Resolution solutions: Steps to making life changes

The experts weigh in on how to keep your resolutions on track before the ball drops next year.

Every New Year inspires resolutions. If you know how to plan and avoid pitfalls, this could be the year you succeed.

Why you break resolutions

Lose weight, stop smoking, be nicer to your spouse, try harder at work … all these are common resolutions that may have made your list at some point. Why don’t you keep them long-term? The answer is in the brain.

Eva Ritvo, M.D., a psychiatrist in private practice in Miami Beach, and co-author of The Beauty Prescription, explains that changing how you think and behave is difficult once you’re an adult because neurologic connections are set. “Changes are going to take substantial effort, just like if you want to learn a foreign language.”

In order to “rewire,” or change, the brain, repetition is required, and so is effort and planning ahead to avoid falling back on old behaviors. Say you want to lose weight, figure out what you’re going to eat, get a recipe book and stock up the kitchen. What exercise are you going to do? “Try out different forms, and choose something you like enough that you can stick with it,” Eva says. Put it on your schedule. Break down the resolution into attainable increments. In the case of weight loss, aim for a pound a week. Reward yourself when you reach goals.

The experts weigh in on how to keep your resolutions on track before the ball drops next year.

Exercise

Exercise.

The common mistake to avoid when it comes to exercise is making unrealistic expectations or setting extreme goals, says Edith Angulo Valdes, a certified fitness professional and personal trainer in South Florida. For example: work out everyday and completely transform my body. “It’s not realistic; our schedules don’t allow that,” she explains.

“Instead, you could say I’ll work out three times a week, taking into account your work schedule and time with the kids. Be realistic, set periodic goals, and reward yourself when you meet your goals . Assess every three months, and make changes accordingly. Edith cautions not to be too hard on yourself, but also be mindful.

“Catch yourself when you’re making excuses and justifications for being lazy or don’t want to break bad habits.” Use visualization techniques. Put a photo of a slimmer you on the refrigerator. Make a list of pros and cons to having a healthier lifestyle – wanting to feel good, declining health, and impact on your pocket.

Nutrition

Nutrition.

Nutrition resolutions are often broken because they are too vague. For example, saying you want to give up fat doesn’t say how, when, how much, or how to track it. “If starting with very vague goals, make them SMART,” explains Jennifer Kay Nelson, MS, RD, LD, director of clinical dietetics and nutrition at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Smart stands for: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and trackable. Look at what you’re currently eating. Are you getting 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables daily? Are your portions of meat, poultry or fish too large? Maybe you’re eating too many refined carbs.

Make a plan . Substitute starchy carbs with whole grains: brown rice vs. white rice and whole wheat bread vs. white, refined bread. Plan ahead for when temptation strikes. “It’s like the spare tire in the car; if you get a flat tire, you can reach into that trunk and pull out a solution.”

Have fruit available so you don’t reach for a candy bar during a mid-morning snack attack. Have a buddy you can call when you feel like giving up. For 2013, add more of these to your diet: fresh or frozen fruits such as melons, oranges and berries; and vegetables, especially dark greens like kale, chard and spinach. Other tips: eat breakfast daily; switch to healthy fats; consume sugar only in fruits; avoid eating at restaurants, unless it’s fresh and lightly processed foods only; and keep a food record.

Finances

Finance.

Save money for retirement, pay off credit cards and loans, and put money away for a vacation. Sound familiar? All are common financial resolutions. “Don’t do everything at once,” recommends Isis B. Palicio, LUTCF, MBA, executive vice president and COO of Universal Wealth Managers, LLC in Coral Gables, Florida.

“We fail because of poor planning.” If you focus all your disposable income towards simply paying down your debt, if you have an emergency, guess where you’re going to go – a credit card. If you have $100 disposable income, take $50 to pay off debt, and put the rest in a savings account, or something equivalent. Another tip she offers is to use debit cards instead of credit cards to avoid paying interest.

Countdown to success

Countdown to success.

Whatever your resolution, understand getting discouraged is part of the process , explains Eva. The key is to not give up, a common mistake. Talk to someone, and resume the next day.

“Give yourself space to recognize change is not easy, but can be done.” Maintaining optimal brain health is essential for success, and achieved through sufficient sleep, proper nutrition, avoiding drugs and alcohol; and trying new things such as painting or playing an instrument to stimulate the brain.