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Planning is key to resolution success

January 01, 2006|By Erin Cunningham

erinc@herald-mail.com

Keep it simple, realistic and write it down. Those are the keys to keeping New year's resolutions, according to area behavioral experts.

Only 20 percent of resolution-makers actually keep their pledges, according to Allen Twigg, Washington County Hospital's clinical manger for behavioral health services. The most common resolutions are to lose weight, quit smoking or to start exercising.

"Those are really big health issues, and they really demand significant behavioral change," Twigg said.

The first step is to believe that you can make the change. Some people only stay in the contemplative stage - thinking about making the change but never getting started.

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"The key is to have a plan, a strategy that you are actually going to make a behavioral change," Twigg said.

Make the plan, and then write it down. Set several small goals then schedule rewards when a goal is reached, he said.

If you resolve to lose weight, do not say you are going to lose 20 pounds in the first month. That's too broad, and too big, Twigg said.

Start with losing four or five pounds in one week. If you reach that goal, schedule a reward - like a day at a spa. Then, set another small goal.

Dr. J. Emmet Burke, a Brook Lane Health Services psychologist, said New Year's resolutions is an area where mental health and common sense collide.

The goals should be realistic and attainable, he said.

"I also suggest that people keep track of their progress," Twigg said. "Write down the plan and get feedback from people around you."

Stimulus control is also important. If your goal is to quit smoking, don't go to bars or other places where there will be smokers.

Making a New Year's resolution can mean a significant change, not only in behavior, but in lifestyle. Twigg said that for many people, that might mean changing their schedules and daily routines to make time to go to the gym or to make a healthful lunch.

"The more planning and the more writing down what you are going to do, the better chance you are going to follow through," he said.

When people make resolutions that they intend to keep, they are pledging to do something they already know they should be doing, Burke said. The only difference is that the new year is an excuse, or a benchmark, to start over.

"It's a reminder to get back to the basics and remind ourselves of the basic things that are important," he said. "I think the best resolutions are the ones that we already know are important."

Dr. Robert Karlsberg and Dr. Jane Adler included the tips for setting and creating new year's resolutions in their book, "The Road to CEO: Psychological Strategies for Getting to the Top:"

· Set inspiring long-term goals. Short-term objectives are fine, but often don't provide the inspiration to stay the course.

· Create a path. You need specific action steps to follow.

· Link your activities to your goals. Identify your top priorities in every area of your life: career, family, health, friends, etc. Then link all of your activities to your goals.

· Stop multi-tasking. Focus on one thing at a time.

· Beware of the open door policy. Your time is your most valuable resource. If you allow others free use of it, you'll pay a steep price in stress and lost productivity.

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