This New Year's, Think Tiny
This New Year's, Think Tiny

For successful resolutions, start with tiny goals.

Most people think big when they make New Year’s resolutions: This year, I’m going to lose 50 pounds! I’m going to run a marathon! Or, they think vague: I’m going to eat healthier. I’m going to be healthier.

But research shows that thinking small and setting achievable, easy-to-meet resolutions may actually be the most effective way to meet larger, long-term goals. This article is the first in a series walking you through our Seven Steps to Successful Resolutions to get your new year off to a good start.

When setting New Year's resolutions for you or your clients on positive behavior changes, break down lofty goals like I’m going to be healthier this year, into tiny, clear, manageable steps.

One tiny step towards an overall healthier eating resolution would be to set a goal of eating breakfast. Many Americans still don’t eat breakfast, despite dozens of studies that show that regular breakfast eating is associated with better health, better eating patterns and healthier weight. 

Not much of a breakfast eater? Again, think small. Instead of resolving to eat breakfast right off the bat, do something as simple as adding fat-free or low-fat milk to your coffee, thereby giving yourself an irreplaceable package of nutrients including protein, calcium and vitamin D with one simple pour.

“If you don’t eat breakfast, think ‘what can I do to change that?’” suggests Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Trina Robertson. "Move on from milk in the coffee to a cup of yogurt or a handful of nuts before leaving for work."

Robertson suggests putting the yogurt in the fridge at eye level, and put the spoon in the refrigerator, or by your keys.  When you’re heading out the door and see a spoon by your keys, you’ll remember your small goal to eat yogurt in the morning and you can quickly head back and grab it. Before you know it, you’ll be grabbing the yogurt without even thinking about it, seamlessly integrating your small goal and healthy eating habit into your morning routine.

A Cascade of Healthful Benefits

There’s another benefit to making small, achievable changes. Focusing on one to three small behaviors, like eating a healthy breakfast, tends to cascade into other healthy behaviors. Once you’ve established a breakfast routine, you’re more likely to start eating a nourishing lunch or maybe taking a stretch break in between work tasks. Eating a protein-rich breakfast will also keep you  more satisfied during the day, which can stop you from overeating in the evening. Before you know it, you're well on your way to meeting your larger goal of being healthier.

Setting and meeting tiny goals will encourage you to keep going, as well. If you’re meeting small goals regularly, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment. Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Ashley Rosales recommends setting a goal you can easily control and succeed at.

If my goal is to go for a walk at night and I achieve my goal, I’m more eager to resist that post-dinner dessert I have every night. Motivated by one healthy behavior, I choose another and reach for a piece of fruit,” Rosales said. “That catalyst (the walk) is like a domino that sets everything else in motion, creating a long-term, sustainable pattern of positive changes.”

But the opposite is also true. Making a New Year’s resolution that is either too huge or unclear can take you quickly off track, causing your motivation to dwindle and your resolution to be abandoned.

“If you set yourself up for a lofty thing and you fail, it’s a de-motivator on every level and it stops every other motivation for change,” Rosales said. “I really believe in choosing tiny goals that you can achieve.” 

So remember, when it comes to successful New Year's resolutions, think tiny and plan on building upon your success. By starting small, you'll start a cascade of success that will keep you motivated and moving towards a larger overall goal. 

All month long we'll be highlighting articles, tips and tools for healthy eating and creating positive behavior change to get the year #Off2aGoodStart. Be sure to register for the blog to get these tips and tools delivered to your inbox.