Why Wait Till the New Year? 5 Ways to Build Your Willpower Muscle Now

New Years Day is the traditional start for weight loss programs and other self-improvement resolutions, but you don’t have to wait until January 1 to make healthy changes. If you start early, you’ll have a track record of progress to move strong into the new year, or, at the very least, you’ll know the stumbling blocks to avoid. Even if you miss that New Year starting point, it’s also never to late to lose weight or otherwise improve your health and life.

Use these five ways to build your willpower muscle so you’re ready for success in the New Year and beyond:

Practice portion control

The most basic weight loss program is to eat less and move more. Use portion control to cut back on calories without feeling deprived. Eat things that you enjoy, but eat them in small servings. Every bite you skip means fewer calories to burn off later. You might want more at first, but use your willpower to resist heaping another helping on your plate. Eventually you’ll get used to feeling sated with smaller amounts and will barely notice the difference.

Even when you’ve cut down on portions, the Mayo Clinic says you don’t have to clean your entire plate. Kids learn that old adage, but it’s much healthier to stop eating when your body tells you that it’s feeling full. If you keep eating, you consume more calories and also get that unpleasant overfull sensation.

Shop sensibly

Whether you have a sweet tooth or prefer salty indulgences, it takes a lot of willpower to pass up all those tasty high-calorie snacks in the grocery store. The Mayo Clinic recommends bypassing aisles packed with temptation or getting out of them quickly if you need something in that part of the store. Go shopping after you’ve eaten so your empty stomach doesn’t overpower your will. Make a healthy shopping list and stick to it. If you have a farmer’s market in your area, it’s a great alternative to the grocery store when you’re shopping for produce.

Make small changes

Healthy habits supplement your willpower because they become routine. Instead of making a major lifestyle change on January 1, implement smaller changes in the lead-up to the New Year. For example, start working 30 minutes of exercise into your daily routine now. The Mayo Clinic says that’s the minimum needed to support your weight loss goals. At first it might be hard to find the time, but use your willpower to get yourself moving even when your body rebels. Eventually this habit will feel natural and you can switch your focus to a new change.

Plan for parties

One reason to start building your willpower muscle before the New Year is temptation during the holidays. There are often a whirlwind of parties, treats at work, and other easy opportunities to overindulge. Don’t totally deprive yourself, but know when to stop. It’s fine to grab one cookie in the office or take a small sampling of special dishes at a party, but use your willpower to stop there. Beef it up by eating something healthy before going to a party where you’ll face temptation.

When you build your willpower in this area, you’ll reap year-round benefits. Parties happen throughout the year, and you’ll also need your will when dining out. The Mayo Clinic recommends dining out strategies like sticking to smaller-sized items, getting sauce and dressing on the side, and choosing lean meats that are roasted or grilled rather than fried. Willpower helps you implement those strategies.

Don’t eat when you’re not hungry

At its most basic level, eating is done to refuel the body, but people also learn to eat in response to their moods and feelings. “Comfort food” got that name for a reason, as it’s common to turn to comforting, but often unhealthy, snacks or meals when we feel down.

When you want to grab a snack, flex your willpower muscle to step back and assess why you have the desire. Are you really hungry, or are you feeling stressed out, anxious, or depressed? Will the food fit a nutritional need, or will it strictly soothe your emotions? If it’s the latter, substitute a healthier behavior. The Mayo Clinic recommends activities like going for a walk, listening to music, or watching a movie, in place of those unneeded calories.