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Here's the Secret to a New Year's Resolution That Sticks

By Motley Fool Staff - Updated Apr 18, 2019 at 11:55PM

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It's not just a question of willpower; it's a matter of specific goals and understanding what drives you.

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If January is the month of good intentions, then February is the month of letting your budget slide, "forgetting" to go to the gym, and eating an entire tub of cookie dough ice cream in one sitting. But it doesn't have to be this way. Success in your new year's resolutions is possible with better strategies. Here at The Motley Fool, our mission is: Make the world smarter, happier, and richer.

With that in mind, in this segment from Motley Fool Answers, hosts Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp have invited Chief Wellness Officer Sam Whiteside to help out their listeners with advice you can really use when it comes to the most popular resolutions on the health and money fronts. In this segment, Whiteside offers a few of the best techniques for getting on track and staying on it: Be more specific, and find your intrinsic motivations.

A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on Jan. 8, 2019.

Alison Southwick: Just under half of us make New Year's resolutions, most often around becoming healthier or managing our money better, but only 8% of us actually keep them. Even if you're not making a formal New Year's resolution, chances are there's something you'd like to do differently in the coming year. Maybe you put on some extra holiday pounds. Maybe you spent a little more than you should have on presents.

So, how can you improve your chances of having a healthier, wealthier 2019? Joining us with the answer is Sam Whiteside, our chief wellness officer here at The Motley Fool. Hi, Sam!

Sam Whiteside: Hi!

Southwick: Every year we bring you in to tackle this topic. Thanks for coming back!

Whiteside: Yes, I love this time of the year!

Southwick: Right? Because people are actually worried about their health for five hot seconds.

Whiteside: Right, yes. I'm super busy! I love that!

Southwick: Bro, remind us again. Why do we care about health?

Robert Brokamp: The evidence is clear. There are many studies that show that health and wealth are positively correlated. Whether one causes the other is debatable. It's probably a matter of both of them leading to the other. For example, more wealth leads to better health because wealthier people have better and more access to healthcare and also they're less likely to suffer from financial stress and marital discord, which can take a toll on your health.

On the other hand, being in better health can lead to more wealth because obviously you're not spending as much money on medical care, and also healthier people are more productive. They're less likely to call in sick. Those types of things can wear on your career and your income, especially if you're an hourly wage earner. So lots of interconnections between the two.

And there's also just the behavioral issues. The bottom line is both of them rely a bit on making smart consumption choices and the ability to delay gratification for a long-term goal. In 2011 I interviewed Roy Baumeister, who is the co-author of a book called Willpower.

He essentially said in psychology we found out that there are two basic things that predict future success: intelligence and self-control. You can't really change your intelligence other than some things that have short-term benefits, but you can develop your willpower muscle and there's spillover effects. For example, if you are able to have better health habits because you've made better choices, you can improve your ability to make better financial choices, and vice versa. Those are just some of the ways in which health and wealth are correlated.

Southwick: One of the articles I read preparing for this episode was in Psychology Today and it was asking why it is so hard to keep New Year's resolutions. Well, there's a number of reasons, but you're constantly trying to resist your urges and that's exhausting, and it just wears you down and then eventually you eat the whole gallon of ice cream because you're just like, "Aargh, I can't do this anymore!" Then you go for it.

When you look at the list of the top New Year's resolutions, they're always vague. Like, "I'm going to exercise more," or, "I'm going to be better with money," but vague resolutions are the first step toward failure, right Sam? Duh duh duh!

Whiteside: Right. It's long been proven that goals need to be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-oriented. That's not only true for financial success, but for success and your total well-being. Losing weight is the top resolution every single year. It doesn't change. People want to lose weight. That's great, but what exactly does that mean?

For me, when I work with clients, whether it's here at the Fool or whether it's outside, if someone wants to lose weight, then what is your motivation to lose weight? Are you trying to look better in a bathing suit or do you have a special event to go to? Or is it something intrinsic that's driving you? I try to find some sort of intrinsic motivator and not an extrinsic motivator.

Southwick: Can you define the difference between an intrinsic and an extrinsic motivator? We talked about it before on the show, but can you talk about the difference?

Whiteside: Extrinsic is like, "I want to look better for other people. I find value in achieving a certain weight goal to get back to where I was in my 20s because I think that's where my weight should be." Hello, please don't do that. I'm in my mid-thirties and I don't want to weigh what I did in my early twenties. It's just not realistic.

So making sure that your intrinsic motivator is something that's going to keep you for the long haul. It's going to continue to drive you. So instead of saying, "I want to lose weight," make a commitment to track what you eat and not just necessarily what you eat, but what exactly you eat, how much of that (so portion sizes), and what time do you eat. Getting a more realistic idea of how many calories you're consuming in a day, and that way you can start to pare down where you think it's appropriate or sub out foods that you think might be a better alternative.

Also make a commitment to track exactly how much you're moving (or not moving). You need to know how many calories you're expending. It's not calorie in, calorie out (I ate 2,000 calories today so I need to burn off 2,000 calories). You can't realistically do that. Your body is going to need calories to burn when you're sleeping. All of our body processes requires calories.

So don't try and do that. Just be realistic about it. Track and start getting an idea of what you're moving, how much you're moving, or if you're not moving and start to make goals around that. Make activity goals and make nutrition goals instead of, "I need to lose weight," or, "I need to get back to 130 pounds," or whatever. That's not realistic. It's not achievable.

I always come at it from this standpoint. Where was the last time in your life where you didn't have to worry about putting on something from your closet and worrying about what you felt you were going to look like, or worrying if it was going to fit or not. Get back to a place of being happy with your body and not looking at the scale.

Brokamp: Longtime listeners will know, Sam, that I've gone through these periods where I try to lose weight by basically betting you I can do it.

Whiteside: We have bet over the years.

Brokamp: First of all it's important to me because I'm oriented toward money. One of the first times I wanted to lose weight is because I couldn't fit in my clothes anymore and I didn't want to buy a new wardrobe.

Southwick: You didn't want to spend money.

Brokamp: I didn't want to spend money. And you pointed out these little things that I've done with you, like I've got to lose a certain amount of weight or I owe you money. First of all, it's short-term and it is a little bit extrinsic. It's just the short term.

Whiteside: It's almost a blend of intrinsic and extrinsic, because intrinsically money to you is very important.

Brokamp: Right. What has kept me a good 20 pounds below where my max was at one point was finding other reasons. For me, now, as I'm getting older, it's health. Understanding that I come from a family of people, particularly men, who have heart attacks and who are overweight and to see where that leads. Focusing on things like that motivate me a little bit more. Rather than just whether I look good or not, I want to live a long, happy life.

Whiteside: Right, absolutely.

Southwick: I've always understood intrinsic motivators as being motivated to do the thing because you love doing that thing. You're intrinsically motivated by money because you just plain love saving money.

Brokamp: I love financial security.

Southwick: You love financial security. You intrinsically enjoy seeing your pile of money grow, Scrooge McDuck. That's why with me I intrinsically learned to love running. Rick intrinsically learned to love doing his weird game with the net and the ball. It's called...

Whiteside: Oh, Spikeball. You're not even getting close to the mic to pipe in here, Rick.

Rick Engdahl: It's been a long time since I've played Spikeball.

Brokamp: The Spikeball club isn't as active as it used to be.

Engdahl: They all moved to Colorado.

Whiteside: They did. They need to come back.

Brokamp: That's actually an interesting point and maybe, Sam, you're going to talk about this later. But part of it is finding something that you like to do. So rather than forcing yourself to go to the gym, is there something you like to do. The Fool used to have a Zumba class, which I never had to make myself go to. Probably other people did, knowing that they'd have to see me dance...

Whiteside: No, that's why everyone came.

Brokamp: ...but I was intrinsically motivated to go to that. Like it didn't require any sort of willpower.

Whiteside: Because it was fun. It was fun for you. We all came.

Southwick: Even though we were so uncoordinated.

Whiteside: Because we wanted to see Bro shake his groove thing.

Engdahl: Sam, bring back Zumba!

Whiteside: Done!

Brokamp: Done!

Whiteside: And Spikeball.

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