Changing behaviors is difficult during a normal year. Add the tumultuous events of 2020, and it’s easy to think about giving up before you even begin.
Don’t! A group of experts and those who have succeeded at their goals are here to help in five key areas: losing weight and getting fit, quitting smoking, organizing your home, managing your time and achieving financial health.
As you enjoy the clean slate of 2021, here are some strategies for achieving and maintaining your goals for good.
Peter Goodspeed, 70, of Richardson began running in 1972 to get ready for his U.S. Army boot camp. After completing his military service during the Vietnam War, he ran three miles every day, and he continued running through marriage and family life. He would run with his son, who was on a cross country team. “We completed over 120 5Ks at White Rock Lake during the course of six years. Afterwards, we would go to Denny’s for the Grand Slam,” Goodspeed says.
“I found that I could trick my body into running by focusing on the Grand Slam while running around White Rock Lake.”
Goodspeed was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2013 and found it hard to get back to running once he recovered.
“I weighed 245 pounds, and when I saw my reflection in the mirrored glass building at work I couldn’t look at myself anymore. … I was a blob.” He turned to swimming with a group, the Plano Wetcats. “I found that on my own, it was difficult to maintain, but with a group, I kept it up.”
Now, he exercises after work every other day. He also decided at age 68 to buy his first bike and joined the Plano Bicycle Association. He rides 35 miles on weekends.
“When I don’t feel like exercising, I often motivate myself by saying I will get a Panera Bread Greek yogurt with granola and fruit, only if I exercise first. No exercise, no yogurt.”
Mindset is a key focus of WW, formerly Weight Watchers. Jaclyn London, the company’s head of nutrition and wellness, says WW is working with members to shift the mindset from “all or nothing” to long-term behavioral change with an emphasis on self-care.
“Never eating carbs, never eating candy, never eating meat,” she says, is not realistic for most people.
Think in terms of what you can do more of, she says, not so much as what to eliminate.
“Eating more produce, increasing your activity, taking more time for self-care and more sleep will help you keep up this lifestyle change,” she says.
Lori Goodman of Dallas is a coach for WW and joined the organization in 1996. She has maintained her weight loss for 25 years. A key to her success? She needs to re-commit to her goals every day.
“Being healthy is not seasonal,” she says. “You have to commit to a lifetime. … Setting resolutions should be something you can sustain. All diets work, but not all are sustainable.”
How can 2021 be different? This is the time of year we put a lot of pressure on ourselves, Goodman says. She says it’s important to reach the “aha” moment, the point at which you are sick and tired of being sick and tired. COVID-19, she says, has encouraged many to change their mindset and reset their goals. Having a positive mindset is key.
Goodman says she likes to come up with a gratitude list such as, “I feel healthy, I feel good about myself, I am happy my bloodwork is good.” She also suggests coming up with doable milestones. “Maybe set a goal to be more active and choose to walk 10 minutes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
Attitude is everything, she says. “Everyone gets depressed sometimes,” she says, but as you make progress toward achieving your weight-loss goals, you’ll gain confidence and feel better about yourself.
The quitting team
Keith Wilson has resolved to quit smoking for as many years as he can remember in his adult life. “But then I’d fall off the wagon and decide to wait until after Valentine’s Day,” says Wilson, 62, program coordinator of faculty affairs in the digestive and liver diseases division at UT Southwestern Medical Center. He says he stopped smoking when he began at UTSW in 2010. It helped that the medical center had just become a smoke-free campus. Then, in 2017, he resumed smoking after stressful events in his life.
When the pandemic shut down his office in March, he said, “I was working from home and decided this was the best time to stop — no commute, less stress.” He enrolled in the Nicotine Cessation Program at the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, run by Dr. David Balis. He also worked with program coordinator Karla Jerkins.
Wilson likes the combination of therapy and medicine that the cessation program offers, though initially he was hesitant about the drugs. “But after just one week, my cravings disappeared,” he says.
He’s been off cigarettes since April. At his peak, he smoked about one pack over a two- to three-day period.
He says the program works for him because he’s not doing it by himself, it’s based on proven science and he’s learned that it’s not his fault if he slips up. “The program helps you understand that there is stuff going on with your body that you can’t prevent; it’s chemical,” Wilson says.
“It always bothered me that I couldn’t do a simple thing like stopping smoking,” he says. “But because of my relationship with Dr. Balis and Karla, I feel like I can. There’s medicine and a team behind me now.”
Balis, a professor of internal medicine and medical director of the program, says the stress of the pandemic has caused some people to smoke more.
“Quitting nicotine,” Balis says, “will decrease your chances for lung disease, heart disease, cancer and stroke. And both smoking and vaping increase your risk of complications from COVID.”
“Smoking,” he says, “kills half a million people in the United States annually, and 7 million in the world. Deaths from alcohol, HIV, car accidents, fires, guns and drugs do not add up to the numbers of people who die from smoking.”
The smoking cessation program, which is free, began in 2018 and is being held virtually now. As with many addictive behaviors, Balis says, “it’s hard to get people to quit; they have to want to quit. Everyone knows that smoking causes cancer, but the reasons people continue are complicated. … Some people are more predisposed to addictive behavior. It’s the way you are wired and how you react to stress.”
For a no-smoking resolution, Balis says, avoid socializing with smokers, don’t buy cigarettes and try to find healthy ways to cope with stress. He suggests distractions such as sucking on hard candy, chewing gum, having a cold drink, going for a walk, brushing your teeth, taking deep breaths or developing a hobby. “Eventually, the craving goes away.” And, especially now, he says, “Wear a mask — then you can’t smoke.”
Tonia Tomlin understands the frustrations of well-intentioned people who want to bring order into their lives. The founder and owner of Plano-based Sorted Out says this is an everyday struggle for many of her clients. “People who are chronically disorganized might get organized but can’t keep systems up. Now [with the pandemic], depression is at an all-time high, and you see people consuming things just to make them feel better about themselves. Then they look around their home or business and see all this stuff they don’t need and say, ‘What have I done?’”
Organizing, she says, “is more than a New Year’s resolution, it’s a life skill.” Once you have committed to this goal, she suggests that you find a “clutter buddy” (read: accountability partner) to join you for a few hours as you make a list of what you have. Decide what to keep, sell or donate. Purchase organizing products as you need them. And to stay organized, label everything that’s in every bin, box or drawer.
Also, Tomlin says, set realistic expectations. Don’t try to organize the whole house at once. Instead, start with maybe one area a month, even something as small as one section of a closet.
“And don’t think it needs to be Pinterest-perfect,” she says.
Time for a change
Time management may be the most elusive of resolutions. Victoria Roos Olsson prefers the phrase “New Year evolutions.” As a senior leadership consultant for FranklinCovey, a company that sells organizing and performance tools and systems, she understands the dilemma. “Everyone has the same time,” she says, “but how do we use that time?”
Setting priorities is the first step. “We all have many roles. For me, I am senior consultant, a writer, a mother, a wife. I have to take care of me so I can take care of all my other roles. Once I define my roles, then I can work on time management.”
Roos Olsson suggests the five following strategies:
♦ Identify and write down what’s important.
♦ Reflect on the past year: How did you spend your time? Most people, she says, spend 60 percent of their time on things that are important and 40 percent on things that are not.
♦ Think about the key things you can do for all the roles you play.
♦ Make time to sit down and plan the week, which will help you be more productive.
♦ Fuel your own creative fires.
♦ And, she adds, remember to be kind to yourself.
“It’s OK if we don’t meet all our goals,” she says. “It’s OK to give ourselves and others some slack. It’s been a tough year.”
Managing your money
Kyle Wick likes to remind people that net worth is not the definition of total worth. His company name underscores the adage of the certified financial planner with Northwestern Mutual and co-founder of 22 One Advisors. The name is inspired by Proverbs 22:1: “A good name is to be desired over riches.”
People have good intentions with their financial plans, but what keeps them from achieving them? “Lifestyle ‘creep’ gets in the way, especially in a city like Dallas,” Wick says. “Every time you get a raise, you buy a nicer car, nicer home.”
To stay on track with your financial resolutions, he suggests spending less than you make. Another good technique is to automate your savings. “Pay yourself first: Once you get paid, invest your money first, then spend the rest. Many people do the opposite and are left with no savings.”
He suggests simple and actionable financial tips that everyone can apply to their lives in 2021:
Always have three to six months of living expenses in savings to provide for emergencies (job loss, health issues, vehicle issues) as well as opportunities. “Due to the challenges of 2020,” Wick says, “many people were able to save much more by skipping the commute, limiting travel and no longer dining out. For those in that position, focus on the best use of those dollars.”
Take advantage of historically low interest rates and consider refinancing your home mortgage or student loan.
Use a health savings account, if you have access to one. “HSAs are the most valuable item in the entire tax code,” Wick says, “because you get triple tax-exempt treatment on your money.”
Download your annual account summary from your bank accounts and/or credit cards. These are usually available in January. “They provide an itemized breakdown of how you spent your money in 2020,” Wick says. “Use this data to create an updated budget, including tweaks for when things hopefully get back to normal and we get to travel more.”
“You can make 2021 a year where you connect your balance sheet to your heart,” Wick says. “Focus on your true purpose, and allow last year’s challenges to bring clarity to what’s most important.”
Gaining perspective on resolutions
How do we even wrap our minds around a New Year’s resolution after a year like no other? Andrea Slaughter, a psychologist from Southlake, says it’s even more important to set goals in 2021.
“I think it would be too easy to let ourselves off the hook by foregoing some of the norms we have with the holiday season and entrance into the new year,” she says. “I actually think setting goals for 2021 is a healthy way to retain some of that normal we’ve been missing this past year.”
People benefit and thrive with structure and routine, she says. “Setting goals gives us some opportunity to take that back in 2021.”
The Rev. Neil Thomas of Cathedral of Hope also believes New Year’s resolutions are a good idea to help focus the mind and envision how things could be different in the future.
The beginning of 2021 doesn’t look much different from the year that just ended, he says. “The virus trauma and grief won’t disappear. Setting resolutions for 2021 will be problematic. 2020 has been incredibly difficult for many people, with no human interaction, fear of isolation, no physical touch. It’s been a very difficult mindset.
“But there is opportunity here in that we’ve had to re-evaluate our lives. In a post-COVID world, we can set different priorities. Perhaps we can be less selfish, value the human connection more and not take so much for granted.”
Thomas believes in the promise of a fresh start, whether it’s the calendar or a human soul.
“You don’t need a new year to start over,” he says. “We can do that whenever.”
5 steps to making a successful resolution
♦ Don’t just set a goal; make a plan.
♦ Ask questions: How will you implement that goal? What resources do you need?
♦ Consider your history: What have been your patterns, personality, tendencies and pitfalls? Have you set similar goals before? What tripped you up?
♦ Identify someone you trust to help you stay accountable. That person will be there for support, but ultimate accountability is your responsibility.
♦ Be flexible: Shoot for progress, not perfection.
SOURCE: Andrea Slaughter
UPDATED at 2:50 p.m. Dec. 29 to say that Lori Goodman has maintained her weight loss for 25 years.