Chances are you, along with millions of other Americans, have grand plans for 2018: Lose weight, get fit, eat healthy, get adequate rest.
But unless you've planned and prepped carefully, you are about as likely to have success with these goals in the new year as you would be trying to bake a baguette without flour, water, salt and a working oven.
"You have to prepare properly. You have to have the right ingredients in place," says Devin Maier, managing director of Balance Gym in Washington.
So, seize today. If you plan to start being a healthier you in two weeks, start making sure now that you are positioned to reach your goals, Maier says. We asked him, along with two other local fitness and health experts, to share ideas on how to use these last days of 2017 to best prepare for fitness success in 2018.
– – –
Set the right goal
If your goal is to "get healthy" in general, you need to start by defining your goal more narrowly to figure out exactly what actions you need to take, says Rebecca Scritchfield, a dietitian and life coach.
"It's all about healthy habits, and people often have a hard time creating and sustaining healthy habits if the goal is too vague and too broad," she says.
In other words, ask yourself: Does healthy mean weight loss? Sleeping more? Exercising more? Eating healthier?
Start with one narrow and specific goal, she says, and then later – maybe a couple of months down the road – you can branch out.
Once you have your goal, start thinking about specific actions. "What actions can you take? What actions do you have control over?" Scritchfield says.
And most importantly, make that goal realistic. A common reason people sour on their New Year's resolutions is that they didn't set realistic goals to begin with, Maier says. You gained 50 pounds in five years and yet you are determined to lose that weight in five months?
– – –
One very important action is to make time for exercise or eating healthy or whatever your goal might be, Maier says.
"Ask yourself, when can I fit this in? And then mark your calendar. Make it an appointment," he says.
If the gym is five miles out of your way, are you likely to make it there three times a week?
The two weeks before Jan. 1 can be a good time to experiment with what works and what doesn't, Maier suggests.
Says Faith Hunter, a Washington yoga teacher: "Use this time to figure out what your stumbling blocks are, and address those before January 1."
– – –
Find your community
One often-cited stumbling block is that people don't necessarily socialize around healthy habits. So if you decide to work out instead of going to happy hour, will that make you feel like the odd man or woman out?
Maier suggests it doesn't have to be either/or.
"Do happy hour Thursday and SoulCycle Wednesday and Friday," he suggests.
CrossFit and various boutique studios – be they yoga or cycling or boxing – have been particularly successful in creating a sense of community, Maier says. But gyms such as his own, as well as running and cycling groups, can provide that same feeling of belonging.
Ask around now to see whether your existing community is interested in joining you in your healthful habit. If not, maybe you need to add a new group of people to your life. "You need to surround yourself with people who live the lifestyle you want to live," Maier says. "Because you want that to become your norm."
– – –
Give yourself motivation
For a new habit to stick, you need to feel motivated, Scritchfield says.
This is a very individual thing. For some people, it helps to track their progress with fitness trackers; for others, it's the community; some might be content with "I just feel better."
Take the time – before Jan. 1 – to figure out what exactly motivates you. You will need that motivation when the going gets tough (around February), Scritchfield says.
For some people, the answer is to get a personal trainer who can design a program that works and who holds you accountable. For others, it can be a group exercise instructor or just a particular kind of music that motivates, Hunter says. "You have to enjoy and like what you do, or it won't stick," she says.
Some people are motivated by new equipment – be it a new kitchen mixer for smoothies or the latest fitness tracker to count calories and performance. Whether it's your motivating factor or not, make sure that you have the right equipment to get the job done starting Day 1. That could mean anything from the right shoes to healthful food in your pantry.
– – –
Make a Plan B
Speaking of healthful food, says Scritchfield, what is your Plan B if your goal of cooking healthy doesn't pan out?
"First of all, know you're not alone and it's not hopeless when you screw up," Scritchfield says. "And then ask yourself, what is my recovery plan?"
Don't wait until you stumble. Figure out your recovery plan now. What happens if your schedule gets in the way of home-cooked meals? How will you address missed workouts? What if your two-times-a-week limit for alcohol turns into four?
Don't let a slip-up become an excuse for veering off your healthy path, says Scritchfield. Instead, maybe you can find a way to order in healthful food or make sure to reschedule a missed workout as soon as possible.
But a Plan B should also include self-compassion.
"Don't get stuck in negative thinking or the compare-and-despair trap," she says, referring to the tendency many people have to compare themselves with the "best and most fit" person at the gym. "Remember that it's feelings of hope and confidence that make people change."