Struggling to keep your New Year’s resolutions? Here’s how to keep yourself on track

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(LONDON) — It is one thing to make a New Year’s resolution. It is, however, a very different thing to be able to keep it.

Every year they are made with the best of intentions — with the hope and desire to become a better version of ourselves — so why is it that millions of people make New Year’s resolutions knowing the odds of them ever following through with them are minimal?

Jasper Rook Williams — fitness expert, online coach and owner of JRW Fitness — has made a successful career so far working with hundreds of clients around the world on improving their nutrition, training and lifestyle calibration. He has a good idea why.

“The goals, if sometimes a little ambitious, are rarely the problem and they are all set with best intentions,” Rook Williams tells ABC News. “The issue is there’s rarely enough thought put into the approach. People have high ambitions hinging on mostly unrealistic and unsustainable methods. Rather than just thinking ‘I’ll eat salads and join a gym’, people need to prioritize achievable routines, sustainability and lifestyle changes from a broader and more holistic perspective.”

According to research, Rook Williams isn’t wrong. The failure rate for New Year’s resolutions is said to be an estimated 80% with most people losing their resolve and motivation just weeks later in mid-February, according to U.S News and World Report.

“Changing your habits is very difficult, including finding the right moment to make a change,” Bas Verplanken, professor of social psychology at the University of Bath, said in a report released by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in 2017. “Changing from December 31st to January 1st is not a dramatic discontinuity. Many resolutions are made on December 31st, and go down the drain on January 2nd.”

Psychologically speaking, the beginning of a new year is often viewed as a seminal moment — a time to reflect on the previous year and look ahead to the new one. But this doesn’t necessarily translate to immediate change and action just because of timing.

“Anything worthwhile is never without obstacle”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the top three New Year’s resolutions made each year are living healthier (23%), personal improvement or happiness (21%) and losing weight (20%), according to a report published by Statista in Nov. 2022.

“A great question to ask yourself when starting out is “does this feel sustainable?” Rook Williams explains to ABC News. “If you can’t keep up the routine then you definitely won’t keep the results.”

One of the things that Rook Williams has found leads to people maintaining their success is when people have — or are given — a sense of accountability.

“You have to bear in mind that creating new habits is hard and progress for anything worthwhile is never linear,” he said. “There will be times when either you want to stop or results seem to have stopped and that can be hard to deal with. That’s when having someone to guide you can keep you accountable can be invaluable in the process of change.”

Ultimately, to successfully make a change for the better, it comes down to striking the right balance, according to Rook Williams.

“In the case of fitness, it’s not just the food or training or wider lifestyle that will create the change but all three of these things working together,” he continued. “They’re not mutually exclusive. Lacking motivation is common and, in my experience, is something that comes when you don’t have a plan. Whether you hire a professional or not, just removing the guesswork and gaining a sense of direction always helps the individual on their path to success.”

“Motivation is temporary”

One of the biggest obstacles to maintaining resolutions, particularly when it comes to fitness objectives, is to choose goals that are both achievable and sustainable.

An estimated 12% of all new gym memberships per year occur in January, according to a study done by IHRSA, the fitness industry’s only global trade association that represents health clubs worldwide. Another study indicates that four out of every five people who join the gym in January will actually quit within five months.

“Motivation is temporary for everyone,” says Rook Williams. “So the best thing you can do is use that time to create the habits and routines needed to see you through once it wanes. And it will wane. It always does. The classic thing new gym starters do in the new year is go from zero to 100 mph … They want to go from not working out at all and eating what they want to training five, six, seven days a week and eating like a rabbit. This just sets them up for failure because it’s just not realistic.”

One of the biggest reasons why Rook Williams’ clients often succeed when it comes to setting goals is the focus on maintaining a healthy outlook every day and “saying no to short-termism.”

“Being new at something and hoping to be perfect straight away is a sure fire way to give up on anything very quickly,” Rook Williams explains. “Be sure to cut yourself some slack. If you planned to train three days one week but only managed two, that doesn’t make you a failure. It’s still two more than you were doing before, so just wipe the slate clean and try it again without holding on to guilt or punishing yourself.”

“Everyone falls off the horse at some point, even the pros,” Rook Williams continued. “What’s important is how quickly you dust yourself off and get back to work. Those who make it do this right away. But those who let one mistake spill over into more mistakes are the ones who are most likely to give up and start again next year.”

“Never just one solution”

No matter what resolution you may make in the New Year, for Rook Williams, success is all about perspective and making changes in incremental ways that suit your lifestyle rather than completely disrupting it.

“There is never just one solution to a problem, whatever that problem might be,” he continued. “Your goal might be set in stone, but how you achieve it shouldn’t be. Don’t get married to just one method. Finding sustainable success is all about finding the method that is easiest and most maintainable for you.”

Unrealistic expectations and the dangers of expecting to get it right the first time are one of the main things that Rook Williams warns his clients about.

“With so much conflicting information out there and each of us having our own unique goals, schedules and responsibilities, the chance of getting your nutritional approach spot on when going alone immediately is incredibly slim,” Rook Williams explains. “Even if it is working, it might not be sustainable so be prepared for a period involving a lot of trial and error.”

For Rook Williams this was a huge reason why he became a coach in the first place.

“It took me ages to piece it all together and, once I had, I wanted to help others do the same and in far less time,” he said.

Research actually backs this up. According to a 2012 study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Weight and Eating Disorders Program, 65% of dieters return to their pre-diet weight within three years and only 5% of people who lose weight on a restrictive diet, such as a liquid or no-carb, manage to keep the weight off — just one out of every 20 dieters.

“Carbs are tasty, alcohol can be fun, food is for eating and going without all these things forever is, for most people, totally unrealistic. When you think about it logically like that, it’s no surprise the majority of people fail to keep off the weight they lose,” Rook Williams said.

Ultimately, making any major change in your life requires more than just the desire to do so. It requires a goal, determination and a willingness to learn all mixed with a heavy dose of reality and a well-constructed approach to change.

“If you have a day where you feel like you can’t be bothered with anything, remember you are running your own race,” Rook Williams explains. “Success isn’t made by being perfect everyday but by doing your best everyday, whatever that looks like to you. What I have learned myself — and what I have really seen leads people to success — is if you have good habits and routines in place that you have created over time, that’s what is going to get you to where you want to be.”

Said Rook Williams: “It’s not just the food or training or wider lifestyle that will create the change but all three of these things. They’re all connected.”

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