Friday, January 8, 2010

Making 2010 the year for positive change


"I will lose 20 pounds." "I'm going to quit smoking -- for good."

Many resolutely announce these statements or other goals at the start of a new year. Sometimes such promises stick, but often, they do not. To help determined individuals aiming for self-improvement in 2010, Bruce Masek, PhD, of the MGH Department of Psychiatry, weighs in on the unique tradition that is making New Year's resolutions.

Any day is a good day for change

According to Masek, life-changing resolutions should not have to wait for a holiday to happen. If someone is truly dedicated to and prepared for a lasting change, the timing of the change should not be an issue.

"To undertake a change that can significantly improve your health and well-being, why wait until New Year's?" asks Masek. "Any day is a good day to change for the better."

Being resolved to resolve Still, Masek says, it's not necessarily wrong to use New Year's Day as a chance to evaluate one's life and decide what aspects could stand improvement. If an individual wants to make and keep a New Year's resolution, Masek has a few suggestions.

First, focus on only one issue at a time. Trying to take on multiple resolutions can be overwhelming. He also recommends making resolutions manageable, such as omitting a luxury that is not absolutely necessary. For example, if aiming to lose weight, rather than trying to lose a lofty 50 pounds, resolve to not eat chocolate as part of the weight-loss effort.

"Permanent behavior change doesn't come easy. Start out small," says Masek.

Make a stand -- with a plan What's most important for positive, lasting change at any time of the year is to have a well thought-out plan, adds Masek. He advises individuals to avoid making broad, sweeping resolutions and then assume that the details will work themselves out later. It is important to identify the ultimate goal but to also focus on the path.

Additionally, Masek suggests speaking to a physician, as well as to family and friends, about health-related resolutions. Sharing goals with others helps solidify the commitment.

"Change can't come without a lot of support. To take on serious change alone is asking for failure."

Success despite slip-ups Ultimately, it's important to not interpret an occasional slip-up -- which is bound to happen -- as failure. What's most important is how the mistake is addressed. Masek suggests sitting down and re-evaluating one's progress every month or so. Are certain aspects working or not working? Does a change need to be made? Be flexible.

"If you've gotten off track, remember that any day is a good day to commit, or re-commit, to change," says Masek. "You don't have to wait until 2011."

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