Strategies to strengthen your resolve1. Set realistic goals. One of the main reasons people struggle to keep resolutions? Their goals aren't practical. "As a result, you get frustrated, and you're more likely to quit," says Amie Hoff, personal trainer in New York City and founder of FitKit.com, portable workout kits. Take weight loss for instance. A Franklin Covey survey found that losing weight is the resolution often abandoned first (by 31 percent of those who made it). Most people aim too high and consequently bail when they don't see immediate success. Set realistic goals and break them down between long- and short-term. "Setting several smaller goals will be easier to attain, and with each new success, you'll become more motivated," Hoff says.
2. Create a plan for success. Now that you have your goals in place, design an action plan. "Without one, you'll have no idea where you're starting from, going to, how you'll get there, or worse yet, where you'll end up," says Hoff. Describe your mission as well as specifics on how to achieve it. If your goal is to walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded, set a six-week goal and plan to walk up those stairs twice every day. If you have to stop and catch your breath, that's fine, says Hoff. "As long as you stick with your plan, you'll reach your goal."
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3. Monitor your progress. Every few days, or weekly at the very least, check in with how you're doing. Tracking goals in a planner and keeping a journal were two of the methods cited as being most helpful, according to FC survey respondents. You may also enlist a buddy who can keep you accountable. Just don't get down on yourself if you falter. "Be forgiving when you don't perform up to your expectations," says Danine Fruge, MD, associate medical director and women's health director at Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa in Miami.
4. Jump "back on the horse" immediately. If you find that you've slipped from your plan, get back in the game immediately. "Don't wait until 'Monday' to start again," says Fruge. Monday, after all, rarely comes for most people. Instead, reintroduce the new habit as soon as possible to avoid developing unhealthy, guilty emotions. Then take time to recognize your progress, no matter how insignificant it may seem.
5. Reward yourself. Treat yourself for meeting goals, even small ones, says Carol Arvon, PhD, director of behavioral health and wellness at Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa in Miami. For instance, if you've committed to walking two or three times a week to improve long-term health, promise yourself a reward, such as a new workout top or mini-makeover, at the end of the week. Even better? Have a special reward in mind for when you reach your final goal, says Hoff.
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Now that you know how to strengthen your resolve, here are refined sticking points for the most popular resolutions:
Resolution: Improve your financial situation. Review your spending habits and identify areas where you can scale back. "Take baby steps, like spending 10 percent less on groceries," says Andrea Woroch, consumer savings expert in Bakersfield, California. Other easy ways to spend less: Unsubscribe from movie channels; eat out less; search online for coupons; and seek free fun. Next, review your credit card balances. If you have debt across multiple cards, pay down your debt first on the card with the highest annual percentage rate. Also, work on creating an emergency fund to financially protect your family if unpredicted circumstances arise. Woroch recommends having six to nine months of living expenses in a savings account.
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Resolution: Lose weight. Slimming down requires a combination of healthy lifestyle choices, including a nutritious diet, regular exercise, and plenty of sleep. Fill your plate with fruits, vegetables, whole wheat pasta, beans, nonfat dairy foods, and lean proteins. "By focusing on low calorie-dense foods, you'll decrease the number of calories you're eating while increasing your satiety levels," says Fruge. Try not to eat unless you're hungry. Before you reach for food, ask how hungry you actually are. Try to move throughout the day and sit less. For motivation, wear a pedometer and shoot for 5,000 non-exercise steps a day. "An extra 5,000 steps a day can add up to about a 25-pound weight loss in one year," says Fruge. Strength training is key, too, as muscle is critical to maintaining a healthy metabolism and fighting fat. Lastly, aim to sleep seven to eight hours each night.
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Resolution: Read more. First, designate a place in your home as a reading spot. "Having this space, whether it's a whole room or cozy corner, will increase your chances of reading," says Julie Morgenstern, time management expert and author of Shed Your Stuff, Change Your Life. Then claim a regular reading time, such as before bed or on your commute, and make it a routine to read during this period. If your schedule is too erratic, establish a monthly reading "holiday" during which you carve out a full day or weekend to read. Joining or starting a book club may motivate you to read and help you fit socializing into your schedule.
Resolution: Travel more. Time and money often hold people back from traveling. Yet, don't think you have to travel to the ends of the earth. "See something near your home that you've not seen," says Robert Reid, U.S. travel editor for Lonely Planet. Consider long weekends versus week-long vacations if you're crunched for time. And, while bills can rack up, travel doesn't have to be expensive. Numerous cities offer free activities and sights, as well as cheap public transportation. Skip hotels and book a private apartment to save money. "You get a real local experience at a fraction of the cost of a hotel," says Reid, who recommends a booking site like Airbnb.com.
Resolution: Volunteer more. "It's easier to start volunteering than you think," says Robert J. Rosenthal, vice president of communications and marketing for VolunteerMatch, a nonprofit that connects people and causes. The simplest way? Become a "virtual volunteer," meaning you volunteer from your home or office. "You can set your own schedule, and you can access volunteer opportunities that are outside your community," he says. Take a look at your current habits and see if you can turn any of those into volunteer opportunities by partnering with a nonprofit. For instance, if you're composting at home, you might find community gardens or other projects that could use this compost. Or, during your next shopping trip, pick up items for a charity of your choice like an animal shelter or a children's organization. To locate volunteer opportunities across the country, visit VolunteerMatch.org.
-by Karen Asp
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