Set Realistic Goals
"New Year's resolutions are often problematic because they have a way of setting one up to fail," says Dr. Robin Benton-Crutcher, a licensed clinical social worker in private practice.
People often set lofty, unrealistic goals and overlook the need for a practical plan of action — lacking a plan, a resolution is little more than a wish or dream. She suggests clients explore why they want the change, how it would affect their lives, whether they have a course of action, and what the pitfalls have been in the past — if it's a resolution they've made before.
"One of the best things we can ever do is learn from our mistakes," she says.
"One of the problems people have is that they're too vague or general," says Molly Kimball, a registered dietitian and nutrition program manager at Ochsner's Elmwood Fitness Center. "You also have to figure out how you are going to do something."
Kimball says cutting out mindless snacking after dinner, for instance, or commiting to weekly boot camps or spinning classes are concrete ways to reach the goal of losing weight. If your resolution is to save money, create a specific plan of action. Randy Waesche, president and CEO of business and wealth advisory firm Resource Management Inc., suggests a foolproof method of sidestepping the temptation to spend: have the maximum allowable amount taken out of your paycheck and put into your IRA. That way, money automatically goes into savings.
The first step often is the hardest. Putting a plan into motion is crucial and that may mean looking at things in a new way.
"Procrastination almost always equals perfectionism," Benton-Crutcher says. "It's not that you're lazy, it's that you probably think you have to do it a certain way."
Benton-Crutcher advises letting go of the notion that there's only one way to accomplish your goal. "Making a decision, any decision, is better than not making one at all," she says.
Procrastination also may be a sign of not really wanting to do what's necessary for change, such as cutting back the amount you spend on clothes in order to increase savings.
"You've got to put your needs before your wants," Waesche says.
Take Things One Step At A Time
"I tell people to dream big and keep their goals small," says Dr. Cindy Ashkins, a licensed clinical social worker, certified life coach and relationship therapist.
Instead of vowing to work out every single day in the new year, Ashkins says committing to 30 minutes a day, five times a week for the next month is a healthier way to approach change — and one that's likely to have more longevity. To assist with each step, she recommends creating a "vision board" by placing motivational words and images on a corkboard. "You get to look at it every day, and when you've met a goal, take it off and replace it with a new one," she says.
"For most of us, it often works out better if we find a friend who has a similar goal," Benton-Crutcher says. Working out with a buddy, for example, helps with accountability and meets another of our needs by supplying social interaction.
Other ways to be accountable include sharing goals with the people around you, keeping a log, journal or spreadsheet for daily spending and taking advantage of the many smartphone applications available for things like weight loss. "Tracking your behavior can help you see whether there is something you're forgetting," Kimball says.
Don't Get Sidelined by Setbacks
It takes time for new habits to set in and become familiar. Slip-ups happen, and the important thing is not to use a setback as an opportunity to give up altogether.
"One poor choice or decision is not going to determine your success," Kimball says. "It's the repetition of those that will add up. Get past it." To take the pressure off, Ashkins suggests having a designated day off, like a Sunday, where you can cheat a bit. "If you get off track, don't say 'Oh well, I'm just not going to do it,'" she says. "Get up the next morning and start again."
Reward Your Successes
How we reward our successes varies from person to person. One person may go shopping; another may opt for a massage. But giving ourselves a reward for a goal achieved does not have to involve spending money. Kimball advises tapping into what makes you happy.
"You have to tune into what those things are," she says. "It could be a pedicure or it could be spending time with family and friends." Waesche advocates taking advantage of the many free activities available in the community. His suggestions include fishing in City Park and riding bikes along the Tammany Trace from Mandeville to Slidell.
Seek Professional Help if Necessary
"When a goal is costing you more time and mental energy than it would if you had somebody guiding you, it may be time to seek professional support," Kimball says.
A professional — such as a nutritionist, personal trainer, therapist, life coach or financial adviser — can do many things, from helping you to set realistic, achievable goals to devising a plan to providing accountability, empowerment and ideas you may not think of on your own. At the end of the day, however, making a change is up to the individual.
"The important thing," Waesche says, "is the discipline to follow through."
Top Workout Jams
Situated at the intersection of psychology and physiology, the effect of music on exercise is widely studied but not so well understood. What we do know is that music tempo affects the cadence of moderate exercise: A 2010 study by the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences revealed that subjects increased or decreased their paces on stationary bikes when listening to faster or slower music, respectively. If you've ever found yourself unconsciously walking to the beat of a song, you've probably experienced the phenomenon firsthand.
RunHundred.com, a workout music blog, capitalizes on that tendency by compiling monthly lists of the most popular workout songs, determined by more than 40,000 readers' votes, and grouping them by beats per minute (BPM). "Present (in the December 2012 list) is the latest of the Usher/Ludacris hits that began with 2004's 'Yeah!'" creator and DJ Chris Lawhorn writes on the site. "Also collaborating this month are Irish rockers The Script and Will.I.Am from Black Eyed Peas. Further mixing things up are Taylor Swift's flirtation with dubstep and two different takes on the same song by Flo Rida and Bingo Players."
Here's the rest of the list, with BPMs that can take you from warmup to cooldown. — Missy Wilkinson
Taylor Swift, "I Knew You Were Trouble" — 77 BPM
Avicii, "Silhouettes" —129 BPM
The Script & Will.I.Am, "Hall of Fame" — 87 BPM
One Direction, "Kiss You" — 90 BPM
Calvin Harris & Florence Welch, "Sweet Nothing" — 127 BPM
Ludacris, Usher & David Guetta, "Rest of My Life" —129 BPM
Flo Rida, "I Cry" — 126 BPM
Fun., "Some Nights" — 110 BPM
Bingo Players, "Cry (Just a Little)" — 128 BPM
PSY & MC Hammer, "Gangnam Style / 2 Legit 2 Quit" — 131 BPM