AS we say goodbye to Christmas for another year, many people are gearing themselves up for the next big tradition – making a New Year’s Resolution.

The first day of a new year often symbolizes a new start, a fresh beginning, an opportunity to make a positive change to enhance or improve the quality of life. The commonest new year’s resolutions tend to be about health and wellbeing, a will to better lifestyle, perhaps break a bad habit or even create a new one. People pledge to eat better, quit smoking, drink less, exercise more, lose weight…but how long do these promises, that we make to ourselves, actually last?

Research shows that before we even hit the end of January, more than 90% people have already given up on their new year’s resolution. In fact, most evidence suggests people give up within the first two weeks of January which brings with it other issues such as disappointment, feelings of failure and low mood.

We make resolutions during our holidays. Willpower is high and often we are surrounded by others who are also feeling motivated so we share our intentions with one another. Social media is cluttered with inspirational quotes which may be helpful for some, but they also put a lot of pressure on you to not fail. Quotations such as “new year, new you” – what does this even mean? A personality transplant? No, a new year’s resolution must not be seen as a grand and unachievable dream to become something or someone that you are not. It is about making a small change, an intervention that will be simple enough to execute but big enough to give longterm benefits to your health and wellbeing.

The key then to successfully executing your intentions lies in being realistic, honest with yourself and most importantly carving out time to meticulously plan how you are actually going to go about making your change. I find using the SMART goal setting template particularly helpful for this. Achieving a goal requires you to communicate exactly why it is important to you. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely.

Having a chat with a friend over a pint and saying you want to exercise more is a great intention, but if that’s as far as you’re going to go with it, you are setting yourself up to fail. Evidence shows that the more specific you are about how you will achieve your goal, the more successful you will be at accomplishing it. Ask yourself five “W” questions – who will be involved in this goal, what exactly is the outcome you want, where will this be achieved, when do you want to achieve this by and why does it matter? Using the above as an example therefore, a serious resolution would sound more like, “I want to get fitter so I’m going to join the local gym next week and I will work out 3 days a week at 7am.”

Willpower starts the process but it is monitoring the progress that drives the motivation to keep going. Identify exactly what changes you hope to see when you reach your goal, how will you measure it eg. reviewing loss of body fat, amount of money saved by stopping said habit, walking longer distances, a mood journal etc.

A resolution that is unrealistic is not a goal that can be achieved, it is simply a wish. The year ahead is long, it’s not a competition so make your new year’s resolution as achievable and as realistic as possible. Promising to get yourself to the gym at 7am everyday, when you are a single parent, for example, is not realistic and is probably not achievable either long-term.

Finally, commit a date to it. I counsel my patients regularly about smoking cessation and the most successful outcomes are seen in those who set the start date otherwise it will always be, “I’ll just start tomorrow.”

With a growing population affected by lifestyle related health problems like heart disease, lung diseases, obesity, strokes, type 2 diabetes, and even some cancers, many of our solutions lie in prevention. It takes 30 days to create a new habit. The beginning is painful for all however once you get over the two-week hump, I promise it gets easier. Wishing you a SMART new year.