Healthy Living: Healthy Resolutions—A New Year, A New You

 

There’s nothing new about New Year’s resolutions—whether you want to read more, save money or drop a few pounds. While some scoff at how fleeting these promises to ourselves can be, others say we deserve credit for at least acknowledging a need for self-improvement—and for giving it the old college try. We know it can be overwhelming to exact any significant change in lifestyle or habit, but let’s say you’re really determined this year. What can you do differently to make your resolutions stick? What baby steps can you take? What adjustments or reward system can you put in place to bring you closer to your goal?

“Quantify it,” advises Donald E. Wetmore, founding president of The Productivity Institute, a time-management think tank in Stratford. We often set ourselves up to fail for the simple reason that resolutions tend to be vague (such as “I want to lose weight”), says Wetmore. Specificity make us feel more accountable, so attach a number and a deadline to your resolution. By saying “I want to lose 10 pounds by summer,” you’ve clarified your intention, making it feel more attainable. Deadlines are commitments, but more than that, they can help “break your resolution into bite-sized pieces,” says Wetmore, which in turn, makes it more manageable.

Next, allow that change is hard. Don’t set too many goals, he adds, or your campaign is sure to collapse; make only one or two resolutions at most. Finally, be realistic. A desire for growth and self-improvement is admirable, but is it really likely that you’ll achieve enlightenment this year if you just go to yoga more often? Be honest with yourself and choose a goal that’s challenging—but attainable.

To help you get there, we’ve identified the most common resolutions and rounded up some expert advice on how to keep them—once and for all.

Get Fit
Burnout is the workout’s greatest enemy, according to Dorrie Carolan, co-director of the NYA Sports & Fitness Center in Newtown. “We see it all the time. When people first start working out, they come in five days a week,” says Carolan, “but they just get burned out and that’s it. We advise them to come in three days a week to start.” If you’re new to the gym and not sure how to use the equipment, she recommends meeting with a personal trainer—even if it’s just for a few sessions. “If you don’t learn how to lift or exercise properly, you’re more likely to injure yourself—and stop coming,” she says.

If you’re serious:
■    Take a class. Sometimes just being around others helps with motivation.
■    Switch up your program every four to six weeks to avoid boredom.
■    Pay for a year’s membership. It’s more cost-effective and increases your sense of obligation!

Trim Down
If anyone knows how challenging dieting can be, it’s Kim Bensen. The Shelton weight-management expert and author of Finally Thin! lost 212 pounds 10 years ago—and kept it off. The founder of “Options,” a membership weight-loss program, she’s in her element when discussing diet (not a dirty word in her book). “First of all, whatever program you choose to follow, it has to be tailored to you,” says Bensen. “A lot of diet programs work, but you have to make it yours.” She asserts, like many, that losing weight is part of a lifestyle change, and that getting there is a very calculated effort. “You’ve got to make this your job,” she says. “You have to put yourself first, make it a priority, learn to cook things you will eat and make again, and enjoy what you’re doing.”

If you’re serious:
■     Do the math. At the end of the day weight loss is about calories in and calories out. There are lots of apps and programs that can help you arrive at the daily numbers that will spell success.
■     Choose a well-rounded diet and watching out for “free foods;” they are not non-​caloric. Says Bensen: “Most people are not slow losers, they’re sloppy dieters.”
■     Find a strategy that is stress-free. “There’s nothing like stress to send you to the cookie jar,” she cautions.

Quit Smoking
Hands down, giving up tobacco is one of the best things you can do for your health—and it’s also one of the most difficult resolutions to keep. Luckily, much research has gone into breaking the habit, so there’s a lot of support out there for anyone who is determined to quit. The Connecticut Quitline is a great place to start. The program allows you to participate remotely; there are no meetings to attend.

If you’re serious:
■     Personalize your quitting strategy. Quitline can help you select the nicotine substitute or other medication (for free) that’s right for you.
■     Rely on someone to help. Quitline coaches are available for advice and support whenever you need it.
■     Learn from the experience every step of the way. Quitting takes practice, so you may not get there the first few times you try.

 

 

Go Back to School
A common resolution among adults is to “finish my degree,” but many feel frustrated out of the gate because they mistakenly believe that college is for the young. Not so, says Carol J. Williams, associate dean of the School of Continuing Education at Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic. In fact, “many colleges and universities welcome returning adult students and try to accommodate their busy schedules,” says Williams. She also believes in taking small bites. “Going back to college is a big commitment and can feel overwhelming, so instead of saying, ‘this year I am going to finish my bachelor’s degree,’ it’s better to say, ‘this year I am going to figure out the best program for me and start back to school,” she says. From there, take a series of more simple steps.

If you’re serious:
■     Research programs in your area that are of interest.
■     Make appointments to see what programs offer, how long they take to complete and how much they will cost.
■     Seek out an “adult friendly” program that allows you to earn college credit for work experience. It builds motivation.

Save Money
Financial advisers of every ilk are skilled at sharing insight on how to build wealth, but what if you’re just trying to pay the bills and retire someday? Some of the most practical budget tips we could find came from … Phil McGraw, TV doctor, columnist and purveyor of advice on just about everything. Saving, says McGraw, is really about changing your relationship with money, which can be very hard to do. But chipping away at old habits is really the only way to succeed.

If you’re serious:
■     Live below your means. The numbers may frustrate you, but it’s important to know just how much you’re earning, what you’re paying out that’s necessary, and where you can cut costs.
■     Don’t buy on credit. If you don’t have the cash, do without.
■     Rid yourself of the stigma on embracing a thrifty lifestyle.
■     Become a discount shopper. Seek out sales, use coupons, frequent secondhand stores.
■     Go food shopping with a plan. Keep a running list all week, check the flyers and don’t stray.
■     Practice strategies for cutting down on utility bills. Wear layers so you can keep the heat down, close the vents in (and doors to) rooms you don’t use, install low-flow showerheads, take shorter showers, and use only cold water for laundry.

Get Organized
Matt Baier likes guidelines. The Stamford declutterer extraordinaire and member of the National Association of Professional Organizers believes it isn’t enough to say you want to “get more organized,” and we believe him. His mantra is “limitations breed freedom,” so he recommends you clarify your motive: Is disorganization keeping you from realizing your big-picture goals, is it resulting in late-payment fees and multiple purchases—or are you just sick and tired of it? Next, limit the number of quantifiable goals you set (such as taking 10 minutes to clear off your desk every night) and you’ll see small improvements every day, which in turn will lead to significant changes.

If you’re serious:
■     Make friends with a timer. If you place a limit on the time you spend going through mail, for example, you’re instantly focused because you’re not worried that the task will take all night.
■     Don’t give up. If at first you don’t succeed, modify your goals. If you can’t give your desk 10 minutes and still make your train, then give it five. It’s better than nothing.
■     Give yourself a break. Acquiring new habits takes time, so know upfront that getting organized won’t happen overnight.

Read More
Reading more is not an issue for someone who loves books as much as Dorothy Pawlowski does. But the adult-services librarian at the Ridgefield Library understands how hard it can be to make room in your life for more reading, especially when so many of us are inundated with emails and reports and such at work. Pawloswski is a card-carrying advocate of the book club, which she says can inspire you to not only read more—but to read things you otherwise wouldn’t. “We have five different book groups at the library, as well as resources, all kinds of book lists and recommendations for books, depending on your interests,” she says. Recognizing that it can be especially hard for parents of young children, she recommends setting aside some family time to share books (reading is reading, after all).

If you’re serious:
■     Listen to audio books. People who like to walk or run, as well as commuters who spend too much time in the car, have discovered the joy of listing to stories.
■     Reread something you read “when you were too young.” Even the classics, or titles you once perceived as too complex, may hold new meaning for you now.
■     Don’t feel compelled to finish a book if it’s not speaking to you. Give it a hundred pages, and if nothing resonates, walk away.

Work Less
Who among us wouldn’t like to get our jobs done faster and more efficiently? Perhaps it’s not working less that should be our goal, but rather working smarter. Donald E. Wetmore of The Productivity Institute in Stratford has spent a lot of time pondering time management and has made it his life’s work to “show people how to get more done in less time, with less stress.” Who’s in?  

If you’re serious:
■     Get enough sleep (a full eight hours, if you need it). This may seem counterproductive, but getting an adequate night’s sleep is the first step toward getting any job done.
■     Create systems to handle repetitive tasks. If you send out similar emails day after day, create a template. Use only one calendar. Keep your desk and office clutter-free, with equipment you use regularly within reach.
■     Develop and maintain a network of friends and colleagues who can help you get things done. In turn, help them do the same. 

 

Healthy Living: Healthy Resolutions—A New Year, A New You

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