All of us make New Year's resolutions; often, they are health- and fitness-oriented. We take note of our physical appearance and health, and decide that "this year" is the year we're going to make "the commitment" to make a change.
You may decide to try to shed some excess weight and lose some inches, or that you're going to start eating "right" to lower your cholesterol or to start exercising on a regular basis so you'll look better and feel better.
It all sounds good on paper, but why can't we succeed in doing them throughout the year? The reason is that when you decide to make a change that affects your life and your health, you are deciding to change your lifestyle.
Making a change in your lifestyle can be very challenging. When you consider that you are attempting to change the way you've done something for years or maybe even decades, the odds of succeeding can seem insurmountable.
What should you do first? Where should you start? Who should you get advice from? Should you read books, watch self-help videos? Or try what your co-worker did with success?
Even with the best intentions, you can lose your enthusiasm to change your lifestyle if you don't know in what direction to take your first step. I believe the key to successfully creating a healthier lifestyle and then living this healthier lifestyle is practical change.
Having had to personally recreate my health and my body after a major illness, I understand the importance of personal commitment, and how difficult it can be to stop doing the things that drag you away from your goals, and start doing the new things that help you reach your goals. It's not always easy to "stick to it" until new habits are in place.
One of my favorite inspirational messages is from Aristotle: "You are what you repeatedly do … excellence is not a singular act, but a habit."
The key is not only to create a new lifestyle, but to maintain it.
Here are a few simple steps to help you create lasting, permanent practical change:
· Set Practical Goals. The reason we sometimes fail is because our new goals are too difficult, too extreme, too complicated, too unrealistic and too different than our normal life. Then all you end up with is failure, guilt and feeling bad about yourself.
Focus on just a few practical goals that are realistic and truly important to you. The goals you set have to be those you are willing to strive for beyond the current, perhaps comfortable, way you do things now. You must be committed to achieving these goals for you — not for anyone else.
Achieving a different appearance or a better health profile is about making a change, and change takes time. Reward yourself once you achieve the goals you set. Be generous to yourself as you accomplish your goals.
· Schedule the Time. Have you ever noticed that you are sure to succeed at doing something when you actually make an appointment or schedule the time to do it? If your goal is to lose that extra weight by participating in a regular exercise program several times a week, you'll find that unless you make an actual time commitment by scheduling it, you'll discover other things to fill your busy schedule and won't get around to doing it.
We are creatures of habit, and whenever we try to inject something new into our busy lives — like regular exercise — we have a tendency to eventually revert back to our old habits. This is why your success will partially depend on how good of a time manager you are, particularly if you are looking to incorporate regular exercise and regular meals into your lifestyle.
Whether you are going to a gym or to the exercise room in your home, make an appointment with yourself, and record it on your calendar or in your day planner.
· Create a Practical Action Plan. To ensure success once you've set your goals and scheduled time to work on them, you need an action plan. There are myriads of options available.
You can join a gym, hire a personal trainer or a nutritionist, purchase tapes and videos. Remember there are no magic bullets. Do a little homework, lay out a plan that makes sense for you and your lifestyle, and just do it.
For example, let's say you are committed to losing 40 pounds. We know this will take longer than a few short weeks, so start with baby steps and take one day at a time. Your plan may be to schedule time to exercise an hour two or three times a week, eliminate your late night snack and drink at least eight glasses of water each day.
Even though this sounds pretty simple, doing this every day for a month will make a huge difference in your body and in your health. Then, in a month, add a few more steps to your plan. Maybe then you'll eliminate the three whites — sugar, flour and salt — from your diet.
Don't bite off more than you can chew. Tomorrow is what you believe and do today. This statement works for almost anything you want to achieve in life, including better health and a more fit body. The two key words are "believe" and "do." You must have faith that you will achieve your goals, and you must be committed to take action on your faith.
Rita Bryan is the president of Genesis Personal Fitness of Newtown.