Resolution goals that stick

Tipping the scales at more than 300 pounds, Erika Anderson resolved to finally lose weight in January 2010.

She developed a plan and set a goal — lose 5 pounds, followed by another 5 pounds. The extremely modest approach of taking small steps added up to major weight loss over time. Now, two years later, Anderson is down 130 pounds and inching toward her ultimate goal of dropping an additional 40 pounds.

“People would ask me, ‘So how much weight do you want to lose? And I would say, I am just looking to the next 5 or 10 pounds,” said the 37-year-old Vinings resident, a writer for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “Otherwise, it’s way too overwhelming.”

Anderson’s plan for weight loss included joining a Weight Watchers program at work. She also found motivation in blogging about her weight loss journey.

Her success story is the exception, not the rule, according to experts.

In fact, 88 percent of all resolutions end in failure, according to a 2007 survey of more than 3,000 people conducted by British psychologist Richard Wiseman, according to published reports.

Experts say we set ourselves up for failure by zooming in on big, lofty goals without a step-by-step plan for achievement.

But the experts also say that subtle changes in attitude can greatly increase the chances of success. And many metro Atlantans have proved them right. Carole Townsend of Lawrenceville quit smoking. William Jones of Jonesboro started carpooling to work. Rich Novack of Roswell lost weight.

Each started small and watched success build over time.

“We shoot for the moon,” said Tom Connellan, author of “The 1% Solution for Work and Life: How to Make Your Next 30 Days the Best Ever” ($19.95 Peak Performance). “And shooting for the moon is great, but you need the infrastructure, a plan for how to get there.”

Connellan also said many people don’t realize even positive changes can feel uncomfortable. Even if you are replacing a bad habit (i.e. being a couch potato) with a good one (going to the gym), it doesn’t necessarily feel good right away. It takes time — at least 21 days. That’s about how long experts believe it takes to change a habit.

It may not be as appealing to set small goals such as walking around the block (instead of running a marathon), or losing 5 pounds and feeling a little looseness in our jeans (instead of losing 40 and slipping into skinny jeans), but experts say those small changes can eventually develop into bigger changes, slowly, over time.

Wake Forest University psychology professor E.J. Masicampo suggests people imagine themselves carrying out the plan. He said that’s where the power of the plan lies — in imagining yourself completing the tasks. For instance, if your goal is to lose weight, imagine yourself ordering a salad or another low-fat entree instead of a cheeseburger and onion rings. Simply imagining the scenario will help you follow through, he said.

Wendy Hood, owner of My Health Kick gym in Cumming, launches a “Big Loser Reset” program in late January every year. She said she can always tell the participants who are serious about weight loss — those with specific plans such as a recipe book and eating plan and those who are open about their struggles.

“They are honest and they say things like, ‘It was hard to come in here today,’” she said.

They are also determined to make it work.

“One of my clients loves breakfast burritos, so we converted it into a healthy recipe. We used turkey bacon and a whole grain wrap,” said Hood.

And, she said, she tries to make sure those in the program don’t get discouraged when they indulge.

“What I do is eat healthy 85 percent of the time and [when] I eat something not great once in a while, I don’t beat myself up for it.”

Quitting 1 day at a time

Carole Townsend, a local columnist, said starting small helped her quit smoking 17 years ago.

“When I quit smoking, the thought of ‘I will never, ever smoke again’ would have been overwhelming. I would have doubled up [on cigarettes]. Instead, I am going to take this one day at a time. Sometimes one hour at a time,” said Townsend. And Townsend, who attempted quitting multiple times before it finally stuck, said devising a plan made the difference. At first, she chewed Nicorette gum and came up with ideas to resist intense cravings.

For example, since she often smoked after dinner, she decided to get up and distract herself as soon as she finished her meal. She’d wash the dishes; walk around. She also found refuge in writing.

“There is a difference between a dream and a goal,” said Townsend, author of the humor book “Southern Fried White Trash.” “Everyone has a dream. With a goal, it’s specific. You set milestones along the way.”

‘Realized it wasn’t so bad’

William Jones had wanted to commute for years but kept putting it off. Jones said he had long considered carpooling but was apprehensive about not having his own car at work. But after watching rising gas prices and being concerned about his family’s aging cars, he decided to give it a try about six months ago. He purchased a 10-ride pass. He parks the family’s car at a park and ride in Stockbridge about a mile from his house. He and his wife ride in together.

“For me, getting the 10-day ride pass was the key. I decided to just give it a try. I didn’t want to commit right away,” he said. “And then, after the 10 days, I realized it wasn’t so bad. It was an adjustment for sure, but there’s a lot of benefits — the monetary savings, the obvious savings on car maintenance and the relaxed ride home. I don’t have to worry about road rage. And you get to find out people are actually pretty decent when you are stuck together. We got stuck in a traffic jam and we all got to talking. It’s almost like you’ve got your warrior friends riding the bus with you.”

‘The results start slow’

Rich Novack lost 30 pounds last year after he started a new low-carb, low-fat diet. He began with a goal of 20 pounds, and decided to keep going. Novack, Cigna president and general manager, mid-South market, also took advantage of his company’s website, featuring tips for healthy eating and exercise.

“The results start slow and then it feeds itself. I would lose 1 and then 3 and then 8 and then 12, and then I am down 20 pounds,” said Novack, who is 50.

And for 2012, he has a resolution to shave another 10 pounds off his 226-pound frame. But he has also included an “anti-resolution” — something that helps those who are seeking change “stay true to ourselves,” he said.

So for 2012, right after his weight-loss goal, he has another “anti-goal” for the year — “Don’t go overboard with this.”

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Tips from Tom

Think big, start small

Will you be able to run a half-marathon next month? Probably not. But you can walk 1 percent farther today than you did yesterday. That 1 percent or small incremental improvements will build on each other. Step by step you will grow closer to your goal.

Change can be uncomfortable

Even if it’s a good change, going from the couch to lacing up sneakers and jogging around the block can feel downright weird and uncomfortable.

Don’t beat yourself up

If you misstep in your goal, you have two choices. “You can think, ‘I stubbed my toe and I am going to get back in the game,’ or you can beat yourself up. It’s not how far you fall, but how high you bounce.” Learn from your missteps. If you are having trouble exercising at 6 a.m., maybe you should try exercising later in the day.

Tom Connellan is author of “The 1% Solution for Work and Life: How to Make Your Next 30 Days the Best Ever”