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By Brianna Steinhilber

There's only two and a half months left in 2018. Which means that many of us likely have a health goal that's been collecting dust on our resolutions list. How many of you rung in the New Year with a renewed commitment to lose weight, only to throw in the towel until 2019? Be honest.

If this cycle has occurred more times than you'd like to admit, you’re not alone. Setting a weight-loss goal is easy to do, but following through on it is a different story. Which is why losing weight is consistently one of the most popular resolutions, but few of us actually accomplish it. In fact, one survey found that at the end of the first week of January, 30 percent of people have already called it quits.

What may come as some consolation is that even the fittest among us know the struggle is real: “Many know me from social media as the jump rope queen and fitness trainer who is always smiling while coming up with difficult and creative workouts. What they may not know is that like everyone else, I too struggle with finding ways to keep my motivation up when it comes to diet and exercise,” says Janine Delaney, psychologist and fitness expert whose social media platform has amassed almost 2 million followers. “As a full-time psychologist, wellness influencer and mom of two teenage girls I have an awful lot going on. Sometimes it would be easier to head for the couch with a bag of chips than plan a healthy meal and fit in a workout. Still, I make it happen.”

How exactly? We’re glad you asked. The difference between those who throw in the towel and those who actually reach their goal is simple: staying motivated. It’s not a matter of if your motivation will wane, but when. And when it does, Delaney falls back on her expertise as a psychologist to have the right structure in place to stick with it.

Here are her five tried-and-true strategies that she uses to stay committed to her goals — even when she encounters the inevitable dip in motivation.

Set SMART goals

Setting the right goal is the first step — and arguably the most important. Setting the wrong one can set yourself up for failure before you even begin.

“A not-smart goal would be ‘I want to lose weight’ or ‘I want to get fit,’ they are very vague and general,” says Delaney. “What we need to do when we set a goal is think about how we are going to put the action behind it. A SMART goal would be ‘I want to lose 10 pounds by June 1 so when I go to Aruba on vacation I can wear a bikini.’

Besides being specific, it comes down to personalization: the goal needs to be realistic and meaningful for you. Walk yourself though this checklist to ensure that the goal you are setting for yourself is a SMART one:

  • Specific: How much weight do I want to lose? A specific number.
  • Measurable: Is there a way that I can track the results?
  • Attainable: Is the goal realistic?
  • Relevant: Is this something that I actually want to do? What will keep you intrinsically motivated is setting a goal that’s meaningful to you.
  • Time-bound: When is it going to be completed? What steps happen next?

Plan ahead — and find your intrinsic motivation to do it

It sounds simple, but there’s truth to the adage: “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.”

“For busy people, [planning ahead] is the most efficient way to get done what you need to get done — whether it’s your job, your workout, meal planning ... It’s not easy and we have so many things going on. Putting things down on paper clears your brain. Now you don’t have everything in your head; it frees up the space to focus on what you need to do. “

She recommends setting aside time on Sunday to plan out the week ahead. “Planning is so important from an organization perspective,” says Delaney. “When it comes to organizing you really need to think about what’s important to you. I always tell people, don’t over-schedule. You don’t have to say yes to every single invitation. Think about what your week is going to look like and how you’re going to find time for what’s important.”

We need to find the intrinsic motivation to plan ahead by asking ourselves: where does the value lie?

So we all know that planning ahead is the best way to ensure we fit in workouts and eat healthy, but why then do we so often fail to do it? Delaney says this is where psychology comes into play: We need to find the intrinsic motivation to plan ahead by asking ourselves, where does the value lie?

“Everyone has something that’s going to be more meaningful to them, so you have to figure out what is it that’s going to drive you to actually do it. Is it time saving? Is it cost saving? Is it the ability to make things simple [so that] you don’t need to think about it?” says Delaney. “To sit down on a Sunday and think about planning takes time. How am I justifying that time? Well if I add up the cost savings and the time savings throughout the week, it may have only taken me an hour on a Sunday, but during the week without having to think about it, I just saved five hours. If you do the math, it’s worth it. You’re also giving yourself back some mental space. So instead of waking up in the morning and winging it, now you have some sort of routine so you can feel more in the present and not consistently worrying about what’s coming next.”

Get your family on board

“Family and friend support is so critical to staying accountable," says Delaney. "People may have a sincere interest to work out and eat healthy, but [it's hard if] their family is not on the same page. They buy junk food. They aren’t active. They sit in front of the TV instead of taking a walk.” But getting your family on board with your health goals is another one of those things that’s easier in theory than practice. Delaney offers up three strategies she uses in her own household:

  • Show don’t tell. “It’s important as you’re raising children to lead by example and hopefully as they grow up you start to influence their mindset so they become the type of people who want to do these things,” says Delaney. “Kids never like being told what to do, so I was never strong handed. Now that my girls are college-aged, they make good choices on their own. What I’ve learned is, as my children have grown up they on their own have made these choices because they see me working out and eating healthy. What that has done is create an adult that is doing things intrinsically, because they are meaningful to them and not because someone is forcing them to.”
  • Make your space exercise friendly. “I’ve made my house health friendly. We never really use our living room and didn’t have room for a home gym, so we decided to push the furniture aside and put out some weights and exercise mats,” she says. Suddenly, squeezing in a workout is as easy as plopping down on the couch to watch TV.
  • Re-think date night. “It’s really hard to find time to be together. People always say 'date night,' but it’s hard to get out once a week and leave the kids and do that," says Delaney. "So what we do is rather than date night we try to have one or two days a week where we train together in the gym. We spend time as a couple together being active and doing active things with the family. One of our favorite things to do is walk around the city, we don’t take cabs, we walk the whole city, window shop and have something to eat. When it comes to exercise, have fun and don’t make it feel like it’s a chore.”

Practice these mini motivation-boosters once a week

How do we keep ourselves motivated to continue to put in the work? It’s hard to do! If it was easy, “lose weight” wouldn’t have a permanent spot on our New Year’s resolution list. Delaney offers up two tactics that will continuely stoke the fire:

  • Use weekly check-ins to celebrate small successes. Recognizing your wins keeps you motivated, says Delaney, who recommends checking in with yourself every Sunday about your progress for the week — specifically what went well. "When you did a good job, you should recognize that because that keeps you motivated,” she says. “Then you can go back and reflect. It’ll remind you of your progress and of the things that you did really well; we need that. Part of the sustenance of keeping with a goal is feeling good about yourself.” Take five minutes each Sunday to complete this journaling prompt: What did I do well this week? What didn’t go well this week? What can I do differently next week to improve?
  • Schedule "cheat meals" and gym breaks into your routine. “It’s hard to be consistently motivated and always be on your game. Give yourself a little bit of a reprieve," says Delaney. "Mentally, it’s not normal to constantly be on all the time, we need to unwind and relax. By doing something that’s not perfect, were allowing ourselves to revel in the moment and celebrate our success; it gives us a renewed energy to move on.” To do this, Delaney says to schedule one cheat meal a week, and to pick 1-2 days where you let your body rest. "Go out and have a slice of pizza and a glass of red wine. Your body needs that, not just physically, but mentally. Same with the gym. You don’t need to work out every day. Give your body that recoup time; physically and mentally it needs it. Give yourself a break so you can sustain that motivation. It’s an allowance instead of creating the ‘I messed up syndrome’ which causes you to get off track.”

Give yourself a break so you can sustain that motivation. It’s an allowance instead of creating the ‘I messed up syndrome’ which causes you to get off track.

Have a slip-up plan in place

“Besides not having a smart goal, the second most common reason that people give up is they feel like they’re failing at it,” says Delaney. “People are human and we make mistakes; that’s normal.” That being said, we should expect slip ups to occur and have strategies in place to bounce back from them (instead of letting them completely derail us):

  • Know your why: When you set a goal, write down why that goal is important to you. Because when you mess up — and you will — you can go back and read what you wrote and why it was meaningful and that will make you remember why you started," says Delaney. "When you fail — because everyone will fail at some point — go back to the book and remember why you set the goal in the first place.”
  • Forgive yourself: “We beat ourselves up all the time and you can’t do that because the most successful people in life take risks, and part of taking risks is failure," says Delaney. "I learned this through business: If you fail, you were brave enough to take the risk, so don’t beat yourself up. What people need to understand is, it’s okay to mess up, what isn’t okay is to let that ruin your motivation. Get back on the wagon and regroup; think about why you messed up so you don’t keep repeating the same problem.”
  • Evaluate the slip up: When the slip ups occur, having a check-in process in place can help identify why it happened and prevent it from happening again. Ask yourself: How did I slip up? (I ate a bunch of unhealthy snacks at the office.) How does that make me feel? (Frustrated; like I disappointed my kids.) What can I change moving forward so it doesn’t repeat itself? (Pack snacks ahead of time so that I’m not tempted by candy when I have a stressful day.) This process will help you “understand why you slipped up: maybe it’s because you were stressed out; if you find it to be a constant pattern that you’re always messing up on your diet because you’re stressed, then you need to take action on that,” says Delaney. “When you start to feel stressed out, you can go take a hot bath or read a book; whatever you need to do. And you won’t have as many slips ups because you’ve identified the source of the problem.”

At the end of the day, successfully achieving a health goal — whether it be to lose weight, tone up or feel more energized — all comes down to identifying a goal that is meaningful to you as an individual, says Delaney. "It's different for everybody. It's about creating goals based on what is important to you and really understanding yourself so that you can continue to work towards them.”

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