Resolutions for a new year

If you’re like most people, there’s a 50-50 chance that you made a New Year’s resolution to improve your life in 2010. And if you’re like most people, your resolve probably won’t make it through the winter.

There’s something about the start of a new year that seems to bring out people’s hope and optimism. Especially after 2009; as someone I know said recently, "There’s nowhere to go but up."

Alas, it’s hard to stick to our resolutions. Some statistics I ran across this week: 40 to 45 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions; 75 percent manage to keep their resolutions for one week; and 46 percent hang in there for six months.

OK, so change is difficult. Among the most common mistakes, according to lifestyle coaches, fitness experts and others, are resolutions that are too general ("I’m going to exercise more often!") or too ambitious ("I’m going to stop eating dessert!").

Don’t think in terms of a complete overhaul, advises Amy Brightfield, health director at Women’s Day. Small steps and gradual change are more likely to become a habit you’ll successfully be able to stay with, she says. For example, if your goal is to consume the recommended five servings of fruit and seven servings of vegetables each day, "if you vow to eat one fruit and/or veggie at every meal you’ll be well on your way," she said.

Blogger Hermene Hartman at Chicago Now suggests "Smart Goals."

SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. Your goal should answer specifically what, where, why and how. They should be measureable; if you can’t quantify it, you will never be able to manage it. It should be attainable. Goals should be realistic. Consider making a goal a month.

The folks at also offer up some good advice about creating a written plan ("setting a goal without formulating a plan is merely wishful thinking"), taking it in steps and remaining flexible in response to the inevitable curve balls that life often throws at us.

I’d have to attest that a more structured approach tends to make it a little easier to be successful. I’m not really a New-Year’s-resolutions sort of person, and most of the people I know don’t make New Year’s resolutions either – or if they do, they don’t tell anyone. But when I’ve actually managed to make a resolution and stick with it, it’s usually because it was a goal that was specific and realistic.

The whole idea of New Year’s resolutions might sound a little corny, but here’s one thing to remember: There’s been some research on this issue, and it appears that people who set goals are more likely to achieve them than those who don’t.

So how are Americans resolving to improve themselves this year? An annual MyGoals survey found that health and fitness, traditionally the top category, has been edged out by personal growth, family and relationships, recreation and leisure, and time management and organization. The single most popular resolution expected for 2010: to lose weight.

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