Lose 20 pounds. Hit the gym every day. Drink less alcohol. Kick the cigarette habit for good.

Many of us plan to make sweeping, healthy lifestyle changes each New Year. Unfortunately, most of those resolutions don’t make it past January.

Experts say it takes close to six months to form a habit. After those six months, the new behavior – such as daily exercise or quitting smoking – will be easier to do.

However, making it through those first six months is the toughest part. It’s common to stumble, get discouraged, and give up. But with proper planning and determination, you can make your New Year’s resolutions last. Here’s how:

1. Set realistic goals. Trying to lose 25 pounds in a month is not healthy nor realistic. Aim to lose one to two pounds per week for lasting results. Likewise, if you're not a morning person, saying you’ll get up at 5:00 a.m. every day to hit the gym is not going to happen. Be realistic from the get-go so you don’t set yourself up for disappointment.

2. Take baby steps. Changes tend to be easier to make when you make them gradually instead of going “all or nothing.” Don’t take up running if you haven’t been physically active in years. Start with walking, and gradually add in running intervals.

3. Track your progress. Seeing how far you’ve come can encourage you to keep going. Jot your plan down and post it in a visible place, like your refrigerator or your calendar at work. When you meet goals, check off a box or use some other kind of positive reinforcement.

4. Reward yourself. Set up an incentive program and reward yourself when you meet mini goals. If you have been sticking with your healthy eating plan for two weeks, allow yourself a few bites of dessert one night. Gone a month without a drink? Treat yourself to a spa day or new pair of shoes.

5. Seek support. Find a friend with the same goal as you. It’ll be easier to stay on track when you have someone to hold you accountable.

6. Plan for obstacles. If you gave up sugar or smoking, know that people will eat dessert or smoke cigarettes in front of you. Have a plan so you’re not tempted. Keep nutritious snacks on hand to nosh on, or excuse yourself when others smoke.

7. Expect setbacks. Minor setbacks are going to happen. There will be days when you don’t make it to the gym and meals where you overindulge. Don’t dwell on your slip-up. Acknowledge it and start fresh as soon as you can.

To learn more about this topic:

Is Your Diet Not Working? This May Be Why
Diabetic Meal Plan: Where to Begin?
5 Tips to Manage Diabetes — Without Losing Your Mind

Sources:

http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/lifestyle-changes.aspx

http://www.acefitness.org/acefit/healthy_living_fit_facts_content.aspx?itemid=33