If you’re looking to shape up in the new year, you’re in good company. “Lose weight” is consistently one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions.
But here’s the kicker, which is probably no surprise: Only nine percent of people felt they were successful in achieving their resolution last year.
You can, however, increase your odds of success by following these 10 simple tips for staying motivated. They come from a handful of the country’s top fitness minds, and they’ll help you stick to those resolutions and actually achieve them.
1. Establish realistic goals
Don’t sign up for a marathon if you’ve never finished a 5k; think smaller.
“People often set their expectations too high, especially at the start of the year,” says Los Angeles-based trainer Aaron Guy, CPT, adding that he often has to talk clients down. “When they set unrealistic goals and don’t reach them, they get frustrated — and that’s when you start to see people fall off the wagon.”
If your goal is to work out five days a week, start with three days a week for the first month.
“What I always say is: ‘On a scale of 1 to 10, what’s the likelihood that you can do this goal?'” says Guy. “If they say an 8, a 9, or a 10, I say ‘go for it.'”
Just as important as setting attainable goals is choosing them for the right reasons.
“Sit down and think about why and for whom you want to start working out,” says Karin Weman Josefsson, Ph.D., a lecturer in psychology at Halmstad University in Sweden.
Is it to feel physically better or because you don’t like the way your jeans fit?
By thinking of the bigger picture, you’ll be more likely to stick with it and keep moving forward.
In a Canadian study, subjects who exercised the most were motivated by the benefits of exercise, such as better health, more energy, and strength, rather than external motivations, like pant size or peer pressure.
2. Make exercise convenient
Whether it’s trying to find the time or shelling out money for equipment, exercising can be a hassle, and even minor obstacles can be damaging in the early stages of habit-forming, says Sandra Aamodt, Ph.D., a neuroscientist, and author of Why Diets Make Us Fat.
On the other hand, simple actions that reinforce your commitment and make exercising easier can be hugely motivating.
“Keep your gym clothes by the door, and figure out what equipment you actually need,” says Aamodt.
Better yet, many of the best workout programs don’t require equipment and you can do them anywhere.
3. Aim for morning workouts
People who aim to exercise before work do so 58 percent more often than those who don’t, according to a study in Journal of Exercise, Movement & Sport.
Starting your day with an intense sweat session may also improve your quality of sleep, so it’s a win-win proposition.
But remember: Exercise at any time of day is better than no exercise at all.
So if you hit the snooze button too many times, don’t use that as an excuse to skip your workout. Not sure when to do it? Find out the best times to break a sweat.
4. Make exercise more social
Everyone knows that exercising with a friend increases your chances that your workout will actually happen.
Turns out your workout buddy doesn’t even have to be a real person. A Michigan State University study found that a virtual workout partner can help you push yourself harder, and up to 24 percent longer.
So if you can’t find anyone who can work out with you and you’re not a big fan of group classes at the gym, sign up for Beachbody On Demand and our celebrity trainers can help root you on.
For more personalized virtual support, get your phone out.
“Social media can help if you fall off the wagon,” says Daniel Czech, PhD, a professor of sport psychology at Georgia Southern University.
Instead of fearing the judgment of others, try tweeting something like: “I tried to work out, but I didn’t make it today. Any suggestions?”
“Reaching out to like-minded people in your social network can be very productive for adherence,” says Czech.
5. Overhaul your diet … the right way
Small dietary tweaks — like ordering a burger with salad instead of fries — often lead to better long-term results than sweeping changes, like eliminating burgers entirely.
“If you always forgo your favorite foods for those that seem healthier, you may end up disappointed, which can sabotage your success,” says Albert Matheny, M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., USAW.
That one change alone may help you drop up to 2.5 percent of your body weight in six months, according to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Eating more fruit may also help.
In a Harvard study, people who ate a daily serving of apples or pears lost 1.24 more pounds over four years than those who did not.
6. Make your workout tantalizing
People who pair activities they know they should do but avoid (like exercising) with activities they enjoy but aren’t productive (like listening to audiobooks) work out significantly more often than those who don’t, according to a paper in the journal Management Science.
The technique is called “temptation bundling,” and it can have a powerful effect on willpower, according to the researchers.
The key is to pick the right “temptation.”
In the study, participants were allowed to listen to cliffhangers like The Da Vinci Code, The Bourne Supremacy, and The Hunger Games, not War and Peace.
7. Make your workout fun
Workouts don’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) grueling experiences you dread. It should be something you actually look forward to, so find one you get excited to do.
Hate slow and steady workouts? Do a workout that features high-intensity intervals, like INSANITY.
If you prefer something that’s a little more freeform, try a dance workout, like LET’S GET UP!
The important thing is to find a workout that works for your lifestyle and your interests.
Try different workouts of varying intensity and format to see what gets you motivated.
8. Think positive
Simply recalling a positive memory about exercise — like that time you killed that workout — can inspire you to keep exercising, according to a study in the journal Memory.
“Paying attention to how great you feel right after a workout can be just as powerful,” says Michelle Segar, Ph.D., R.D., director at the University of Michigan’s Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy.
And there’s no better time to focus on the present than after a good sweat session.
Research suggests that exercise produces feel-good hormones and chemicals like endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. In both cases, you’ll benefit from the power of positive thinking.
9. Don’t fall into a routine
Nothing can derail your progress like a bum knee or a sore back. To stay off the sidelines, avoid stressing the same joints and muscle groups the same way every day.
“In short, don’t do the same workout every time you sweat — mix things up for optimal results,” says Matheny.
In a study published in The Journal of Obesity, people who incorporated more variety into their workouts also spent more time exercising and less time on the disabled list.
The reason: Switching things up gives muscles and joints more time to recover. “It also makes exercising less boring, which is key to maintaining motivation,” says Matheny.
10. Keep learning
It’s important to keep up with the latest developments in nutrition and fitness because things are always evolving, whether it’s a study that challenges a long-held belief or research that discovers something completely new.
“People who are knowledgeable about health and fitness are also more likely to keep pursuing their goals,” says Czech.
(Think you know nutrition? Take this quiz and see if you can pass!)
As you can see, there’s no magic or huge life changes required to achieve your health and fitness resolutions.
Just incorporate these small, common-sense tweaks and you’ll be well on your way to crushing the new year.