Changing your life: beyond New Year's resolutions

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Your success in making a major change in your life depends on the reasonableness of your goal and how ready you are to change, say local experts and national studies. About 40 percent of Americans make New Year's resolutions.

By the end of January, more than half of those people have kept their resolutions, but by two years later, a very slim 19 percent of people have been successful, according to a series of studies by the University of Scranton, reported in Psychology Today. Although that is not a great success rate, people who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to see a positive change in their lives, than those who don't make such resolutions.

Losing weight, improving fitness and giving up smoking are the top three goals undertaken by people across the nation. The biggest predictors of success are having belief in yourself, having the skills you need and being personally ready to make changes, say researchers.

Making fitness resolutions

The experience of personal trainer Little Bear Maestas supports these findings. He says, "One of the most common New Year's resolutions is to focus on health, whether it is weight loss or getting in shape. There is usually an increase in clients signing up with a personal trainer for the first time at the beginning of the New Year."

Maestas says that some of his existing clients will make renewed commitments to push harder than they did before or to get back on the path if they have slipped off due to the holidays. "Some resolutions involve losing a certain amount of weight in a set amount of time," he said. "Others are more focused on committing to work out a certain number of times per week."

It is the job of personal trainers such as Maestas to help people set their goals and achieve them. "The biggest difference I notice between the clients who stick to their goals and those who don't is whether the goals are reasonable or not," he said. "It is better to make smaller realistic goals that you can actually meet than to set yourself up for failure."

Maestas knows something about committing to improved health. He points out that he is not a pro-athlete, but an average person who needed to lose weight.

"I used to weigh close to 300 pounds and lost over 100 pounds through proper diet and exercise. People in my life started asking me how I did it and if I could help train them. This is what led me to get my National Academy of Sports Medicine personal trainer certification, so I could help more people," he said.

Maestas, who is of Lakota and Zuni descent, recently relocated to Taos from Sandia Park to be with fiancé Jennifer Peterson, local musician and owner of Gutiz Restaurant. He trains at a private space in town and offers in-home training services as well. Reach Maestas at (505) 991-9478.

Setting a goal

Setting a goal, such as being able to compete in a specific race such as a 10-kilometer race or a hike that was once impossible is a tool that can help with motivation, said Hillary Thieben, pilates instructor and personal trainer.

"The new clients that I see will work one-on-one with me for few sessions so they can have the individual attention that helps them work towards meeting their resolution or goal. Then, they will continue to make little goals, such as attending the group classes two to three times a week or make a goal like running a 5K in the spring, so they stay motivated with their fitness resolution," said Thieben.

She notices that people that have a workout partner tend to stick with their resolutions. Her best advice: "Find a friend or family member to work out with or join a group class. Most of all, make little fitness goals that are reachable and rewarding."

Find Thieben at High Altitude Health and Fitness or call (575) 751-1242.

Changing your life with a coach

For those wanting to make health and other changes, specialized coaches can support their efforts. Life coach Ginny Williams says that January is often her busiest month for working with new clients.

"They may have tried to follow through on a resolution in the past, but ran into challenges, so they look for the support of a coach to help them succeed," Williams said. "The kinds of goals can vary, everything from improving their health through diet and exercise, to wanting better relationships, to wanting to change jobs or careers."

For her existing clients, thinking about goals is built into the coaching process. The clients reflect on the previous year and look ahead to the New Year. "January is when they are thinking about how to build on their successes or reach new goals," she noted.

In Williams' experience, there are three factors that predict if a client will be successful in pursuit of their goals: is Williams asks these questions: "Are they mentally ready to put in the effort necessary to achieve any goals? Are they willing to try new strategies that will help them grow? Are they able to commit the necessary time and energy to their goals?"

When asked for advice for people setting out on a new path, she said that January may not be the best time to start a new endeavor as most people are still recovering from the holiday season. She believes that nature shows us that winter is a time for resting, reflecting and rebuilding energy and that spring may be a better time to start something new.

Most important of all, know why you are making a resolution. "No matter when you begin, make sure you know exactly why you're pursuing a particular goal. Why is this goal important to you? What will be different when you achieve it? Next, create a plan that describes in detail how you will work towards your goal," Williams said. "Finally, have a support system in place, like a good friend or a coach. They can help you when your motivation starts to fade."

Williams lives in the Taos area and has been a professional coach since 2001. She can be found at ginnywilliams.com.

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