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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 6, 2006

Baby steps better than resolutions

By Mary Meehan
Knight Ridder News Service

Go ahead, smoke, drink, keep eating chocolate.

Celebrate this new year by skipping the whole resolution rigmarole.

Because, if you're like 90 percent of Americans, by the middle of February you'll be back to those old behaviors anyway.

Resolutions are "one of the nation's most masochistic traditions," according to Stephen Shapiro, an author who recently released a survey on the topic.

People set themselves up for failure by leaping into an often drastic life change without a plan on how to execute it, Shapiro said. It's not that the Boston-based author is against improving your life after all, he's written the how-to book "Goal Free Living: How to Have the Life You Want Now."

He just thinks people go about it all wrong. It's time to break the long tradition of resolutions.

"Society has done this to people, and we've convinced ourselves that this is what we ought to be doing," he said.

According to the Farmer's Almanac, the tradition of resolutions for the new year goes back to the time of ancient Rome. It was thought that the beginning of the year was a good time to clear up outstanding debts and return any borrowed farm equipment.

Now people are more likely to swear they will lose weight, quit smoking, start exercising or save money. Year after year after year, the same promises are made.

"When you do this every year, and every year you are setting the same stupid goal, that should tell you something," said Gary Coxe, a life strategist and author of the new book "Don't Let Others Rent Space in Your Head."

He suggests first thinking about why you want to change a particular behavior and what price you are willing to pay to get there. If you want to lose weight for your health, for example, are you willing to give up cheese and pastrami in the middle of the night? If the answer is yes, you can begin to take small steps toward the goal, praising whatever step in the right direction you can take.

If you forgo the resolution this year, you'll be part of a trend, Shapiro said.

A few years ago, some 88 percent of people made New Year's resolutions. Now, he said, the number is closer to 45 percent.

People instead should try thinking of a theme for their year say, the year of health. Throughout the year, he said, plan activities that fit with that theme. For some, that might start out by going to a spa or taking a vitamin. He said if you get a little more true joy out of life, it might provide the motivation you need to take the tougher steps such as starting a diet.

The idea, he said, isn't to deny yourself, but to "enjoy life and live it fully."