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Healthy New Year's Resolutions

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

The key to successful new year's resolutions, according to a
Duke University Medical Center health psychologist, is setting
goals that are realistic and attainable.

Many Americans plan to start the new year with the best
intentions, with weight loss and getting more exercise are two
of the most common -- and usually the most often unsuccessful –
of these New Year's resolutions, according to Duke health
psychologist Ruth Quillian Wolever, Ph.D.

"I think it's really important that people pick something
that's important to them and will be useful to them, but also
that they are ready to explore," said Wolever, clinic director
at Duke's Center for
Integrative Medicine
. "So, to set a goal that's not
something you truly want to do, you're setting yourself up for
failure."

Wolever believes it's also important to realize how health
goals are interconnected.

"If you try to do something in isolation that doesn't really
fit with your life, it's going to be more difficult to sustain
that behavior," she explained. "For example, say you're
interested in developing an exercise program, which is an
excellent goal and great for your health. It's useful to think
about not just exercise but other domains in your life that
might impact it. If you are around people who also value
exercise, you're going to be more likely to do it yourself. So
give some thought to how you're going to support that exercise
goal through your social relationships.

"Also, if you're also working on eating a healthier diet,
you may be thinking more about what your body truly needs and
that in turn will help support your exercise goal," she
said.

Wolever says if the focus is primarily on outcomes,
frustration is more likely. Instead, she recommends focusing on
what you're doing right now to reach your ultimate goals, and
rewarding yourself for your successes.

"When it comes to setting the specific goal, it's important
that it be a manageable goal and that it be action-oriented,
something you can be in control of," Wolever said. "For
example, you may have a weight-loss goal, but it's important
that what you're actually tracking is 100 percent in your
control. If your goal is to lose two pounds this week and, at
the end of the week, the scales haven't budged, but you've done
everything that you should have done, you're setting yourself
up to feel frustrated. So you need to make the part of the goal
that you track be, 'Yes, I did what I committed to do.'"

It's always a good idea to talk with a physician before
starting an exercise program or diet plan. Once started,
Wolever said progress should be tracked on a regular basis.

"People need to monitor frequently, at least on a weekly
basis, how well they are sticking to what they've committed
themselves to do," Wolever said. "For the day-to-day successes,
take the time to congratulate yourself. It's an incredibly
powerful thing that very few people do.

"Focus on what you're doing right now. So let's say you want
to lose 80 pounds. Rather that focusing on the outcome, focus
on what you're going to do right now to get there. So when I
eat this particular meal, when I go on this particular walk
today, start to focus on the step that's right in front of you
at this moment, and celebrate its total success. Even though
you're not at the outcome yet, you're making the movement in
the right direction. And doing something about it will motivate
you to take another step.

"Ultimately what keeps people motivated is success toward
their goals. Pick things that are going to pay off for you,
that you're going to be successful at. When you have success,
you'll transfer that to another, perhaps related area, one that
you can also set a realistic goal for, then move forward and
feel good about that success."

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