Keeping New Year’s resolutions

You’ll find it easier to keep them if you have a SMART plan.

Are you going to be one of the almost 200 million people making New Year’s resolutions? What about keeping them? Different question. And, while the majority of folks lose their resolve before spring (a WalletHub survey puts that number at seven in 10), there are ways to stack the deck toward success.

One positive is that you’re in the right city. WalletHub polled 182 cities and Atlanta came in twelfth where people kept their resolutions. So, if you mess up, you can’t blame the ATL.

The first thing is to define the goal and then map out how to achieve it. It doesn’t matter if it’s finances, work issues, maintaining a helping lifestyle or just being a better person, the keys to success are basically the same.

A coach offers fitness tips and support at the YMCA of Metro Atlanta, which has a six-month program to help members lose weight and get healthier. Photo courtesy of the YMCA of Metro Atlanta.

Credit: Courtesy of the YMCA of Metro Atlanta.

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Credit: Courtesy of the YMCA of Metro Atlanta.

The YMCA offers a six-month program for its members who want to lose weight, be healthier and change habits. “Our members work with a wellness coach to break down the big goals and really focus on making those goals,” says Jennifer Rewkowski, vice president of Community Health & Wellness for the YMCA of Metro Atlanta. “We call it the SMART principle. Specific, measurable, attainable, recordable and time-based.”

Using the Y’s formula, here’s how to make a resolution and stick to it:

Specific: Assess the current situation and make a goal. “I tell my clients to look at their financial condition, their net worth — it’s not complicated — and write it down. Then figure out what you want to accomplish,” says William G. Lako Jr. CFO of Henssler Financial in Kennesaw and an executive in residence at Kennesaw State University. “Do you want to reduce debt or create wealth? It’s one step, one bite, at a time. Make a big goal and then small goals to help you reach it.”

If your goal is to increase wealth there are one-time steps such as refinancing your house, looking over insurance or increasing contributions to a 401k. “Those are things you do and forget. You do them once a year so your portfolio doesn’t get out of whack. As a financial planner, I would say set your goal in January and do it again in July,” he says.

It’s similar to weight loss. Yes, the goal may be (and probably is) those skinny jeans but get there one size, one pound at a time. “Make the bigger goal like losing 15 pounds, and then do the small goals of dropping five and then going on to the next five,” says Carolyn O’Neil, a registered dietitian and author of “The Slim Down South Cookbook.”

Actually losing weight doesn’t have to be the goal, but the result, she says. Instead focusing on weight, make it about eating healthier. “Take a snapshot of your calories and how they can be re-arranged. If you love sweet tea but want to cut back, don’t go immediately to unsweetened tea only; that will make you sad. Switch the percentages, make it 50-50 (sweetened and unsweetened) and keep reducing it gradually until you maybe get to 80-20. Or pledge to make a salad every day but make it an interesting salad with more than lettuce and tomatoes. You’re making creative, interesting goals and cutting calories.”

Measurable: As a numbers guy, Lako is firmly set on tracking financial progress and using apps to help. (He prefers Mint.) “I’m not trying to turn people into day traders where they’re constantly checking their accounts. But it does help to see transactions and how much you’re spending on coffee. If you don’t know how much — or where —you’re spending, you don’t know where to fix it. It’s like tracking a diet.”

Having the goals be measurable lets you see the results of your efforts (we’re not calling it sacrifice) that will spur you on until you hit the final goal. “As our members go through the program they start having positive feelings,” says Rewkowski. “They not only are losing weight, hitting their goals, but they’re feeling better about themselves. As they start seeing success, the chances of dropping out is reduced significantly.”

Fitness classes help members reach their goals and have fun at the YMCA of Metro Atlanta. Photo courtesy of the YMCA of Metro Atlanta.

Credit: Courtesy of the YMCA of Metro Atlanta.

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Credit: Courtesy of the YMCA of Metro Atlanta.

Attainable: Make the goals and the game plan realistic. Rome wasn’t built in a day; nor was a killer body. “First off, don’t over promise yourself. Don’t ‘resolution’ yourself to failure. Don’t go ‘I’m never going to eat french fries’. That’s not sustainable. Just don’t go overboard,” O’Neil says.

O’Neil suggests looking at ways to achieve goals without feeling deprived. She calls it “flipping.” Flip the ratio from less healthy to healthier. “Add more vegetables to spaghetti sauce or shrimp tacos. It’ll fill you up without the calories or fat. Flip the doughy mess in a cobbler to a granola crunch with lots of fruit,” she suggests.

If you need to indulge, do it, she says. “I still eat cheese; I drink wine. Just remember that you’re working toward a long-term goal. Think of your favorite things as an indulgence and embrace it rather than feeling like you fell off the wagon. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment.”

If necessary, find outside support to bolster your willpower and journey. “Sometimes it’s baby steps and working on self-management skills,” says Rewkowski. “If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, it will go out the window. Our coaches work to ensure our members enjoy what they’re doing. We’ve had members who tried doing it without a coach and then realized they need a bit more.”

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Recordable: You know how to measure your progress, now record it. Write down what you eat or how much you put in the 401k each month. As with lots of things, it may not seem real until you read it.

Time-Based: You need a goal, a game plan and then a timetable. A timetable is necessary, not only to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but to adjust the plan (more exercise, less spending) to get to the end zone. A timeline just helps you be accountable so that you’ll lose the 20 pounds before the college reunion.

The Y’s SMART program is similar to many other financial, wellness, weight loss and business models for affecting change. It also makes it easier to justify the occasional splurge.

“If you are working your plans, doing everything right and moving forward with your financial plan, then go on that cruise. It’s like eating a piece of cake,” says Lako. “Go have a good time; life is short.”