2010 Resolutions - and how to keep them
Kate Feiffer, the Oak Bluffs children's book author, vowed last year to keep her checkbook balanced. Her promise lasted 10 months, the longest she's ever maintained a New Year's resolution. The key to her success? "I didn't have to work out," she says, explaining that by not pledging to maintain a fitness routine, she was able to refocus - for a while.
Carmen Wilson, a counselor at the Oak Bluffs School, swore off resolutions four years ago: "I make one in the spirit of the moment and it seems like a good idea. Then it doesn't stick." Ironically, not making resolutions is the one resolution she's upheld.
The celebration of the New Year dates back to ancient Babylon about 4,000 years ago. We also have the Babylonians to thank for the tradition of making resolutions, the most popular of which was to return borrowed farm equipment.
So is it possible to launch a new you on January 1 and make it last longer than the glow from your midnight glass of champagne? Research shows that 80 percent of people who make New Year's resolutions break them by Valentine's Day. In fact, a third won't even make it to the end of January. And, while more than half of adults indicate that they've made New Year's resolutions, only 17 percent say they keep them.
A survey of eight Vineyard health care and fitness specialists yields some helpful advice to those who seek to shed old habits or to create new ones. All agree that change is hard. Resolutions are too vague. Even bad habits lend us comfort. So how can we turn our ambitious goals into unshakable new realities?
Dr. John Lamb, internist at both Martha's Vineyard Hospital and Island Health Care, advises keeping it simple. "We need to focus on one thing at a time," he says. "Set realistic goals and seek incremental change. Multiple behavior patterns are tough to change."
Some scientists theorize that humans, like other organisms, seek stability and are averse to change - so much so that there may be a subtle but powerful force that maintains the status quo.
Dr. Marianne Goldsmith, a Vineyard Haven psychiatrist, explains that habits become ingrained patterns. "We can't just hope that change will occur," she says. "We relive patterns without awareness. It's important to examine our patterns of relationships and behaviors in order to make change."
New habits require time and energy to incorporate. "It's not easy to get up an hour earlier to get to the gym," says Vineyard Haven therapist Laura Schroeder. "It's hard to quit smoking, drinking or lose weight. But what is comfortable isn't necessarily healthy. New Year's is a good time for some people to make things right, to get back on track."
Dr. Oceana Rames, a naturopathic physician in Vineyard Haven, says she often helps people who are seeking a healthier lifestyle. "It's my job to assess a patient's readiness to change. Are they just contemplating it or are they really motivated? The decision has to come from within."
So your last pair of pants won't zip, you're panting as you make your way around the block with the dog, your desktop is buried under piles of bills. How can you go about making changes?
Debbie Phillips, a pioneering executive and life coach who helps clients across the U.S. achieve personal and professional goals, advises: "You have to put structure around a goal.
"Write down your goal. Make it specific - not, 'I want to lose weight,' but 'I want to lose one pound a week for the next two months.' Break a large goal into small steps. Get support from experts, friends or loved ones. And, finally, celebrate the achievement of small goals along the way."
Whether we adhere to them or not, New Year's resolutions translate into big business for fitness professionals.
Craig Yuhas, personal trainer and co-owner of B-Strong Health Club and Personal Training Studio in Oak Bluffs, says he sees a 30 percent increase in memberships each January. "It lasts about a month and then we're back to the regulars," he says. "People always mention New Year's resolutions. But they lack long-term goals. They come in, get on a treadmill for 30 minutes, do a couple of bicep curls and head out the door. They don't change their eating habits and have no way to measure their progress." He adds, "People don't understand how hard they have to strive to really get into shape."
Nisa Counter, of NisaFit, who operates boot camps for women and men, says she's already received tons of emails and calls from people who want to shed weight or get into better shape for the New Year. She recommends people just start moving. "It's not about an extreme gym program," she says. "Walk your dog every day. As you feel better, incorporate more exercise. Try it for a month."
Ms. Counter also suggests eating less meat and more vegetables. "Make a decision and do the work," she says, cautioning, "But know yourself. Be realistic or you won't stick to it."
Jason Peringer, owner of Vineyard Haven's Center for Therapeutic Massage, knows something about perseverance. Although he never makes New Year's resolutions, he's found his own formula for achieving his goals. "The most popular day to change a habit is tomorrow," he says. "If you can't do what you need to today you probably won't do it." A runner, cyclist and workout buff for over 25 years, Mr. Peringer exercises in some form every day. His advice to the more sedentary: "Find something you'll enjoy doing. It doesn't matter if it's salsa dancing or long walks in the woods."
Change is tough, but as Dr. Gerald Yukevich, a general practitioner at Vineyard Medical Services in Vineyard Haven, points out: "If you can take enough baby steps you can take longer steps. I've seen amazing changes, but they almost always begin with one baby step first."
For free, helpful tips on eating, exercise, reducing alcohol consumption, quitting smoking and mental health, visit the American Medical Association's website and search for "Healthier Life Steps," at ama.org.
Karla Araujo is a frequent contributor to The Times.