Making a list of New Year’s resolutions? If you’re like most women, your list probably includes some good health habits that you’ve been sorely neglecting. 

Some women pursue good health habits solely for the purpose of weight loss, which isn’t surprising after a month of heavy eating and drinking between Thanksgiving and the New Year. Others are looking to boost their longevity or energy levels. Regardless of your motive, adding some good health habits to your list of New Year’s resolutions is never a bad idea.

The trouble is, sticking to your New Year’s resolutions tends to be far more difficult than most people anticipate. It’s easy to hit the ground running when you’re experiencing the swell of enthusiasm and drive characteristic of the New Year. However, as you slip back into your normal routine after the holidays, your old habits and triggers will re-appear around every corner, testing and often undermining your newfound and fragile drive for change.

Only 8% of individuals actually stick to their New Year’s resolutions. But with the right approach to goal setting, you can be part of the 8% and implement new good health habits for healthy, vibrant living.

Be Realistic

The most common roadblock that resolution makers tend to hit is the feeling that the obstacles barring them from achieving their goals are simply insurmountable. If you’re feeling that certain aspects of your life are preventing you from reaching your goals, it may actually be the goal itself that’s the problem. 

A lot of people, under the delusion of newfound and temporary optimism, set incredibly lofty goals for establishing good health habits at the beginning of the New Year. Instead of implementing piecemeal changes in order to gradually and manageably reach a goal, resolution setters demand puritanical perfection from themselves at the outset. A sugar junkie will swear off sugar completely and adopt a ketogenic diet; a completely sedentary person will start training for a marathon; a problem drinker will swear off alcohol; and so on. 

The problem? People treat willpower as if it’s an inexhaustible resource. In reality, there is a limit on the amount of willpower we are capable of expending each day. 

Drastic changes require incredible amounts of willpower. Making a massive change, like going from a standard American diet to raw veganism, is akin to spending your entire salary on an expensive car. That car might be nice, but you won’t have any resources to spend on food and housing. Likewise, if you direct all of your willpower towards changing your diet, you won’t have any willpower left over to get through the most basic parts of your day.

Opt for modest, achievable resolutions instead of unrealistically lofty ones. If you do have a large goal you are committed to reaching, try setting smaller sub-goals. For example: if you want to be a raw vegan, first go vegetarian for a month; then give up dairy; and then eggs; then cooked grains; and, finally, transition to raw veganism. 

Be Kind To Yourself

Being hard on yourself only functions as an additional, compounding barrier to achieving goals. Sure, if you set a lofty goal, you may find yourself falling off the bandwagon. But it’s not the slip-up itself that constitutes a failed resolution. Rather, it’s that we are so discouraged by the mistake that we abandon our goals altogether.

While you don’t want to be entirely permissive with yourself, you do want to exercise self-compassion. Chances are, you will fail to abide by your resolutions at some point. If you deem yourself a failure for your mistakes, you are far more likely to abandon your goals in exasperation. 

Instead of beating yourself up, try to understand that pursuing good health habits is never a linear process. Most of us rarely achieve a goal on a trajectory of consistent progress. Rather, most successes are the result of overcoming setbacks and discouragement with optimism and self-compassion. Accept that you made a mistake, and remind yourself that one mistake doesn’t negate any of the progress you’ve made thus far. Then pick up where you left off and get on track again then next day. 

Avoid Negative Goals

When you’re setting resolutions, it’s best to avoid negative goals. 

A negative goal doesn’t mean implementing a bad habit. Indeed, a negative goal can actually promote good health habits. The problem is that negative goals are difficult to stick to.

A negative goal is a goal that requires that you don’tdo something. Examples of negative goals include giving up smoking, going vegan, and getting sober, among many others. While these are all venerable goals, they are hard to stick to because they require that you give up something integral to your every day life. You’re left with an absence of a behavior and no replacement behavior, which typically leads you right back to the bad habit you want to give up.

If you’re going to give up a bad habit, be sure to replace it with good health habits. Instead of pledging to give up pasta, vow to use vegetables in its place. If you’re giving up smoking, start using your smoke breaks for short walks or meditation instead. Replace your nightly glass of wine with a detoxifying herbal tea. Finding positive replacement behaviors will dull the feelings of deprivation we experience when giving up bad habits, making it easier to stick to our resolutions.