With the end of the year approaching, it’s not uncommon to start thinking about health goals for the new year, like losing weight, eating healthier, exercising and quitting smoking. But though we may have good intentions, choosing January 1 to make promises to get on a healthier track year-round doesn’t always work. In fact, according to a 2017 Marist poll, about a third of people who make a New Year’s resolution fail to stick with it.
This doesn’t mean we should give up on setting health goals for the new year. But it does mean we might need to rethink our goal-setting strategies.
According to some experts, rather than setting a year-long goal at the start of the year, a more effective approach is to make “Monday resolutions”: weekly goals that can be thought of as mini-resolutions, taking advantage of the natural momentum of our weekly cycles, giving us a chance to start fresh each week.
“If I mess up my diet on Tuesday or Wednesday, I know I can get back on track the following Monday,” said Lindsay Schwartz, a busy mom of two based in New York, who aims to eat healthfully and stay fit but finds herself eating one too many of her kids’ Charleston Chews left over from a birthday party or her own favorite indulgence, a handful of Lindt chocolates. There’s no sense starting again on Thursday or Friday, or even Saturday, and Sunday is basically a “free-for-all,” according to Schwartz. “Monday is the only day that will work.”
Unlike other days of the week, Mondays offer the opportunity for a health reset, when you might set intentions, celebrate progress or simply get back on your plan.
“Monday can be thought of as the New Year’s of the week – a time to refresh and put our past bad deeds behind us and try and do better in the coming week,” said Joanna Cohen, director of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Institute for Global Tobacco Control.
Peggy Neu, president of The Monday Campaigns initiative, agrees that “it makes achieving our health goals more sustainable. New Year’s only comes around once per year, but Mondays come every seven days. You basically get 52 chances a year to stay on track.”
Focusing on a new goal or health initiative each week that will build on the previous is also an excellent way to ease someone into a new healthier lifestyle, said Marjorie Cohn, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Monday resolutions can help create more tangible positive outcomes for people to recognize.”
Reflecting on small successes can be empowering. “Setting mini-goals creates a feeling of accomplishment, and when someone feels positive, they tend to make more positive choices. It’s the snowball effect,” Cohn said.
This may be especially true when it comes to weight loss. “Losing 50 to 100 pounds seems impossible. The amount of work, the length of time, the reality of it seems daunting and can truly deter people from even trying,” said Amy Shapiro, registered dietitian and founder of Real Nutrition, a New York-based private health practice. “When we break it up into weekly goals, it helps to see progress, feel confident, reach benchmarks and feel motivated to continue.”
Using Monday as a cue for quitting smoking can be particularly beneficial, according to Cohen. “For most people, it takes multiple tries to actually quit for good. But there’s a lot of self-learning that happens each time you try. With a weekly cue, you get to try again more often and learn more quickly and hopefully be more successful sooner, versus only trying to quit on New Year’s Day,” Cohen said.