Winning the Race

by ‎12-11-2012 02:56 PM - edited ‎12-19-2012 10:35 AM (2,365 Views)

Think about some of the resolutions you’ve abandoned over the years and try to imagine what your life would be like today had you kept all of them. You’d be an athletic vegan with more money than you could spend, able to resist all bad habits with absolutely no difficulty. You’d be perfect.


Reality check: We don't take resolutions seriously because they're usually unrealistic, experts say.


Goal setting is extremely important for performance and motivation, but New Year’s resolutions often over-reach, which sets us up for failure and disappointment,” says Robert Epstein, a senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, based in Vista, CA. “We’re better off reassessing rather than ‘resetting’ New Year’s resolutions, committing ourselves to ambitious but realistic goals. Those are the goals most likely to keep us on track.”


So how do we make positive change in our lives? The most common resolutions deal with health, family and finances, so let’s see how we can make superhuman aspirations in those three areas a bit more attainable.


Resolution: “I’m finally going to get my finances in order.”


With another year in the book—and on the books—it’s only natural to shore up your finances after the holidays, but mapping out an accurate and achievable savings plan is often a challenge. Even so, at a time when we’re all watching our wallets, it’s important for you to analyze your spending.


Rather than throwing out arbitrary savings goals or strategies to reduce debt, commit some time to research and design a plan of attack. Try these time-tested techniques:


Set it and forget it. No matter how much money you bring in, do you feel as though you’ll find a way to spend it all? Here’s an idea: Bring in less money. No, don’t demand a salary reduction—but pretend you did. Most bank accounts permit automatic transfers, so set up one that simulates a pay cut and sends the “lost” funds to a savings account every payday. If you’re paid biweekly, you’ll find an extra $2,600 bonus at the end of the year if you hold back $100 from each check.


Build a budget. On the Food Network program Restaurant: Impossible, celebrity chef Robert Irvine helps fix struggling restaurants. Their problems become obvious when Irvine asks owners how much money their restaurants bring in and pay out, and the owners usually have no idea. What they discover after a budget analysis is astounding. While your personal finances probably aren’t as complicated as theirs, you might be surprised to learn how much you’re spending in certain areas. Dedicate a couple of days to review last year’s spending. Computer programs (such as Quicken) and websites (such as allow you to enter or automatically import financial data from your banks, creditors and lenders to develop a detailed analysis of your spending and saving habits—giving you an opportunity to identify improvable areas.


Ditch some debt. Easier said than done, right? Paying off all debt in the coming year is an unrealistic goal for most of us, so it’s important to remember: Not all debt is created equal. Typically, credit cards carry the highest interest rates. If you have several cards, financial advisers usually suggest paying off the one with the highest rate and annual fees first; others recommend paying off the one with the lowest balance and putting it aside. Also, you might be able to save some money by refinancing home and car loans and obtaining lower interest rates.


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Resolution: “This year, I’m going to spend more time with my family.”


The family dynamic has changed rapidly during the last few decades. With iPads, Facebook and other digital distractions competing for household attention, quality family time is harder to come by.


Creating more family togetherness is great in theory, but without a firm plan, it’s seldom sustainable. Try incorporating these family-friendly concepts:


Monthly activities. Think of 12 fun events everyone will enjoy, write each one on an index card, and seal each in a separate envelope. On New Year’s Day, gather the family and explain the rules. On the first day of each month, open a new card and complete the activity inside by the end of the month.


Take a break. With conflicting schedules and life’s hectic daily pace, it’s easy to overlook the classic family vacation. Don’t let that happen this year. Plan ahead and get your vacation on the calendar now. Gather the family and find a destination that piques everyone’s interest.


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Resolution: “After the holidays, I’m going to start eating better.”


Not surprisingly, many popular resolutions are health-related because, by the end of the delicious holiday season, most of us are ready to work off the sugarplums we’ve been eating since Thanksgiving. Beginning a diet or exercise routine is always challenging, so the promise of a new year offers that extra “fresh start” motivation. Statistically speaking, these healthy intentions usually fizzle out, so experts recommend taking smaller steps to support your larger health goals, such as these simple ideas:


Take the stairs. It’s not just for fire drills anymore. If you need to go up or down a few floors, opt for the stairs instead of the elevator. It’s an easy way to burn some extra calories without having to go too far out of your way.


Use the buddy system. Having trouble getting motivated? Enlist a friend in
your diet or exercise routine. Usually, peer pressure is a resolution killer, but in this case, it will keep you engaged.


Become a multitask master. Hitting the gym these days isn’t so bad since most have TVs everywhere to help take your mind off the dreaded “working” part of working out. But if going to the gym doesn’t fit your busy schedule, perhaps you can bring the gym to you instead. Invest in some equipment, like free weights, a yoga mat or resistance exercise bands, and do some simple exercises while watching TV at home. You’ll be amazed by how many crunches you can fit in during commercial breaks.


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So forget the negative preconceived notions about often-unobtainable New Year’s resolutions. While they aren’t always easy, there’s still hope! With a bit of planning and thoughtful goal-setting, you and your family could be on your way to a more enjoyable 2013.


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