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Experts say daily reminders are important to staying focused on a new diet or exercise plan — so long as the goals are realistic. Setting attainable milestones like losing a couple of pounds a week for several months can help avoid discouragement. (Photo by Michael Brun/Republican Eagle)

Psyched up to succeed

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RED WING, Minn. -- With the excess of the holiday season winding down, Americans turn once again to the annual tradition of New Year’s resolutions.

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Losing weight, quitting smoking and reducing stress are just a few of the health-related pledges that top the list of go-to resolutions, but unrealistic goals and lack of support can cause even the most well-intentioned plan to fall by the wayside.

According to a new poll by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, 44 percent of Americans intend to make a New Year’s resolution for 2014, up a few percentage points from last year. Although 72 percent of adults polled said they kept their 2013 resolutions — the highest rate going back to the mid-1990s — around 40 percent of self-improvers typically give up by year’s end.

Change can be difficult, and lasting change even more so. To increase the likelihood of keeping with a new diet or wellness plan, experts say to approach them with the right mindset.

One of the most important tips to getting a new routine to stick is for people to choose activities they enjoy, said Michelle Leise, coordinator for Live Healthy Red Wing.

“If you hate jogging, for instance, but you love walking your dog, forget the jog and make a pact with yourself to walk fast with your dog twice a day,” Leise said.

It also is a good idea to make reasonable resolutions, as taking on too much, too soon can be overwhelming, according to the National Institutes of Health. Instead of setting a lump goal of losing 30 pounds in 2014, try breaking the goal into smaller steps such as losing five pounds a month for six months.

“Your goal doesn’t have to be earth-shattering,” Leise said. She recommends people start small and increase their goals over time.

When piecing together a plan to achieve a New Year’s resolution, the NIH says to include clear actions and behaviors. Instead of simply vowing to walk more or go to sleep earlier, make a schedule to walk for 30 minutes after work or set an exact bedtime.

Visual cues can be a great help as well, Leise added.

“If you're committing to eating a healthier breakfast each day with fruit, put a piece of fruit on the kitchen counter every night before you go to bed,” she said. “The fruit will be waiting for you first thing in the morning and you can reach for it before you even start your coffee.”

Although motivation can be strong during the first few weeks of the year, discouraging setbacks can lead to frustration and slipping back into old habits. To overcome the urge to quit, Leise said to add accountability to goals by sharing them with a spouse, friend or co-worker.

“This way you'll feel an extra need to follow through,” she said.

Alternatively, if a person is uncomfortable sharing their goal, Leise said to write it down on paper and keep it near the bed or taped to a bathroom mirror as a daily reminder.

Another big part of following through with a resolution is being able to visualize rewards, Leise said. For instance, if the goal is to improve fitness, picturing finishing a race or hiking a trail with a child or grandchild can give a mental boost.

“When your willpower starts to lag, picturing your reward will help reinvigorate your resolve and keep you going,” Leise said.

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Michael Brun
Michael Brun is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program. He has worked for the Republican Eagle since March 2013, covering county government, health and local events. 
(651) 301-7875
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