13 Ways to Actually Stick to Your New Year's Resolutions

Give yourself the best chance of success this year with our expert-led hacks

By: Tom Ward

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Depending on who you ask, it can take anywhere from 18 to a staggering (and very specific) 254 days to form a habit. Which means, potentially, that your 1 January fitness resolutions won’t stick until September 11th. Or, the 10th, if it’s a leap year. Either way, let’s be honest, that’s far too long.

Because, while we aren’t demanding results right now (and nor should you), we all want to see progress. A sense of achievement. The answer, then, lies in how we build our resolutions – the goals we set ourselves and how we go about achieving them.

It’s a question we’ve pondered on for some time. Turns out, the best way to answer it was to recruit some of the country’s best fitness thinkers to offer their insight into everything from how we think about success, to how we invest in our own success.

Take note.

Dream big

We aren’t talking about fantasising about winning the Euro Millions. That never helped anyone get in shape. No, according to Robert Utley, founder of Real Body Performance, the key to achieving your goals is to be ambitious, but then break these ambitions down into smaller, realistic steps. 

“I like to see a big goal almost like a dream, with lots of little goals on how to achieve this dream,” he says. “It could be insane, but if people aren’t laughing at your dreams then the dream is too small. The key is to not get hung up on potentially never hitting this dream goal. Focus on hitting the small goals and the dream goal will follow. Even if you never reach it, you’ll achieve a lot more than if you’d aimed lower.”

Celebrate wins

Negativity never helped anyone. Positivity, on the other hand? Well that’s a whole different story, as wellness expert Sukhdeep Randhawa (@sukh_r) knows. “Our brains are hardwired with negative bias, so it is important to celebrate the wins to create a positive connection with your new habit.”

Choose something that matters

How much do you really want a six-pack? If you’re being honest, maybe not as much as you’d like to be able to keep up with your kids, or to lift something heavier than you over your head, right?

“The best way to build a habit and to stick to it is to choose one that really matters to you,” explains psychotherapist Somia Zaman of CBT Therapy. “Lots of people make resolutions simply because 'it's what you do' at this time of year. But without real motivation behind your resolution, your new habit is unlikely to stick.”

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Understand habits

Any habit has three main components: a cue or trigger, the behaviour itself, and the reward. Nutritionist Dr Gary Mendoza (StagesOfChange.co.uk) explains that understanding this is the key to breaking the cycle. 

“The cue for snacking could be hunger, boredom, etc,” he says. “The behaviour would be eating the snack and the reward would be the lovely taste of the snack. If I want to change this, I have to change the behaviour and/or reward.  If I recognise this then when I get the cue, I can plan to do something else instead – say, a walk around the block. The reward now becomes the satisfaction of knowing I didn’t have a snack, with all those extra calories.”

Don't do things you hate

Getting in shape is difficult enough without forcing yourself through 6am sea swims or 6am hill runs. Or pretty much anything done at 6am. Chatty Dobson, yoga teacher and owner of FLEX Chelsea, advises:

“Do what you enjoy. Don’t force yourself to do a HIIT class if you hate them. Try different things, and when you’ve found what works for you, stick with it. Try different trainers too; the motivation that works for some people doesn’t work for everyone.” 

Visualise success

Humans are visual creatures, says Rebecca Lockwood, neuro-linguistic and hypnotherapy expert. It follows, then, that a great way to keep you motivated towards a goal is through visual stimuli. “Put things up on the wall and perhaps spend some time visualising yourself as if you have achieved the goal already,” she says. “This will help you to stay on track.”

Give yourself a break

Hillary Cannon, a BNC-certified nutritionist and founder of BarreFly, knows that setting sustainable goals naturally involves a lot of failure. So give yourself a break. Not only is perfection impossible, if you aim for it you’ll never be satisfied with anything less. So wise up.

“Habits take time to form and perfection is simply not required,” she stresses. “I tell my clients to come up with a mantra that works for them, and repeat that mantra to themselves whenever they feel like they’re falling off the healthy bus. Something like: ‘I am not perfect, and that is okay. Today hasn’t ruined yesterday, and tomorrow will be better than today.’ Then wake up the next morning and smash it.”

Invest in yourself

Any sort of fitness goal is an investment in your health and happiness, so why not go all in and give yourself the best chance of success? 

“Hire a coach, whether in person or online,” advises Ollie Weguelin, director at Sustain Performance. “Investing in your health and fitness is something you’ll never regret. Make sure it’s the right fit; a good coach doesn’t just tell you what to do, they educate you and give you the tools to succeed without them.”

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Stack your habits

Trying to change your diet, meal prep, start a new workout programme, get a good sleep schedule, drink more water, get in more steps all at once is overwhelming, says PT Jay Sullivan (@jaysullivan_fitness). “Nail down one new habit first and then add another when you are ready. Otherwise, it’s very easy to become overwhelmed and then ultimately give up because you feel like you are failing.”

Work with what you have

Want to become a champion half marathon runner but you’ve never managed a 5k? It can be done, but it’s going to take time. Lucy Gornall, head of wellness at Puresport, reckons you should focus on beasting what you can do first. 

“If you don't exercise now, and suddenly vow to exercise every day, you're setting yourself up for failure,” she says. “Instead, say you'll train three days a week. And then build from there. It's the same with strength. If you're currently bicep curling a 2kg dumbbell, it's unlikely you'll move up to 20kg in a week. Slow, steady and sustainable is the key here.”

Get off Instagram

Generally good advice. But here Mel Thomas, PT at @melvthomas, is talking about not comparing yourself to the ultra lithe fitness models online. (Although, do follow him, of course). The key is having realistic expectations and not allowing yourself to get caught up in the false narratives of social media.

“Watching individuals with perfect physiques sprinting on treadmills whilst anchored to a weight attached to a bungee rope isn’t real,” he says. “Real training for real people is hard work and requires application and determination.” 

Be your own biggest fan

Building new habits is hard and the last thing Lee Chambers, environmental psychologist and wellbeing consultant at LeeChambers.org, wants is you being hard on yourself. 

“A little self-compassion and a focus on seeing our strengths is vital when we start telling ourselves we aren't good enough,” he says. “And be honest; there is much more right about you than wrong, and ‘good enough’ is yours to define in your own terms.”

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