Keep it simple to succeed in your New Year’s resolutions

Christine Bryant Times Correspondent

Exercise more. Eat healthier. Lose weight. Get organized. Save more money.

These are all decisions many people have made before watching Pierogi fall.

But is making self-improvement and other year-end resolutions the key to unlocking potential, or is the exercise futile?

Studies show that more than 1 in 3 US adults make at least one decision each year. Yet only 9% of Americans achieve their goals.

We asked some regional experts about whether setting resolutions is a good idea, why so many fail, and the key to success.

The good, the bad, the unattainable

Solutions can be healthy if they are attainable and sustainable, says Amy Loewe, a wellness specialist with Franciscan Wellcare.

“If you’ve made resolutions in the past and didn’t have a good success rate, take an honest look back and see why and how you can improve your success by setting goals instead of making resolutions,” she said.

Amanda B. Kontor, owner of Let’s Do This Coaching in Northwest Indiana and a licensed social worker and life coach, says decisions can be healthy if approached with a balanced perspective.

“However, when rigidly set as tradition without thoughtful planning or realistic expectations, they could become more of a burden than a constructive tool for growth,” Kontor said.

dr. Kajal Puranik, a family medicine and obesity medicine specialist at Northwest Medical Group in Portage, says resolutions can be an opportunity to spark positive change for someone who is motivated.

“Motivation for positive change can come at different stages of a person’s life,” she said. “It could be a new health diagnosis, the birth of a grandchild or the death of a loved one, a birthday or an anniversary. Regardless of the motivational factor, it is important that your goals are smart — specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. At the end of the day, that’s what’s going to affect whether you succeed in them or not.”

“Maintaining these goals can be difficult,” said Terri Sakelaris, registered dietitian/nutritionist, board-certified diabetes care and education specialist and lifestyle coach at Community Healthcare System. “We easily fall back into old habits, life gets in the way or we feel overwhelmed. Goal setting can be healthy if we realize that we need to be positive and make it fun.”

That’s why Sakelaris says she encourages clients to make their goals more positive.

“Instead of saying ‘no more’ of something, we say ‘more’ of something healthier,” she said. “The number 1 goal of most of my express patients is to lose weight. Instead of losing weight, I ask them to set goals to achieve weight loss.”

Puranik says one of the most common reasons people fail is because their goals are too vague.

If someone decides to set a weight loss goal, that person also needs to determine how to achieve that goal, including tracking progress, developing a physical activity routine, and a diet plan.

Resolutions and goals should not be limited to an annual cycle, says Kontor.

“They should be an integral part of one’s life, woven into the fabric of daily routines and aspirations,” she said. “As a mental health therapist and life coach, I stress the importance of integrating goals and resolutions throughout the year because it’s critical to view personal growth as an ongoing journey—not a once-a-year commitment.”

The annual approach can also set individuals up for failure, Kontor says.

“Often the resolutions made at the beginning of the year are big, ambitious and sometimes unrealistic,” she said. “The pressure associated with New Year’s resolutions can lead to feelings of failure if those goals are not met immediately. This can create a cycle of disappointment, discouraging individuals from fully setting goals.”

Sakelaris says her personal goals include making a vision board.

“My daughter and I do it on New Year’s and list everything we want to come true,” she said. “My goals were never ‘to lose weight or reduce stress.’ Instead, I list all the foods that promote health, improve gut and mind function, and fight inflammation, which will lead to a healthy weight and reduced stress.”

Loewe says that while she usually makes resolutions at the start of the new year, she also challenges herself throughout the year as she evaluates different aspects of her life, from fitness to relationships and time management.

“People sometimes think because of my profession as a coach or a health coach that I have it all together,” she said. “That is not the case at all. My own trips and mistakes help me to be closer and more empathetic.”

Some of the goals she has set include reducing time spent on the phone and social media, increasing water intake, keeping a prayer journal and reducing added sugar in the diet.

“Wellness is not just about fitness and nutrition or weight loss,” Loewe said.

Kontor says she encourages setting intentions rather than rigid resolutions – advice she follows herself.

“Intentions are more fluid and adaptable, allowing for continued growth throughout the year,” Kontor said. “When I set personal intentions, I structure them by making sure they are specific, realistic and time-bound, which helps drive success.”

Other Tips for Making Decisions in 2024

A great decision to start with is improving sleep, as it can help a person meet goals in several areas of their life, Sakelaris says.

“If my client isn’t sleeping well and is struggling with weight loss, I explain how better sleep helps with improved energy, improved metabolism and improved memory,” she said. “It also helps reduce food cravings and promotes weight loss.”

Instead of setting a single resolution, setting smaller goals can help a person achieve maximum success, Loewe says.

“For example, someone who doesn’t go to the gym at all sets a goal to go to the gym for 90 days straight,” she said.

Loewe suggests setting a goal to hit the gym two to three times a week for 90 days.

“By setting an attainable goal, there is more empowerment and confidence in maintaining as well as achieving that goal,” she said. “I like to say, start in the shallow end of the pool and go deeper slowly and surely.”

For someone looking to lose weight, Loewe suggests breaking the total down into smaller goals, like losing five pounds a month or one pound a week instead of 20 pounds by spring.

“By breaking your goals down into smaller, more attainable goals, you seem more attainable,” she said.

Avoid crash diets that aren’t sustainable in the long term and choose physical activities that are enjoyable, says Loewe.

“When you reach your goals, you give yourself a little reward,” Loewe said. “Purchase that pair of running shoes you’ve been eyeing, or treat yourself to a non-food treat like a manicure, massage or facial.”

Hiring a personal trainer or an accountability buddy can also help keep a person on track, she said.

“Knowing that you have an appointment or that the person is counting on you to show up will keep you going,” Loewe said.

The most important thing, says Kontor, is to practice self-awareness.

“My focus with clients is to instill an understanding that personal growth and achieving goals are ongoing processes,” she said. “Embracing the path of self-improvement with compassion and realistic planning fosters a more balanced and successful approach to goal setting and achievement.”

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