New Year a Time for Reflection, Improvement
> 1/2/2008 11:19:20 AM

If you're heading to the gym today, you might want to plan on an extra 15 minutes of waiting for your machine or fighting for that 45 lb. dumb bell. It's the first week of January, and your favorite exercise locationóbe it park, YMCA, or high school trackówill likely be more crowded than usual with all those resolution makers, filled with the optimism of another dawning new year. This may be inconvenient, but it should also be encouraging to see so many individuals making an effort to do right by themselves. Unfortunately, this high tide of fitness zeal will likely ebb over time: surveys have shown that only about 10% of us maintain our New Year's resolutions.

But while failing at our resolutions may be part of our nature, that doesn't render the exercise of making them a futile effort. Ultimately, resolutions are plans to better something about ourselves that we find to be in need of improvement. Although some of the most popular resolutions (lose weight!) are purely cosmetic, even these require some small amount of self-reflection. It's here that we might find a resolution's true value: by forcing us to examine our lives and the things that we most want to change, the practice of making a resolution prompts us to take a critical look inward. This task can be difficult, but will often lead to new discoveries and chances for personal growth. With the proper perspective, even self-reflection that leads to regret can be productive.

Beyond the insight to be gained, resolutions can be made and kept, but the point shouldn't be to burden yourself for the rest of the year with an onerous regimen. Instead, set realistic goalsósomething aided by reflectionóthat you'll actually keep. If you want to lose weight, there's no need to spend on trendy dieting books. Weight loss is about burning more calories than you take in, and to do that sustainably you need to create a plan that will work for you. It's also helpful to think not just in terms of exercise. Simply by making food choice changes and exploring some new menu options, it's possible to lose pounds in a healthy way. If your resolution was to quit smoking, explore your options instead of trying to go cold turkey. There are any number of solutions to the problem that you have resolved to change, so don't get mired down in a path that might derail your efforts.

Above all, treat resolutions as what they are: an opportunity, yes, but not the only one. New Years is a symbolic time for changes, but it doesn't hold a patent on the process. If you do slip in your resolution, take note of why. And then resolve to get back on the horse and make things work. Self-improvement shouldn't be a once a year thing, so this year think about resolving to improve yourself throughout the year, and make everyday about the optimism and excitement that many of us feel when we turn the calendar to a new year.

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