutions. That can be impossible.
    Also, don’t think so much about what life will be like when you’ve finished your book or lost 30 pounds. At least, don’t keep your thoughts there. You can’t do any of that in just one bite.
  2. Instead, think small. Here’s my life today and this week, as I exercise this much for X days and eat less (calories or some other measure). Or, here’s my life as I write 500 words today and 4 more days this week, from this time to this time on each of those days.
  3. Substitute. Be ready to reach for an apple when you want cheesecake. Decide ahead of time what to do instead of known temptations.
  4. Avoid distractions. Read the Internet later. Set aside time for making steady progress toward your goal. Keep that time sacred. It’s little decisions made right now that add up to time for what you want to accomplish.
  5. Streamline good behaviors. Have your water bottle, walking shoes, or your word processor ready to go. Notice what’s in the way, then find a way through or around.
  6. Remember why. I want to lose weight because…. I want to bring this book into the world because… We do things that we value.
  7. Don’t give up. The average amount of time it takes to develop a new habit is more than 60 days… Much shorter (about 20 days) if you want to drink an extra glass of water before breakfast. Much longer (well over 100 days) for really hard things.
    Just because you miss some days, that doesn’t mean that your new habit is doomed. If you didn’t make it to the gym this week, go tomorrow, or find something that you will do.
  8. Remind yourself of other accomplishments. We do things when we think we can. Have you lost weight before? Did you ever finish a writing project? Then you can do it. Remind yourself of some similar thing you did that worked.
  9. Track progress. You should be able to say how many hours or words you wrote today, this week, this month. Or, how many sessions, miles, or minutes of exercise and how many calories (or some other measure) for your meals today.
  10. Watch what you say. Tell one or two supportive people about your goal, but don’t think too much or talk too much about the great thing you’re going to accomplish. Ironically, doing so can feel so good that the drive to go through the process of taking steps, eating well, or writing actual words can fade into the background.

Nobody sets out to be one of those people who goes to the gym three or four times in January, once in February, and then not again until next January. But clearly, that’s a common pattern. If you’re tempted to give up on your goals, any of these 10 suggestions—or a combination of them—should help. Good luck!

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