LPM Staff

Resolve to avoid the pitfalls

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It’s almost like shedding skin every New Year’s Eve, as we ponder the things we want to change about ourselves to make life better. Out with the old, in with the new – out with an old habit or attitude, or in with a new exercise regimen or fitness goal for the next 365 days.

Ah, but this tradition of resolutions is not as simple as shedding skin – a natural, effortless, inconspicuous thing we humans do (in most cases). Fact is, the majority of us are lucky to keep a New Year’s resolution for five days let alone a whole year. Oye, did you know humans shed 1.5 million skin cells every hour? (Perhaps resolving to change the bedsheets more often would be a good idea.)

Yet, many of us do make resolutions, probably the same ones year after year, in hopes of doing something positive and healthy to improve our lot. And when we don’t fulfill those self-promises, we end up feeling worse – and give up. So, instead of losing 10 pounds, we gain 15 to drown our shame and disappointment. Rather than quit smoking, we smoke even more. A self-flogging, if you will.

And some of us have given up on the whole concept, because we know we can’t keep a resolution. Why set ourselves up for failure?

Perhaps the problem is approach. Grandiose fantasies of perfect bodies and accomplished marathons only carry us so far. We get fixated on the final result instead of the process to that final result. For my part, I’ve been scheming for three decades now to have a cuerpo like Madonna’s and I’m still not there. Lesson learned? Too much scheming, not enough action. (OK, I wouldn’t want the man arms, but I’d take the rest of her.)

And even when I do take action and get an exercise routine going, I have a tendency to take minuscule results (ooh, I can see my biceps! or I lost .25 ounces!) and use them as an excuse to fall off my resolution wagon (I’ve earned me a platazo of enchiladas!). Ah, just one of my favorite pitfalls.

So – what are yours?  If your success rate is low, how can you change your approach to realize your resolution? Perchance you would achieve more success by setting up monthly or even weekly resolutions instead of yearly ones, for example. Or instead of vowing to ride your bicycle 20 miles a week, start out at five and add two more miles each week. Baby steps, baby.

Let’s take a simple approach to achieving an objective and eluding the pitfalls along the way. Think of these as the Five Resolution Agreements. Memorize them. Chant them as you get on that treadmill or think about pouring that third glass of vino.

1. Want it. And want it badly. If you fantasize about having a body like fashion model Tony Ward (speaking of Madonna), that’s not enough. You have to want a body like fashion model Tony Ward. Or you have to want to quit smoking, want to lose weight, exercise more, eat better. WANT it. If you’re saying to yourself, “I should stop eating ice cream every night,” it won’t work. Don’t should yourself. It’ll get you nowhere.

2. Get real. Is it rational to tell yourself that this year you will finally climb every mountain in Arizona by 2012? Even though you’ve only gotten to the top of Camelback Mountain twice in the last ten years?  Let this be a metaphor for any lofty (read: impractical) resolutions you’ve set for yourself. This is a sure way to land right into that pitfall. Why make that promise or set that goal when after 20 years you still haven’t done it? Kinda like me and the whole Madonna thing.

3. Voice it. It’s easy to whisper a promise in your own ear. I want to start every other morning with a brisk walk and 20 minutes of yoga. I’ll quit smoking after the stress of the holidays. I’m cutting my alcohol intake to just the weekends. How about telling your esposo or best friend? Or your children? That way they can support you in your decision and give you the tough love you need to stay on track. Heck, maybe they’ll join you with their own goal.

4. Take baby steps. This month you may be feeling gung-ho about working out each and every morning before you head to the office. Do you think you’ll feel this way by, say, April? Get into a groove slowly – but surely. Start out by resolving to get up twice a week to work out. Feel the success of that for a month; then in February increase your workouts to three mornings a week. Keep this up, and by April, you will have your groove on and working out five days a week – and the bikini body to prove it, just in time for swimming pool weather.

5. Dig the details. If you’ve decided you want to get in shape to run the P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in January 2012, that’s an admirable resolution. But how are you going to do it? OK, we get it; you’ll start running every week. But what days? What time? How far? How will you work your way up to 26 miles and 385 yards? What else will you do to get in shape? Dig the details. Keep a daily journal and track your progress. Record what time you hit the trail, how far you went and how long it took you. Log how many sit-ups, pushups, squats you did. By next January, you’ll be leaping and bounding over those puny pitfalls.

Need a little help from the pros?

Harvard Health Publications has come out with Simple Changes, Big Rewards, a 45-page booklet that may just be what your conscience ordered. It covers seven topics: exercising regularly, eating healthier, dieting effectively, reducing stress, stopping unhealthy habits, controlling spending and embracing positive psychology. For each topic, six simple choices are presented to help reach your goal, like packing a lunch, adding core exercises to your routine, or simplifying your days. You can choose whichever changes appeal to you. The report also includes tools to help you track your goals, keep you motivated and sidestep pitfalls (where’ve you heard that?).

Go to www.health.harvard.edu to order a copy. Enter GOODLIFE25 promo code to get a hard copy or PDF for 25 percent off the regular $18 pricetag. Stop the inertia!

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