Resolutions typically happen as we embark on a New Year. And, right around February 1 is when diet and exercise commitments begin to taper off, leaving many of us to wonder whether we’ll ever be successful with our health-related resolutions. Good news. There are a few simple, but key considerations that can make all the difference between a successful—and even profitable—weight loss endeavor and a wellness resolution that falls far short.
I recently connected with diet and fitness industry insider Jimmy Fleming, co-founder of HealthyWage—the world’s leading purveyor of corporate and individual weight loss challenges. He offered these insights and perspectives on five critical elements needed for the best chance of success with a weight loss initiative:
1. Map out specific goals & timeframes. You are far more likely to achieve your diet resolution if you spend a few minutes thinking it through. Sit down at your desk and dedicate even just ten minutes of your life to strategizing your resolution. Put pen to paper or, better yet, send an email to a friend or family member and make a list of the things you’re going to do to change your weight. Simply stating that “I’m going to lose weight” is not nearly specific enough; but it makes for a good headline.
Now, make a specific, realistic goal. Most experts agree that you’re most likely to succeed if you don’t starve yourself, and plan on losing one to two pounds per week. In fact, setting a modest goal—say, one pound per week—can spare you a lot of hunger and stress. You might even forget you’re on a diet! Include the date when you will achieve your first goal. (This date should be in the near future—one month is typically ideal.) Suppose you choose 1.5 pounds per week and a one month goal date: your goal will be about six pounds. Put your goal and goal date on your calendar.
Go back to your piece of paper, or email. Under your goal and goal date, write down the word “food.” Ask yourself: What exactly is my eating plan? Are you going to follow a particular diet? If so, the starting time should be immediately to avoid excuses and fear. If your diet requires that you purchase something or register on a particular website, do so right now. Then, commit to exercise. What specific days and times will you commit to exercising? Who will you exercise with? If possible, call a friend now and set something up.
Review your resolution plan frequently as you work your way toward your goal. When your goal date comes, call a friend to either brag about your achievement or confess that you didn’t achieve it and tell them what’s going so you can achieve better results by the next goal date. Now, sit down again (pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard) and set a new goal date and goal.
2. Set up financial incentives. After you’ve written out your specific goals and dates, your best bet is to build a little structure into them. Enter: prizes and rewards. A significant amount of academic research shows you are much more likely to achieve your resolution if you include a double financial incentive (i.e., money to lose if you fail and money to win if you succeed). The reason money works better than the natural motivators of vanity and health is that money can be tied to specific, measurable goals and deadlines. In other words, financial incentives help prevent procrastination by establishing a firm start date, and help prevent quitting by establishing a firm goal date. Financial incentives also make weight loss a lot more fun and exciting by transforming the process into a game.
There are fantastic tools and resources available online for setting up financial incentives. For its part, HealthyWage allows participants to make a personal weight loss “bet” with a payout of up to $10,000. You plug your weight loss goal and timeframe into the HealthyWager bet calculator to see the amount of the prize you can get (based on your inputs)—up to $10,000. If you achieve your goal, you win the prize. If you don’t, HealthyWage keeps your bet. Fleming explains, “The double financial incentive is an incredible motivator and source of structure that most HealthyWage winners say is indispensable. Although HealthyWage is most widely used by employees at big companies, the HealthyWage betting program is available to everyone.”
3. Do one thing at a time. Trying to stick to more than one resolution creates a willpower diffusion that is almost always a recipe for failure. Your weight loss resolution requires time, planning and lots of action items. The winding road from plump to sexy is made of many cobblestones you have to lay down one at a time with lots of small, frequent decisions (e.g., “this morning, I am going to skip that second donut”). With all the good judgment and will power those little decisions require, you simply won’t have the time and energy for your other resolutions, too. If you think your weight loss resolution isn’t that big of a deal, you might be off track.