Baby steps required for resolution success

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By Sondra Shapiro

I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to breaking New Year’s resolutions.

It usually takes a few months to begin slacking off. By the end of the year, exercise and diet take a back seat to holiday gluttony. Those parties featuring fat laden foods and cocktails are too enticing to resist and the busy schedule leaves little time for the treadmill.

You would think a person who has lived through 61 year’s worth of resolutions should know better. I admit when it comes to exerting the willpower to resist the sumptuous holiday cookies and candies left outside our door — gifts from well-meaning friends and neighbors — age offers no defense. If anything, what age has taught me is to be polite and let nothing go to waste.

I feel a sense of camaraderie in the debasing of my body, as a friend confides she has let herself “go to pot” this past year.

sshapiro_headshotLooking tired and pale from a month of holiday reveling, she blames her weight gain on the post-menopausal slowing of her metabolism. Neither of us is fooled since this discussion is taking place during a calorie-rich dinner out. She confides she is going to pay attention to her health in 2015. In between bites of foie gras on buttery toast points, she recites a list of wills — get more sleep, exercise, have a better diet, work less and possess a better attitude. I think I have heard her say this before, but I am too polite and complicit to remind her.

We are both slaves to and victims of the national pastime: the making of New Year’s resolutions — a blessing and curse that is sure to ultimately humble the most resolute among us.

If we are honest with ourselves we will discover that resolutions often set us up for failure because the challenge we usually set for ourselves is too overreaching to accomplish. Then there’s added disappointment and feelings of failure when we realize we aren’t able to fulfill the promise we made to ourselves.

When I think about it, my best successes have been when I set small goals that lead up to a major one — I want to lose weight so I’ll start with a 10-day green smoothie diet. After that diet, I will assess progress, then make changes if needed, rather than making a declaration to lose weight by dieting and exercise. I think this applies to New Year’s resolutions as well.

From research I have gathered, I learned that failure is more likely when there’s too much time between the decision to act, and the initiation of action. A monumental goal like losing weight does not offer a workable blueprint so we keep putting the goal off. Consider that life is a continual process of change. Each day offers new challenges, so why let old ones pile up to the point where they become overwhelming? Once that happens, it’s easier to put issues on the back burner rather than deal with them.

As one researcher believes, we first need to embrace a readiness to change. “Based on the stages of change model: precontemplation (unwilling to make a change), contemplation (considering lifestyle change) and action, you have to want to change your lifestyle to successfully improve your health,” said Meg Baker, a wellness expert at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

To help prepare for any lifestyle change, Baker offers these tips:

•Develop small, short-term goals that will fit into your schedule; these should be realistic.

•Consider the benefits and reasons for the change.

•Talk to a family member, friend or co-worker about goals. This accountability will increase the likelihood of your staying committed to a new gym regimen or smoking cessation plan — and some may want to join you.

Baker confirmed my idea of making minor alterations rather than a sweeping behavior change. She said starting small increases the likelihood of success. Find a form of exercise that you love, make nutritional changes such as packing a lunch or cooking dinner at home. Get digital reinforcements by using tracking systems and apps such as those offered by the American Heart Association, www.Smokefree.gov and the United States Department of Agriculture. Or in my case, beginning that green smoothie cleanse.

Also, consider modifications to the plan. “If the new behavior has lost its luster, switch things up,” Baker said. “Variety is the key to life and can keep you from getting burned out. Spice things up by changing your normal exercise routine, finding new healthy recipes online or joining a new class.”

About half of the most popular resolutions made each year are health-related, according to a U.S. government pamphlet. In addition to losing weight and quitting smoking other common resolutions include: eating healthier foods, getting fit, managing stress and drinking less alcohol, volunteering, getting a better job, saving money, managing debt, taking a trip and re-using and recycling.

Whatever that resolution is, the goal is to make us feel better about ourselves, not worse because our goals are too far-reaching to accomplish.

So, my first resolution is to cut myself some slack when I interrupt my 10-day green smoothie cleanse with a nice, big juicy cheeseburger.

Sondra Shapiro is the executive editor of the Fifty Plus Advocate. Email her at [email protected]. Follow her online at www.facebook.com/fiftyplusadvocate, www.twitter.com/shapiro50plus or www.fiftyplusadvocate.com