A Shot in the Arm: Resolving to Succeed

It’s another new year and, as all the gyms are running ads about getting in shape and new year’s resolutions, I thought I’d offer some thoughts on why most resolutions fail and how to stick with them (if that’ your thing). Personally, I don’t think January is the best time to be making crazy weight-loss or financial goals. Quite frankly, it’s goddamn cold outside, so there is no way I’m going out for a run. And yes my credit bill is higher than normal and yes that gives me slight palpitations, but I know that just reflects my holiday splurge and not my regular spending habits. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that after all the warm, glowy holiday cheer, the reality-check in January can seem really stark, but it’s all a matter of perception. Chances are you are not really significantly fatter than you were at the beginning of December and (unless you REALLY over-spent on Boxing Day) there’s a good chance your finances are more manageable than they appear at first glance.

A lot of people open their VISA statements in January and totally flip out because holiday spending has driven their credit balance into dangerous territory. This leads to resolutions about being better with your money or cutting up your credit card. First of all, this is not a wrong impulse. People, especially young professionals, should be trying to save money, use less credit and start RRSPs because jobs are not plentiful and pension funds will be destroyed by our baby-boomer parents.

But too much austerity can lead to total failure. Even complete introverts need to get out and have some fun once in a while. So don’t feel guilty about spending a bit of money on a night out. Do, however, feel guilty if this is your 6th night out this week.

I’m no financial guru; I’m certainly not great at saving my money. But I think I could be, if I had a plan to follow. This might include putting $20 from every paycheque into a savings account or having your office start an RRSP for you (ask your office accountant or HR person if your workplace has a program for this). Many people find lists really helpful, so making up weekly or monthly budgets would be a good place to start getting organized. Start with your income and then subtract essential expenditures: groceries, rent, bills, travel fare (TTC or gas money) and anything else you absolutely cannot live without. This should leave you with a little something leftover. It’s up to you to decide if you want to be smart with that money or blow it all on drugs and booze. No judgments here.

Another very common resolution is to find a new and more exciting job for the new year. Any other year, I would say go for it! Go online, look at job descriptions and really ask yourself what kind of work you want to do. But this is 2012 and, despite what the Harper government would have you believe, we have been in a recession for at least the last year and half. Jobs are getting scarcer by the day and entry-level positions are probably some of the most competitive. So if you have a decent job, you might want to just thank your luck stars and see if the next 12 months don’t see an economic up-swing. Look for a new job next year.

One of the most common resolutions that people make are about health. At least, this is the resolution with the highest apparent advertising budget. I honestly think that all those images of ripped abs and glistening backs are specifically designed to shame people like me and you into feeling bad about our very normal body-types. If you were meant to be able to count your abs, wouldn’t your body just DO that without you having to spend hours doing crunches?

Clearly, your body is not going to just do that. But, alas, it’s a double-edged sword! Because a lot of people are deeply intimidated by the thought of going into a gym and having all the fitness buffs laugh at how pathetically out of shape they’ve become. And this doesn’t even take into account how expensive gym memberships are. So going to the gym can be a non-starter.

Well, you say, why not work-out in the privacy of your own home? There are a lot of reasons why people don’t stick to their commitment to work out at home: fear of injury, ignorance about the best practices, The Bachelor is on again…..These are just a few that come to mind. Admittedly, this is a psychological hurdle that I think a lot of people put in front of themselves, which only they can remove. But, honestly, worrying about running out of breath after 6 push-ups is not going to help you work the cellulite off your ass.

So here’s my advice: if fitness is a priority to you, make your goals realistic and manageable and accept that you probably won’t see results right away. I think many people get frustrated after a couple days/weeks when they don’t immediately see their waistlines start to shrink. I’m certainly guilty of this. I want to see results now, not in 8 weeks! But the fact is, it takes time to change your body. You didn’t get fat overnight, so don’t expect to get skinny in a week.

The other important thing is to pick activities that you enjoy doing. For example, I feel intimidated by the gym: the fit people make me feel fat and the equipment looks like it could kill me. So I don’t go. Instead, I am trying belly-dancing and yoga. In the summer, I plan to rollerblade (rather than run). If you can find ways to work-out that are fun and comfortable for you, you stand a much better chance of sticking with the resolution to get in shape.

Related and similar is the resolution to eat better. This can be a really tough one for some people, because food is such a go-to option when we are looking for comfort. In these dark, winter months, one might crave the delicious comfort of a burger and fries or a big bowl of pasta. The trick here, like managing your finances, is to allow yourself to cheat a little bit.

Obviously, you want to try to eat lots of dark green veggies and unprocessed meats, but this can get a little boring. By allowing yourself junk food at least once a week, you take some of the pressure off yourself. Man cannot live off tofu and spinach alone (you could, but why would you want to?) and a little indulgence will keep you sane.

If you’re not getting take-out, you’ll have to cook. Obviously there’s a healthy way to do this and there’s a less-than-healthy way. Eating mac and cheese with chicken fingers every night will not keep your calories down. At the same time, trying to force down a kelp burger is pretty gross. So find a balance: maybe you have your chicken fingers with a side salad or mix some veggies into your mac. I’d just stay the hell away from kelp burgers, there is no way to improve that shit.

Snacking can be the downfall of many a dieter, which is totally understandable. It’s a smaller amount of food – just a snack, not a meal – so you can eat whatever you want, right? Well, sure, there’s some logic to that (cheater). But, if you’re serious about your resolution, the more unhealthy the snack, the less of it you can have. So if you’re really hungry, it’s probably better to have a whole bunch of baby carrots with hummus than 5 Cheetos. Also, FYI: Cheetos make your breath smell really bad.

Lastly, many people pick January as the time quit bad habits, like smoking. A new year means a new start, so why not try to get the best start possible? I’ve had a lot of friends quit or attempt to quit smoking over the years with varying degrees of success. There is no right or wrong way to do this, it’s a very personal decision and your approach to it has to be right for you. Some people can only go ‘cold turkey’ while others have to work on gradually cutting back the number of cigarettes they smoke every day. Many people find the use of aids, like patches or nicotine gum, really helpful.

If this is a real priority for you, I suggest you make a game plan. Try going ‘cold turkey’ for a day or two (the first day is the worst) or allowing yourself only a certain number of smokes per day (ie, if you regularly smoke 15-20, try to have only 10). A friend of mine used this method and found it really helped. To help him curb his cravings, he tried to assess how badly he really wanted that particular cigarette and, if possible, stay occupied with other things. If you’re still really struggling, your doctor is only a phone call away and MDs are always willing to help patients quit.

Whatever your resolution, the best way to succeed is to make sure you’re staying true to you. Making a whole bunch of drastic life-changes all at the same time will probably result in feelings of frustration and life-hating. So make your goals realistic and manageable. Find ways to achieve those goals that are fun and engaging and you’ll stand a much better chance of sticking with them.

Bonne Chance!

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A Shot in the Arm is your dose of advice, counsel and sound reasoning. Whether it be a serious dilemma or quirky happenstance, Cait’s here to post solutions to your prickly problems!

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