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People who succeed in keeping their resolutions choose ambitious goals that enhance their self-esteem.
The cable news network CNN tells us that about 100,000,000 people in the United States just made New Year's resolutions. And Dr. John Norcross, a professor of psychology at the University of Scranton told National Public Radio that six months from now, about 40,000,000 Americans will have kept at least one of those resolutions.

Here at SteadyHealth we know just how difficult it can be to follow through on New Year's resolutions to lose weight, to eat healthy, to get a handle on stress and get more sleep, and to quit smoking. (OK, we actually have only observed how difficult it is for other people to keep their resolutions to quit smoking because we never started.) But here are our best suggestions on how you can succeed in keeping the four most common resolutions made at the start of every new year. Let's start with the top three.

Losing More Weight

It's amazing that only 100,000,000 Americans make New Year's resolutions to lose weight. Holiday overindulgence meets winter inactivity over almost the entire USA, and most of us weight more in January than we did the month before. But if we weigh more every January than we did the January before, we're in real trouble. How is it possible actually to take off the pounds we resolve to lose?

While weight loss does not result from an invariable relationship between calories in, calories out, and calories burned, the simple fact of the matter is that almost all of us need to eat less to weigh less. Theoretically, it's possible to eat more, exercise more, lose fat, and gain muscle. Achieving this nearly-impossible goal requires careful planning and a good understanding of how the timing of nutrients affects muscle and fat. It you don't have a personal trainer—and a very knowledgeable one—or you aren't a nutrition scientist (and maybe even if you are), you probably will have no choice but to eat less.

How can you be sure you are eating less? Don't rely on guesstimates. Keep a food journal. Log every single morsel and drop of everything you eat and drink every day. In addition, weigh yourself each and every day. You'll know exactly where your diet challenges are, and you'll know even before you step on the scales what you need to do to lose weight and keep it off.

Eating Healthy

From Thanksgiving to New Years Day, most Americans eat plenty of healthy food. They also eat plenty of unhealthy food and sometimes they eat everything in sight. Along with eating less, however, most of us resolve to eat healthier.

You don't have to launch a vegan raw foods diet or go all-organic or throw out all the goodies in your house to eat healthier. Just make one beneficial change at a time:

  • Start using stevia instead of sugar.
  • Add one vegetable a day to your diet. Try eating veggies for breakfast, or make a habit of eating a small side salad when you eat a sandwich.
  • Make your lunches at home. You'll save money and you can know exactly how many calories, carbs, and fat grams you'll be getting at your midday meal.
  • Make one more meal every week from scratch. You'll have complete control of the ingredients and it's likely to be your tastiest meal of the week.

Getting a Handle on Stress and Getting More Sleep

Do you stress out over controlling stress? Following intricate guidelines for stress reduction—learning yoga routines as an absolute beginner or taking a complex program of herbs and nutritional supplements, for example—really isn't relaxing. Here's a better approach.

Choose an activity you find relaxing. It could be anything from shooting skeet to taking a warm bath. Then arrange your schedule so that you can devote 15 to 30 minutes to that activity every day. While the activity is soothing, taking charge of your schedule is empowering.

And how can you get more sleep?

For most Americans, getting more sleep involves turning of the computer and the TV at least an hour before bedtime. Turn off your cellphone, too. The surest way to get enough sleep is to go to bed every night and wake up every morning at the same time—weekends included. You won't need to sleep in on Saturdays and Sundays if you get enough sleep during the week.

You Can Stop Smoking in 2012, But You May Have to Try More than Once

The fourth most common New Year's resolution is usually the hardest to keep. Most people don't manage to quite smoking on their first try. But there is a single golden rule for success in smoking cessation.

If you can't quit smoking for good, quit smoking for at least one day.
quit_smoke.jpgAlmost no smoker is able to quit smoking cold turkey. Nearly every smoker makes multiple attempts to kick the habit before actually succeeding. And there is no one-plan-fits-all approach to quitting smoking short of having yourself dropped off on a desert island with no convenience stores and no tobacco shops.

But nearly every smoker can quit for at least one day by sheer willpower. You don't need a patch or gum or a pill. You don't need to have your family, friends, and co-workers on board. You really have it in right this very minute to make 24 hours without lighting up. Those 24 hours may not be very pleasant, and you may want to light up 24 hours and two seconds after you quit, but the accomplishment of reaching your goal makes it easier to use all the various aids for quitting smoking that are available for you over the long haul.

There's probably no place on earth where it's harder to quit smoking than it is for a man in South Korea. Smoking is a highly ingrained feature of male Korean culture. Every year, however, hundreds of thousands of Koreans kick the habit for good, and researchers at the Korean National Cancer Center and the Dankook University School of Medicine wanted to find out what made their efforts succeed. Here's what the scientists learned.

Men who manage to kick the smoking habit don't harbor self-exempting beliefs.

  • Part and parcel of successful smoking cessation is a belief that smoking has real consequences that apply to the self. In the Korean survey, smokers who managed to quit were less likely to harbor beliefs on the lines of "You have to die of something, so why not die of lung cancer?" or "The evidence that smoking causes disease is exaggerated" or "Smoking is no riskier than skydiving or mountain climbing, and you almost never hear of anyone dying of those activities, so why not smoke?"
  • Men who quit smoking believed that quitting smoking was hard, but they also tended to have confidence in their ability to quit smoking.
  • Gaining the consequence one can quit smoking is acquired one day at a time. This may be why so many people have to try to quit smoking more than once.
  • Men who quit smoking either chose not to or were not allowed to smoke at home.
  • The evidence on whether bans on smoking in public places really make a difference for men in Korea were equivocal, but the results were clear that it is easier to quit smoking when it is banned in one's own home. Finally,
  • Men who quit smoking were more likely to be university-educated, tended to consume two or fewer alcoholic beverages per week, and to have religious beliefs. All over the world, for both men and women, the ability to quit smoking is more common among people who drink less alcohol. In other parts of the world, however, people of all education levels and who have all kinds of religious beliefs or none at all tend to be able to quit smoking with equal success.
What does this study tell men and women in the rest of the world who want to smoke? Know that you really can't quit any time you want. You'll probably have to try more than once.

Don't suppose that the "rules" don't apply to you. Your personal health is at risk.

And if at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Every time you try to quit you gain more confidence for the long haul leading to your eventual success.
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  • Myung SK, Seo HG, Cheong YS, Park S, Lee WB, Fong GT. Association of Sociodemographic Factors, Smoking-Related Beliefs, and Smoking Restrictions With Intention to Quit Smoking in Korean Adults: Findings From the ITC Korea Survey. J Epidemiol. 2011 Dec 17. [Epub ahead of print]
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