It’s that time of year again. Are you one of the 38 percent of Americans who never (or no longer) make New Year’s resolutions because you always fail to follow through with them? The negativity tied to New Year’s resolutions is hard to get past, but that doesn’t make prioritizing fitness center sessions and healthier eating habits any less important.

So, what should you do? First, it might help to ditch the term “New Year’s resolution” you associate with repeated failure. Second, these “secrets” can mean the difference between yet another failed fitness resolution and long-term changes for the better.

Strategy #1: Expect failure.

It may seem counterintuitive, but expecting to fail can help you succeed over the long haul. Wishful thinking and expecting yourself to be perfect didn’t get you anywhere last year, did it? On the other hand, a pessimistic attitude toward failures is what makes us give up making fitness resolutions, altogether. The secret is to have realistic expectations of yourself –that include the likelihood of short-term failures. This way, you won’t be devastated when the inevitable happens and you miss a workout (or five), or eat those free doughnuts at the office.

Strategy #2: Accommodate for slacking off.

Since you know you’ll fail occasionally, plan for it to minimize the impact and keep your net movement forward instead of back. Practically, this might mean scheduling a “flex” day with your eating routine or fitness gym workouts. If you stick with your plan – cool; if not, the rest of the time you’re consistent will still show by your results.

Strategy #3: Remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Keeping in mind that you’re doing this for lasting, lifestyle change will also help you stay positive when results are slow at coming, you experience temporary set-backs like illness or injury, or don’t make your goal weight by the check-in date.

This secret will also help you pace yourself: in other words, set small, tangible, achievable goals. Any fitness competitor will assure you their lean physique didn’t happen overnight. What you see is the result of months of incremental, strategic eating and workout plans.

Strategy #4: Rinse and repeat (it takes at least 21 days to turn a new practice into a habit).

There’s some debate about whether 21 days is the magic number (researchers say it takes closer to 66 days, on average), but we know it takes at least that long. Don’t take your workouts and new eating “habits” for granted until they’ve become part of your routine for at least two months straight. How can you tell if you’ve made something new into a habit?
• You don’t have to muster willpower to do it every time.
• You do it without thinking about it.
• You don’t hate it…and maybe even enjoy it.

The more we do something, the more it becomes our new “normal.” Even if it will never be our favorite thing in the world to crawl out of bed at 5 a.m. to go to the fitness center, it can become part of our routine, and a part of who we are.

You will find many more strategies for success based on your personal situation, challenges, and motivations, but these four strategies can lay the groundwork for finally achieving your fitness goals this year, and every year to come.