Exercise. Eat more vegetables. Kick that bad habit.
The start of a new year makes many people ambitious as they hash out New Year's resolutions -- and promise they'll keep them this year.
But the middle of winter might not be the best time to radically change your lifestyle, especially in the Midwest.
"There's this illusion that you'll magically get all this energy and feel great on Jan. 1," Fairview Red Wing psychologist Kim Baldwin said. "But people don't remember how much our biology and environment influence us."
In the winter, people are biologically less motivated to be active and make changes, Baldwin said. The dark days and cold temperatures make it harder to lose weight, get out and exercise or skip sugary or fatty foods.
The best time to make changes actually are the spring -- "with the rebirth of the plants" -- and the fall, for anybody who went to school and associates that with a new start, Baldwin said.
The new year can hold bad connotations for people too.
"A lot of people have discouraging memories around their resolutions," Baldwin said.
Even outside the wintery states, many resolutions are broken before the month's end, studies have shown.
"Sometimes it ends up being almost worse," Baldwin said.
But if you're going to use the start of 2012 to make changes, here are a few do's and don'ts to up your success rate.
Don't take on more than you can handle.
"That's why resolutions often do fail, because people shoot way too high," Baldwin said.
Lose 50 pounds by summer? Cut out all junk food from your diet? Those goals set you up for failure.
Instead, make small shifts and maintain them. "I'd encourage people to do small, incremental changes," she said. "For example, eat one more vegetable every day in January."
Don't do it by yourself. Trying to make significant changes alone is a common mistake, Baldwin said.
Instead, try writing down your goals and put them in a public place or telling someone else about your plan to hold you accountable. Also, try teaming up -- for example, agree on and writing down set days to exercise together.
Don't expect to tackle big changes such as quitting smoking easily.
"That feeling that you can't manage pieces of your life can undermine the ability to even try," Baldwin said.
Instead, try giving up "something that doesn't have a lot of value" -- drinking if you're a casual drinker, for example, or that extra piece of chocolate after dinner. It will help you feel more in control of your decisions.
Don't give up when you slip up. Missed a day at the gym? Had that fatty appetizer out with friends? It's not an excuse to quit going completely now that your resolution is "broken."
Instead, renew that resolution.
"It's about forgiveness and tolerance and recognizing your humanity," Baldwin said. "Let go, forgive yourself and get back to it."