It’s hard to believe, but summer is winding down and the start of a new school year is upon us. As teachers, students, and parents know, this is the real beginning of the new year. For those of us involved in education, the first day of school is a perfect time to make new goals for the upcoming year, whether they are related to school or not.


This is a lot like making New Year’s resolutions on January first. Hopefully, you are still on track with your resolution. Sadly, research suggests that only 8 percent of people actually achieve their goal.


There are a host of reasons for this. Some of the most common resolutions – quitting smoking, losing weight, and getting in shape – are also some of the most difficult behaviors to change because they require making significant lifestyle modifications. To make things worse, many people set unrealistic goals or try to take on too much at once.


Many people who fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions this year will recycle them next year and try again. In fact, most people who manage to successfully quit smoking or lose weight have tried many times in the past. Sometimes experience, even a bad experience, is the best way to learn what does and doesn’t work.


But there is no need to wait until 2015 to restart your stalled New Year’s resolution or finally get around to doing what you planned months ago. Setting a date to begin a behavior change is an important step in the process so, why not make a New School Year resolution and try again now?


Here is some advice to help make this second chance to start or restart your New Year’s resolutions successful.


Be realistic

Many people fail to keep their resolutions simply because they don’t set realistic goals or aren’t realistic about what it will take to meet those goals. For example, running a marathon is an ambitious goal for almost everyone, especially someone who doesn’t exercise at all. A resolution to work up to jogging five days per week, with a goal of completing a 5k run is more realistic and achievable.


Focus on learning

Making most health behavior changes involves learning as much as doing. Something as simple as eating a healthier meals requires learning about the nutrients that make some foods healthier than others, learning to read food labels to select healthy foods, and learning how to cook and prepare healthy meals. If your resolution is to learn about healthy meals you will be able to achieve that goal and be well on your way to eating a healthier diet.


Manage your time

Most health improvement projects require taking time to learn about, implement, and maintain those healthy behaviors. If you resolve to manage your time to include exercise or meal preparation in your daily schedule you will be much more likely to meet your goals. Trying to add these new activities as “extras” to your already busy day will inevitably lead to them getting squeezed out.


Plan ahead

Most people already know that changing health behaviors can be challenging, even under the best circumstances. It’s no wonder that holidays, travel, and other life events can complicate or even derail an otherwise successful diet or exercise program. Make it your resolution to think about what you can do before, during, and after these (and other) disruptions occur to keep yourself on track.


Hopefully these steps will help you keep your resolutions, achieve your goals, and make this a happy, healthy year. As a bonus, you can take Jan. 1 off.


Brian Parr, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at USC Aiken where he teaches courses in exercise physiology, nutrition and health behavior. He is a member of the American College of Sports Medicine and is an ACSM certified clinical exercise specialist; his research focuses on physical activity in weight management and the impact of the environment on activity and diet.