Plan A: I will exercise at least 1/2 an hour, 5 days a week
Plan B: You exercised 5 days a week…for one week. Pat yourself on the back. Seriously. Because feeling like a failure is the worst way to get back up on the old exercise bike. “Getting fit must be something personal that you want—being able to keep up with your kids, for example, or an activity you’ve fallen in love with—not because someone tells you to do it,” reports Ruth Wolever, Ph.D. Start off with tiny steps that will lead to a bigger change.
Plan A: I will eat more fruits and vegetables
Plan B: Before you surrender to scurvy, Constance Brown-Riggs, RD would like to reassure you: You’re probably doing better than you think. “People get scared because they don’t realize how small one serving is,” she says (for example, a medium apple, ½ cup cooked vegetables, one cup greens, six ounces of juice). Make every little bit count – add lettuce and tomato to your sandwich and fresh fruit to your yogurt.
If you’re still shy of at least six servings, use favorite foods to sneak in more. Think pizza, pasta, and smoothies.
Plan A: I will say “No” more
Plan B: Easy for a 2-year-old, but tougher for a lot of us post-toddlers. “We want people to like and respect us, we don’t want to disappoint them,” says Frank Andrasik, Ph.D. It’s a two-step process: Respond automatically to every request by stalling: “Let me check my calendar (or with my husband/boss/kids) to see what else I’ve got going on.” Then assess: Do you honestly care about this person or project? Are you the only, or even the best person for it? If one of those answers is no, Dr. Andrasik suggests that you beg off diplomatically by stating that you don’t have enough time to do the kind of job you’d want to.
Plan A: I will drink less, maybe only on special occasions
Plan B: A work party here, book group there, glass of wine with dinner, and—yikes, can it really be okay to drink more regularly than you floss? Maybe. Assuming you’re health permits it, drinking may be an overall health plus if it’s no more than three drinks per occasion, seven drinks total per week, notes Deidra Roach, M.D. In fact, it’s regularity that most correlates with heart health, so one drink daily is better for you than abstaining all week and cutting loose with three drinks Friday and Saturday nights.
Plan A: I will think about what to make for dinner before 6 p.m.
Plan B: If you’re having trouble transforming into a meal-planning professional, you can work more with your last-minute nature and still be a step ahead. “Don’t plan for every night,” says professional menu-planner Aviva Goldfarb. “Allow for leftovers and variable schedules.” The procrastination-prone should still do a weekly shop and also keep a list of five fallback recipes. With a well-stocked pantry and freezer, it’s easy to improvise; keep pasta, chicken breasts, eggs, and frozen vegetables on hand.
Plan A: I will read more, watch less TV
Plan B: Yeah, you should read more, but who needs to when the remote is so handy? Well, lighten up. “People think of reading as having to have some huge book physically in front of them,” says Ernestine Benedict, vice president of marketing and communication at Reading Is Fundamental. But whether it’s a blog online, an article on an iPad, or a Yelp review on your phone, reading is reading, and it engages the same critical-thinking synapses in your brain. The key to wanting to read is tapping into your interests and appetites, so grab a magazine or a website about hang gliding, gardening, fashion, football —you name it.
Plan A: I will work fitness into my life more
Plan B: The disincentive here is that you’re constantly inconvenienced for five or ten minutes, and for what? Has anyone ever gotten buff by adding a flight of stairs or a 200-foot walk to their daily life? No—it is, surprisingly, bigger than that. “Initially, it takes effort to learn these new behaviors. But as they become ingrained, they shift from the conscious part of the brain to storage in the automatic part,” says Ruth Wolever, Ph.D. And it does add up: A recent study at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh confirmed that three 10-minute workouts daily were just as effective for weight loss as one 30-minute workout.