With New Year’s Eve rapidly approaching, it’s time to put down the holiday cookies and make your resolutions.
If you’re like most people, you’re probably planning to be healthier in 2003. Maybe you’re looking to kick your smoking habit, or cut out the late-night snacking. Perhaps you want to start running or walking or doing something resembling physical activity.
Whatever your goal is, the key to success is to be realistic. Whether you want to stop smoking or lose weight, setting attainable goals means you’ll be more likely to achieve them. Once you see what you’re capable of, you’ll have the motivation to keep going long after you’ve taken down the Christmas tree.
That’s easier said than done.
“Most people don’t stick to their resolutions,” said Laura Herbert, program coordinator for cardiopulmonary rehabilitation at Providence Hospital in Columbia, S.C. “They get caught up in the moment. They have delusions it will be easier to change their habits because it’s Jan. 1.”
People look at the first of the year as a chance for a fresh start, said Howard Waddell, who works for the pastoral counseling department at Palmetto Health in Columbia. Oftentimes, they feel guilty about how they’ve behaved during the past year, which can lead to setting unrealistic goals.
“It’s easy to make a promise, but I don’t think people know how to carry it out and bring it to a positive end,” Waddell said.
That’s why setting small goals is crucial, he said.
Cindy Carter, clinical psychologist for the Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina, would never discourage someone from quitting smoking, but the stressful holiday season might not be the best time to make such a drastic change.
What often happens is someone smokes as much as he can on New Year’s Eve, then when it comes time to quit cold turkey on Jan. 1, quitting can seem almost impossible. Even if you’re successful at first, it’s likely you’ll slip up, which can lead to feelings of failure and guilt.
“That’s never conducive to positive behavior change,” Carter said.
Instead, a more realistic mini-goal could be cutting back on cigarettes gradually, until you’re smoking only two or three a day. Then you can think about kicking the habit for good.
If healthier eating is a goal, but you’ve been eating fast food every day for five years, starting small is the way to go, said Ann Childers, a registered dietitian in clinical nutrition at Palmetto Health Richland, Reducing your portion sizes is a good way to start. Also, if you always reach for soda instead of water, don’t try to give up soda completely. Replace one glass of soda with a glass of water and work your way up to the recommended eight glasses.
Weight loss is the same way. If you want to lose 40 pounds, set your goals in 10-pound increments and reward yourself when you make that goal.
Marion Benton, a personal trainer and owner of All Out Fitness, suggests starting with something simple, such as jumping jacks and walking. In other words, don’t make a marathon your goal if you’ve never run before. Visiting a trainer can get you going on the right fitness track, and the trainer can help you set realistic, achievable goals.
Waddell’s other tips
▪ Tell your friends what you’re working toward so they can encourage you.
▪ If you’re a spiritual person, pray about your goals.
▪ Seek out support in the form of a group such as Weight Watchers, or find a friend to work out with.
▪ Above all, don’t beat yourself up if you make a mistake.
“It doesn’t help to berate yourself,” Waddell said.
Instead of dwelling on the negative — “I’m a terrible person because I messed up” — tell yourself, “I didn’t do well today, but that doesn’t mean I won’t do better tomorrow.”