By Gina Notaro
Special to Niagara Frontier Publications
Surrounded by bounds of holly and the smell of freshly baked cookies, Cindy counts down the days to the holidays while daydreaming of how great she'll look in six months time after the success of her New Year's resolution diet. She imagines herself working out, picking up fresh produce after work and looking up new recipes for cooking healthy meals.
As the February chill begins to sink in, however, Cindy finds herself with a gym membership she knows she won't use and ordering takeout for the second time this week. Like most people, her plans didn't make it far past the starting gate, leaving her hopes of a fresh year and a fresh start far behind her.
Dr. Timothy Osberg of the American Psychological Association, who has done extensive research on addiction and irrational food beliefs, said, "People make resolutions because they look at important milestones, like the new year, as signals of change and a new beginning, so they see it as an opportunity for real change.
"But what most people don't realize is that serious change doesn't revolve around a date; it can happen whenever you want."
The University of Scranton found 92 percent of people don't keep their New Year's resolutions. The 8 percent that do achieve their goals do so by not getting discouraged.
So what if you got a little off track? Taking on a different strategy may be just the thing you need to kick-start your new lifestyle.
Take small steps
One reason most New Year's resolutions fail is because they involve too radical a change. It's not that you don't want the end result, it's that the workload involved in getting what you want comes as a shock to the system.
"One speculation of why people don't stick with their resolutions is that people don't self-control," Osberg said. "If you try and apply too much change at one time, something's going to fall to the wayside."
Often, our plans are unrealistic when trying to maintain our already hectic schedules. Resolving to work out every day is a huge commitment to make when you've spent the past year (or so) not working out at all. Arranging to work out once a week is a much more manageable goal to strive for.
Planning on eating completely healthy for the rest of the year all too often leads to binge eating and regret. But choosing to opt for one healthier option a day, or to work on portion control, is much less daunting and an easier to stick to.
After five years of unsuccessful dieting, Katie, a resolutionist, said, "Every year I'd think, 'I'm gonna work out every day after work,' but that's just crazy - at least for me - and I'd quit right away. But when I resolved to work out once a week, I stuck with it. I figured I could at least do that for myself."
By taking smaller steps to work toward your goals, you allow yourself to become better acclimated to the idea of a real, positive change in how you go about your day and ultimately how you choose to live and take back control of your life.
Getting organized is one of the best ways to effectively work toward your goal. Knowing your endgame is great, but without a plan to get there, you're going to be less likely to follow through to the end. Making a plan doesn't have to be some time-consuming process with charts and figures. All you really need is a loose idea of what you want to achieve.
"Break it down into sub-goals. Don't start out with 'I wanna lose 50 pounds." You can say, 'I wanna lose 10 pounds.' It's much more manageable," Osberg said.
Making a short-term plan puts your goal in sight.
"When I made plans in a shorter time frame, it just seemed easier - and you're so happy when you reach your goal each month. It's the best feeling," Rosemary said.
By tackling small tasks, you'll be better equipped to stay the course that leads to a healthier, more stress-free you.
It's just as important to make a realistic plan that fits into your schedule (emphasis on realistic). While the idea of starting the workday with a trip to the gym is a lovely thought, most people will find themselves hitting the snooze button by week two. Ideas like this are nice, but they aren't credible.
"People usually have good intentions, but find that it's harder than they thought to reach their goal - usually because they're trying to take on too much," Osberg said.
You know yourself better than anyone, so if you know you're not a morning person - if you never wake up before you absolutely have to - then you know a goal like "early morning work out" is just not going to happen.
Most people, however, can find time to do a quick work out at home while watching TV, or taking a walk on a lunch break a few times a week. These smaller lifestyle changes won't be so painful to take on - and won't cause you to make excuses and fall out of routine.
Use positive peer pressure
Remember: You don't have to go after your goal all alone! One of the best ways to reach your target is through positive peer pressure from those around you. Find a friend who wants to reach the same goal you do - or a different goal - and work together to keep each other motivated. Having a friend to turn to when you feel discouraged will help you stay the course.
Even if you can't find one specific person to stick with, telling family and friends about your goals can help just as much.
"Find the right supports. It's best to remove yourself from constant temptations, if possible," Osberg said.
The people in your life want to see you succeed and, if they know what you're trying to accomplish, they can adjust their own behavior so you'll be less likely to relapse.
"I only quit smoking when my girlfriend did, and it was a lot easier to quit when I didn't have to watch her have a cigarette in front of me," said Jeff, an ex-smoker.
While tips and tricks and positive motivation are helpful in achieving your goals, what's most important is to have the desire to succeed. A fresh start to the year is nice, but healthy change is welcome and celebrated at any time of year - or any stage of life.