By Lorna G. Williams
Many people begin the New Year by making resolutions to change habits and improve lifestyles. January 1 seems to be a good time to start fresh. Many of the resolutions that we make are related to wellness issues. Indeed, a recent survey shows that four of the top ten resolutions are related to health (1. lose weight, 2, stop smoking, 7. exercise more, 9. improve eating habits). Unfortunately, psychologists say that many resolutions have already been broken before the first day of the year comes to an end. Even if you broke last year’s (or every year’s) resolutions, this can be the year that you succeed. Following are strategies that will help to turn your resolutions into reality.
The decision to make healthy lifestyle changes demonstrates a commitment to improvement and places you well on your way to accomplishing your goals. Before you set specific goals, establish realistic expectations. Seek to make lifestyle changes that will improveoverall health rather than unattainable goals that bring feelings of failure if not accomplished. Don’t plan to lose 10 pounds a week or run a marathon the first week if you haven’t exercised in 2 years. Rather, strive to adopt a life-long healthy way of eating and maintaining a healthy exercise program. After you have established reasonable expectations, you are ready to set some specific wellness goals.
First of all, write your goals down. Start a wellness journal by listing your goals and then track your progress. Written goals help to make them more concrete. Additionally, you may want to share your goals with other people. This transparency with others is a great accountability tool and can help to keep you on target. There is something about making your resolution public that makes it just a little bit harder to abandon. As you set goals, you want to make them as specific as possible. Quantify and set time limits if possible. Rather than “I will eat less junk food,” be more specific and state “I will only allow myself _________ (insert your particular weakness) 2 times a week.” “Lose one pound a week by limiting caloric intake to 1500 calories and exercising 30 minutes a day” is a much more specific goal than “Lose weight.” The specifics of the goal give you a plan of action to follow in accomplishing the goal. Also, the specifics will help you gauge your success in accomplishing those goals.
Learn to prioritize your goals and work on the most important areas first. For instance, if you have health issues like high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels, work on those issues before trying to fit into a smaller size of garment. Make sure that the goals that you set are realistic. Having already examined realistic expectations should help in this area. Goals that are set too low do not provide sufficient motivation to accomplish them, whereas goals that are set too high can result in failure and frustration. Trying to lose 20 pounds in one month is an unrealistic goal for most people. Rather, examine your lifestyle to see problem areas and set goals to work on those areas in order to improve your health. A more realistic goal might be to “eat healthier foods with less fat and smaller portions and become more physically active.” Supporting goals might be, “I will eat at least four servings of fruits and vegetables daily” or “I will eat out less than three times per week.”
Don’t set too many goals. There is only so much that a person is able to do. You may even choose to work on one change at a time. Change is difficult and it you may experience greater success by focusing on one thing. You may determine that you will not eat any meals in front of the television and focus on that for several weeks. When that change is mastered and becomes a lifestyle habit, you are ready to move onto another area. Having success in one positive change will motivate you to make other changes, especially when the changes are more difficult or drastic.
Once goals have been set, the challenge is to maintain them and follow through on those resolutions. You can maintain motivation by establishing a routine and making it enjoyable. Track your progress by recording your activities, your food intake, blood pressure, etc. Stay focused on your actions and not necessarily your progress (though right actions should lead to progress even if it is slow). If you have a lapse, get back on track and keep going – don’t just give up. Aim for progress, not perfection! Focus on what you can eat – not what you can’t eat. Think about what you can do once you have adopted healthy changes – not what you have to do in order to get healthy. Take things one day at a time. Keep in mind that it is baby steps that will help you to accomplish your goals and those small steps bring great rewards. It has taken a long time to develop the lifestyle habits that you have now, and they won’t be changed overnight. With each step you take forward, you will be closer to your long-term goal. So whether your desire is to lose weight, increase your fitness, lower your blood pressure or cholesterol, or simply eat a healthier diet, set some specific, realistic goals and turn those resolutions into reality.
Make 2008 a year of success and accomplishment.