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Don't let your resolutions wash away. Tips to turn a slow start into progress

One common stumbling block to sticking with a New Year's resolution is setting an unrealistic goal.
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One common stumbling block to sticking with a New Year's resolution is setting an unrealistic goal.

Aiming to eat better, move more or optimize rest? Most resolutions focus on better health.

From Gen Z to baby boomers, the sweeping consensus across all generations is that good health is the absolute top priorityin life, outranking money, education and career.

But good health isn't a gift. We have to work for it, and the older we get, the more challenges arise. If you're feeling a bit stuck or already wavering on your New Year's resolutions, we've got tips.

In exchange, we'd like you to help us with a new reporting project: How to Thrive at Any Age. We want to know your secrets of aging well and help answer your questions too. No matter your age, it's never too soon — or too late — to set yourself up for a long, healthy and purposeful life.

To weigh in, scroll to the bottom or click here to fill out our form.

1. You may need to refine your goal

There's an evidence-based technique to help you refine your goals and see them through by setting up a system to track your progress. This can improve the likelihood of success. It's called the SMART goal process, and if you want to follow it, click here for an explanation of the five-step technique, which helps you set the goal that's right for you.

One common stumbling block is setting an unrealistic goal, so this technique helps you commit to one that's actually achievable.

2. Shift your mindset

Even if you're off to a slow start this year, embrace optimism. Astudy published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found optimists live longer. There's literally a longevity boost to staying positive amid challenges. And what's the connection to resolutions? There's a strong link between optimism and healthy behaviors. Optimistic individuals tend to have goals and the confidence to reach them, the researchers conclude. Even if you have a tendency to see the glass half empty, research shows optimism can be learned by imagining your best possible self. Practicing optimism may make you better at it — and help you reach your goals.

3. Find a buddy or a group — our habits are contagious

If you aim to eat better or drink less, your chances of success are higher if the people around you are on board too. We are social creatures and tend to mirror the behaviors of those closest to us, even if we don't realize it. Research shows people are more likely to reach body weight goals and maintain weight loss if they're part of a group effort. And studies also find our moods can be contagious too. So it's helpful to surround yourself with like-minded people aiming to make positive changes in their lives.

4. Small habit changes help lead us to good health

It's easy to wish for the magic elixir, the superfood or the new fitness breakthrough that can catapult us to great health. But the reality is that our daily habits shape our health a lot more than we might realize. The science shows our lifestyle choices matter a lot, and these six habits are tied to a reduced risk of everything from heart disease to dementia: good sleep, eating well, staying active, limiting alcohol, cutting back on sedentary screen time and cultivating friendships and social connections. A recent study found people who followed most of these habits cut the risk of depression by more than 50%.

5. Say no to more things in 2024

Time is our most precious resource. To make time for something new, you've got to stop doing something else. As the author Oliver Burkeman points out, if we live an average life span, we're on this planet for only about 4,000 weeks. The title of his book, Four Thousand Weeks, is a reminder of the delusional relationship we have with time, and it brings the brevity of life into clear focus.

"One day," we say to ourselves, about our future goals. Well, if we're serious about accomplishing something new, we realize that "one day" thinking is illusory. Do you actually want to commit to starting now? If so, ask yourself this: What can I say no to today to clear the time to accomplish my goal?

Share your secrets to healthy aging:

We want to hear from you. What habits and lifestyle hacks have you adopted to thrive as you age? What works for you, and what would you like to share with others? And what would you most like to know about the aging process?

This story was edited by Jane Greenhalgh.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.