Are you one of the millions of people who set a resolution for the new year? If so, good on you! While it might seem like an arbitrary date, New Year’s Day can help provide some of the impetus people need to jump-start better habits. Now there’s only one thing to worry about: actually, following through.

Health goals can be some of the most challenging. How many people have you heard say that they want to quit smoking or lose twenty pounds, but don’t have a plan to get there? The trick isn’t just to set the goal itself but to choose realistic, attainable things and devise a well-structured plan for achieving them.

Here’s how you can choose achievable health goals and set yourself up for success:

1. Be specific.

“I want to lose weight” is a goal for many, but it’s not super specific. It doesn’t tell you anything about how you’re going to go about it, how you’ll measure your progress, or even how you’ll know when you’ve achieved it.

A big part of setting an achievable goal is understanding why it’s important to you. “I want to lose weight to reduce my risk of cancer or heart disease” is very different from “I want to lose weight to change how I look.” 

2. Make it measurable.

Realistic goals are measurable goals. Say you want to spend less time in front of a screen — what does that look like to you? An hour a day? Four hours a week? How will you know when you’re where you want to be?

If you make your goals measurable, then you’ll be able to see your progress. This will help keep you motivated and let you know whether your strategy is working.

3. Set a timeframe.

There’s a huge difference between “I want to be healthier someday,” and “I want to quit smoking by next summer.” Goals without timeframes are too flexible — if there’s no completion date, then there’s no impetus to keep working on the goal.

If you don’t set a timeframe for yourself, you’re statistically more likely to give up. Choose an end date for your goal so you have something concrete to work towards.

It’s also important to make sure that your timeframe is achievable. If you want to learn martial arts, it’s probably going to take you more than a few weeks. Make sure you give yourself enough time to safely work toward your aim. 

4. Help yourself build momentum.

A lot of people give up on their health goals because they get frustrated. One way to combat this is to give yourself a few relatively easy “wins.” These can help you stay focused and create more momentum to carry you through to your bigger goals.

For example, say you want to start to eat healthier. What does that mean to you? If you have a sweet tooth, cutting out all sugar may not be realistic. Switching to items like dark chocolate or antioxidant-rich fruit may be a simpler task that can help you work toward your ultimate goal. 

5. Create smaller goals as stepping stones.

Breaking a big task into a series of smaller steps is important for all kinds of challenges, not just goal setting. It also ties into the idea of helping yourself build momentum.

If you ultimately want to reduce screen time, for example, you can start by setting a smaller goal — that you’ll only watch educational content, for example, or will reduce your screen time by a half hour per day. After a week or so, expand on this. Keep up that pattern until you finally achieve what you’ve been working toward.

This works for all kinds of health goals. Don’t go from sitting on the couch to working out for four hours a day, gradually build up to higher levels of physical activity as your strength and endurance increase. If you want to quit an unhealthy habit like smoking or vaping, step yourself down so you aren’t at the mercy of nicotine withdrawals. If you want to eat better, begin by doing “Meatless Mondays” or making small, easy substitutions in your meals, and work up to building healthier habits. 

6. Look at your big picture.

How is your health right now? Do you have any habits you want to get rid of, or healthy habits you’d like to pick up?

Sometimes, the most impactful change isn’t necessarily the showiest or most difficult. If you’re already active but have a poor diet, committing to more gym time probably won’t make as big of a difference as getting better quality nutrition. If you smoke, eating better or working out more might not hold a candle to quitting.

If you’re not sure what changes would make the biggest difference in your life, you might want to talk to your doctor. They can help you understand your risks of various illnesses, and how your lifestyle may be impacting those risks. Armed with that information, you can decide what changes are likely to give you the biggest bang for your buck.

Setting big goals can be almost addictive. The thought of changing your life for the better can trigger a release of endorphins that making those changes does not. If you’re really committed to living healthier in 2023, these tips can help you set and pursue realistic, achievable goals that will have a positive impact on your life.