Have yet to make a resolution that sticks? Join the club. By the end of January, 36 percent of New Year’s resolvers have thrown their hands up in the air, said “oh, well,” and probably asked for a piece of leftover holiday candy.
But that’s no reason to abandon the grand tradition of resolution-making: People are 10 times more likely to hit their goals if they actually make a resolution, according to the same study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology. And if you learn from these common mistakes, you’ll be even more likely to hit your weight-loss goal this year.
1. Making a Vague, Results-Based Resolution
These rarely end in success, according to study author John Norcross, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Scranton and author ofCHANGEOLOGY: 5 Steps to Realizing Your Goals and Resolutions. “‘I want to lose weight,’ doesn’t take into account all the minute details of what needs to change for the long-run,” says Terese Weinstein Katz, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, eating disorder specialist and diet coach. ‘I want to eat less fast food,’ ‘I want to eat more vegetables,’ ‘I want to eat less sugar,’ ‘I want to learn to eat smaller portions’ are all better starting points for goal-setting.” These are goals you can work toward each day and that will result in the weight loss you want.
2. Keeping Their Resolutions in Their Head
Writing down your goal can make it seem more real, keep you from tweaking it when things get rough, and strengthen your resolve, says Katz. “Sometimes in writing, too, you can see more clearly what might be unrealistic.” For added accountability, Norcross also recommends sharing your resolution with others.
3. Thinking It Takes 21 Days to Form a Habit
It’s more like three months, says Norcross. So don’t freak out and give up when you’re a month into your resolution and it still feels like work. Be patient, and living healthy will become second nature. “Success, and the self-esteem boosted by that, then opens the way for future steps and goals to be achieved more readily,” says Katz.
4. Lacking Confidence
If you go into something thinking you can’t do it, you’ll be right. But if you think you can, you’ll also be right. Confidence (a.k.a. self-efficacy) is a strong predictor of resolution-keeping success, says Norcross. To boost your can-do attitude, focus on playing to your strengths, and again, don’t get hung up on your weak spots or missteps.
5. Not Tracking Your Progress
Evaluating yourself can be scary, which is why many people don’t do it. But monitoring your progress, whether it’s by measuring your waistline, stepping on the scale, tracking your workouts, or journaling what you eat—can up your chances of following through with the changes you need to make every day. Bonus: Tracking allows you to recognize and celebrate milestones along the way, a process that’s vital to keeping you confident and motivated.
6. Getting Discouraged by Slip-Ups
They can be disheartening, but successful resolvers use slip-ups to strengthen their determination, says Norcross. Just recognize your mistake (no beating yourself up) and move on. Did that junk food binge make your stomach sick? Remember that feeling the next time you’re tempted to swing through the drive-thru.
7. Going on Crash Diets
Losing weight quickly is tempting, but extreme dieting is grueling and will eventually make you want to throw in the towel. Plus, it can actually prevent weight loss. “When our bodies don’t get enough calories, they can go into ‘starvation mode,’" says Tori Holthaus, M.S., R.D., founder of YES! Nutrition, LLC. "Our basal metabolic rate is lowered to compensate for our inadequate energy intake, making it harder to lose weight and causing weight regain once calories are normalized." She recommends instead focusing on making small changes that you can stick with throughout the year.
8. Not Addressing Why You Have Gained Weight In the First Place
To lose weight and keep it off, you have to combat the issues that made you put on an extra few pounds to begin with. “There’s often an emotional attachment or a true addiction to overeating," says Katz. "This is especially true when it comes to comfort foods, sugars, and certain starches." Have a heart-to-heart with yourself—or even a professional—about the root of your weight gain, whether it’s stress, a super-tight schedule, or having an unhealthy relationship with food. You need to ease these burdens in order to make a sustainable change.
9. Being Unrealistic
In theory, it would be great if you cooked all of your meals and ate Brussels sprouts on the regular, but if you don’t have time to cook and think the little green orbs taste like farts, then that’s probably a terrible plan that will leave you feeling defeated. “Having realistic expectations helps you to form goals that fit with your real life and your individual needs and personality—so that you can be successful and feel good about that,” says Katz.