Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

It seems that most of our New Year’s resolutions involve change. Losing weight, reducing debt, quitting smoking, spending more time with family and friends, reducing stress, helping others, and getting organized are all popular themes—and the list goes on.

So why do we find ourselves, a few weeks later (despite our best intentions), no closer to our goals and thoroughly discouraged? Ruth Quillian Wolever, PhD, a health psychologist and director of research at Duke Integrative Medicine, offers one reason: “New Year’s resolutions are often broad to-dos that don’t seem like much fun.” By focusing instead on small, enjoyable ways to advance toward your bigger goal, you’ve got a better shot at success. Those small steps mean progress, and “ultimately, progress is what keeps you motivated,” she says.

Change can be difficult, and trying to make drastic changes all at once often leads to discouragement. It takes 21 days to change a bad habit. Whether you decide to go “cold turkey” or decide to change your behavior gradually, it takes a concerted effort to stay the course. Begin by writing down your goal, and state it in positive terms such as “I want to be physically fit” as opposed to “I am too fat.” In addition, indicate the reason you selected that goal. Keep this in a spot where you will see it several times each day as a reminder; and on the twenty first day (that is only three short weeks) look back to see how you did. If you stuck to your plan, the change should now be incorporated into your daily routine, requiring less thought and effort to sustain.

This does not mean that your goal is achieved and you can forget the resolution, however. Continual reinforcement and positive statements about your habit change are necessary. (Such as “I feel much better since I started exercising four times each week.”) It is also important to reward yourself (think: special treat) to keep yourself motivated toward your goal. Remember to take one day at a time. If you do backslide, don't label yourself a failure. Just get out your list of reasons for changing and begin again.

Here are 10 resolutions that pop up time and time again, along with simple changes that can help you achieve them.

Resolution No. 1: I will lose weight.

Why it fails: This outcome-based resolution is easy to give up on. “Think about it: If your goal is to lose two pounds this week, and, at the end of the week, the scales haven’t budged—but you did everything you were supposed to do—you’re setting yourself up to feel frustrated and give up,” says Wolever.

simple solutions:
>> Focus less on arbitrary numbers and more on healthy habits. Eating five small meals a day, instead of the usual three, for instance, will get your metabolism going. Stock your desk drawer or glove compartment with satiating snacks like walnuts, fruit, or rice cakes with almond butter.

>> Fill a 1-liter water bottle, leave it on your nightstand, and try to drink half of it before your morning cup of coffee or tea. Do the same in the evening. Not only have studies shown that drinking more water helps shed extra pounds, but it also helps flush out toxins while it nourishes newly forming cells.

>> Cut down on calorie-laden fast food—and save time and cash—by buddying up with a coworker and taking turns bringing in healthy lunches to share. Think hearty bean soups and hummus sandwiches on whole grain breads—not salad. According to ayurvedic thinking, light, cold, and raw foods create more ama, the sticky waste product of digestion that can lead to weight gain.

 

Resolution No. 2: I will go to the gym.

Why it fails: “Without any specifics about when you’re going to go and how long you’re going to stay, you’re almost definitely going to abandon this goal,” says Karin Antoni, a personal trainer in Boulder, Colorado.

simple solutions:
>>
“You don’t have to work out for as long as you might think if you’re smart about what you do,” says Antoni. For the most gain in the shortest amount of time, add intervals to your cardio routine. Try this: Listen to your iPod while you power-walk, and quicken to a slow jog every third song. Or every fifth lap in the pool, sprint to the other side. These spikes in effort will burn more fat than if you keep the pace steady.

>> Schedule an appointment for the gym—like you would a doctor’s visit or a massage. You’re less likely to blow the gym off if you write it in your calendar. Find ways to keep moving during the day. Go for a walk with a friend at lunch; take the stairs; or hop off the bus one stop early, and walk the rest of the way.

 

Resolution No. 3: I won’t eat sweets.

Why it fails: Frankly, it’s just not realistic. “Whenever I hear a client say this, I cringe,” says Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo, a dietitian in Sacramento, California. “What a lot of people don’t realize is that adding some sweets to a healthy diet can actually be good for you.”

simple solutions:

>> Get your sugar fix by incorporating something sweet into your meals, like fruit on your cereal, dark chocolate, or a maple syrup glaze over your chicken. Your digestive system absorbs the sugar more slowly if you eat it with a meal. This protects you from a sugar crash (and additional cravings) a few hours later.

>> Add healthy unsaturated fats to your meals, like avocados or olive oil. The fat satiates hunger.

 

Resolution No. 4: I will lower my stress.

Why it fails: “Smart goals are specific and measurable, and this one is neither,” says Wolever. “Plus, stressful situations are going to happen, whether you like it or not, and coming up with specific ways to handle stress will be more productive.”

simple solutions:

>> Does morning traffic contribute to your anxiety? Rethink red lights, and use the two-minute pause to meditate and focus on your breathing. Also during your commute, play a book on tape or classical music. It might transform the ride into stress-free “me time.”

>> Whether by walking the dog or sitting outside for lunch, sneak in at least 20 minutes of serotonin-spiking sunshine every day.

>> Studies have found that listening to music can lower blood pressure and heart rate. To spice up your music selection, log on to pandora.com and type in your favorite artist; the site will create an online radio station of similar musicians whose tunes you’re likely to love.

 

Resolution No. 5: I will organize my house.

Why it fails: “We just keep accumulating more stuff, so even if you succeed at getting everything in order, it will all come undone if you don’t figure out a system for keeping things neat,” says Wolever.

simple solutions:

>> Let go of old stuff. Keep that shoebox of college love letters—but those business suits with the shoulder pads you refuse to toss because they might come back into style? Take them to the Salvation Army.

>> Invest in items that’ll streamline your clutter hot spots, like collapsible food storage containers, filing cabinets, and closet organizers.

>> Aim for zero net gain: If you buy a piece of clothing or knick-knack, give away an item you rarely use.

 

Resolution No. 6: I will give back to my community.

Why it fails: The desire to help others, while very commendable, often remains just that: a vague, nebulous desire. You need to pin down that goal into specific actions. “There are so many ways to give back—you have to ask yourself how you’re going to give back,” says Wolever.

simple solutions:

>> Open your mind to those right around you who need help, like a friend who’s caring for an aging parent and needs help with errands, or a family who just moved into your development and could use an extra set of hands unpacking.

>> Make a few environmentally friendly tweaks to your lifestyle, like using lowenergy light bulbs, shopping for groceries with canvas bags, and buying local food. Helping the planet also helps your community.

 

Resolution No. 7: I will spend more time with my family.

Why it fails: Ever-changing schedules make quality time with your clan hard to find. “Adults are tough enough to pin down, but put kids in the mix, and you’re going to have an even harder time sneaking time together,” says Wolever.

simple solutions:

>> If you’re too busy to eat dinner together every night, make breakfast (or even dessert) as your family meal. Even if you’re at the table for just 15 minutes, you’ll all have a chance to check in and connect.

>> Turn off the tube 30 minutes before bedtime, gather everyone onto the biggest bed, and read together.

>> Instead of a Sunday dinner together, go for an afternoon walk or bike ride.

 

Resolution No. 8: I will learn something new.

Why it fails: Make sure you choose an activity you really want to do for you, says Wolever. “If you decide to learn an activity that doesn’t fit your lifestyle—like taking a cooking class when you really hate to cook—it’s going to be more difficult to stay with it,” she says.

simple solutions:

>> Remember a childhood hobby you used to love, like tennis or playing the piano, and take it up again.

>> Enlist a friend to join you, whether it’s a pottery class or a hike. Not only will she be good company, but she’ll hold you accountable to your goal.
 

Resolution No. 9: I will take more vacations.

Why it fails: A packed work schedule, lack of discretionary income, and myriad demands can keep you from escaping. So “you can’t just think of vacation time in the traditional sense, like taking off for a tropical island in the winter,” says Wolever. “Remind yourself that taking a few days off and staying at home can be just as rejuvenating.”

simple solutions:

>> Take a technology break: Wake up without an alarm, turn off your cell phone, and don’t check your email.

>> If taking an entire day off will just leave you with more work when you get back to the office, try to take a couple half-days off, and spend the morning relaxing. Fill a thermos with your favorite tea, and head to a great spot (even if it’s your backyard) to watch the sunrise.

 

Resolution No. 10: I will resolve old issues and grievances.

Why it fails: “When you feel like you’re the one who’s been wronged, it takes a lot of strength to forget about a grudge you might be holding and make an effort to reconnect,” says Wolever.

simple solutions:

>> If you’re hanging on to anger toward someone, write her a letter—then burn it. Venting to your husband might get you riled up even more; but penning how you feel can help you fully let it go.

>> Remind yourself of a past situation that’s beyond resolving at this point. If it makes you feel sad or like you wish you’d done something different, use that energy to inspire yourself to confront a tough-to-handle situation now. The key to successful resolutions is to make sure they are realistic, make sure they can be achieved, and realize missing a short-term goal is not a reason to get discouraged—rather, regain focus and start again. Keep these techniques in mind and you’re sure to accomplish your goals in 2012!