Six in 10 Americans make New Year's resolutions -- most commonly to get physically and financially fit -- but only 8 percent of those commitments ever succeed. Fortunately, the same skills that can help you lose weight can be used to improve your financial life, according to the authors of the book "Lean Body; Fat Wallet." And that can vastly increase your chance of success, no matter what you've resolved to do.
Ellie Kay and Dana Demetre frequently spoke at lifestyle conferences, with Kay describing how to get economically fit, while Demetre focused on physical fitness.
"What we found is that once people were able to find a measure of success in one area, it spilled over into the other," says Kay. "The same habits that lead to health, lead to wealth too."
There are just four things you need to do in order to be both healthy and wealthy, Kay says.
Break away from negativity
One of the reasons people fail at New Year's resolutions is because they're certain that they will. They tell themselves that they're not strong enough. Have too little discipline. Won't be able to sustain a lifestyle change, says Kay. And, once you convince yourself that you can't do something, you can't.
"If you think, I have all this student debt, I'm always going to have it -- or I've always been 20 pounds overweight and always will be, you're letting negative thoughts drive your life," she says. "Start saying and thinking positive thoughts."
Start replacing those negative thoughts with a thought about what you can do. Maybe you won't lose 20 pounds, but today you can eat less and move more. Or today, you can make sure that you spend a little less to have more money to pay down those debts. Tell yourself the same thing tomorrow. If you manage to stick with the program for three weeks, it will start to show results, and, more importantly, build a new habit, she says.
"Habits drive our lives," she says. "It takes 21 days to change your thoughts and start to develop a new habit. It's the 21 days that kill you."
Recognize that it's the vast stretch of time ahead that often makes people so discouraged that they give up. So, don't tell yourself that you're going to exercise for the rest of your life, she suggest.
"Say, I am going to exercise for 21 days. I'm going to start with this week and just set up an exercise program for just this week," she says. "If you make it through that first 21 days, it becomes a habit and you'll start to do it because you like it."
Like most noteworthy changes, it's easier said than done. But there's a technique to getting through those first 21 days that Kay calls the "3D" strategy – determine, distract and delay.
If you've made a New Year's resolution, the "determine" part is taken care of. If you haven't already, write down the goal to make it real and to hold yourself accountable to what you've determined you want to do. After that, it's a matter of distracting or delaying the bad behavior that has kept you from realizing that goal in the past.
Maybe your Achilles heel are clothing sales -- or high-calorie lunches. Distract yourself with an activity that will take you away from the temptation. Perhaps, instead of eating lunch out with colleagues, use your lunch hour to run errands or take a walk. You can't resist a sale? Remind yourself how frequently sales happen and decide to walk past this one. Delaying even a few minutes will help, says Kay.
"The bulk of the temptation is gone within 10 minutes," she says. "If you can delay just that long, it will make it so much easier to resist."
Technology has made it far easier to track how much progress you're making, regardless of whether you're trying to lose weight or spend less and save more. Find a fitness or budget tracker and download it to your phone or computer and start logging everything you eat (or buy).
Why? It's easy to get discouraged about not making progress with your diet if you consistently forget about the snacks you nibbled on during the office meeting or didn't pay attention to the amount of calories in your daily latte. Likewise, you can be certain that you simply can't spend less when you're not sure where your money is going. Monitoring what you do now is likely to show where the transgressions are and how you can improve.
Factor in fun
Yes, you want to get fit. Sure, you want more money in your checking account. But if you expect to get there by denying yourself every indulgence, you're doomed to fail, says Kay. The biggest problem people have with changing a bad habit isn't that they lack willpower, it's that they make the change so severe that it's not sustainable.
Realize that you will have another hot fudge sundae at some point in your life. You will shop at another sale. Just don't do it today and don't overdo it. Consider putting a reasonable treat into your plan. Make it something you can afford -- whether that's calories or cash -- and that won't blow all the good you've done so far.
Whether you give yourself permission to buy a $50 item or indulge in a high-calorie meal once a month, by factoring in the fun things you like without giving up on the long term lifestyle change, you'll make your resolution lasting.