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Ready to toss those resolutions after just 3 weeks?

Don't give up. Adjust your expectations and set specific goals for what you want, and the new year can still shape up to be a positive one.

January 22, 2007|Jonathan Alpert | Special to The Times

How are those New Year's resolutions shaping up?

Several weeks into 2007, many a pledge to lose weight, get in shape and cut out junk food -- among the most popular and short-lived goals -- may now be faltering or well and truly faltered.

The repeated frustration of not maintaining resolutions can lead to an abandonment of all efforts, thereby eliminating the enthusiasm you had Jan. 1. And that's not the right way to effectively move forward. If you haven't successfully kept your resolutions in the past, see it not as failure but rather as a learning experience and an opportunity to tweak your approach and implement a fresh resolution for the rest of 2007.

Here are some guidelines for making realistic and healthful resolutions.

First, make certain you're setting the resolution for yourself and not for someone else or to fulfill societal expectations. Internal motivation is far more powerful and lasting than externally driven motives. For example, it doesn't make sense to strive for a size 2 just because it's the style du jour. Your resolution should meet your needs, not those of others.

Your resolutions should also be made out of inspiration to strive toward something positive, such as a feeling of wellness, rather than out of desperation or guilt after a night of indulgence on one too many pastries. And if you want to succeed, it has to be realistic. Forget about the size 2 dress if you're eight sizes bigger.

Break the larger end goal into manageable smaller ones. If you want to lose 20 pounds, set a realistic goal for every week. Working toward and achieving it will provide internal motivation to continue your pursuit. As you achieve each goal, reward yourself -- not with chocolate cake but with something healthy, such as a massage or trip to the spa.

Frame your resolution in a positive way. The more you focus on not doing something, the more your brain will want it -- remember the magical attraction of a "confidential" label on a letter? Rather than saying, "I'm not going to eat junk again," say: "I'm going to improve my diet by adding healthy foods such as whole-grain cereal and replacing soda with water."

Detail your plans: The more specific they are, the more likely you'll be to stick with them. Vague resolutions, such as "I want to get in better shape this year" or "I want to lose weight," provide nothing precise to commit to. Far better to spell it out: "In April I'll run a 10K race, and I'm going to prepare by joining a running club" or "I'd like to eat a vegetable every day" or "I'd like to walk 20 minutes a day three times a week."

Do your homework to meet your goals. If you want to learn Pilates, find out where it's taught, register for classes, buy equipment and then commit to attending a certain number of times each week.

Find a lifestyle you can stick with long term. A common mistake -- and a reason for resolutions not being maintained much beyond winter -- is that they are set too high and too rigidly. A lofty goal may be unobtainable and lead to frustration if you don't achieve what you want. Holding yourself to rigid and extreme standards such as " I have to lose 50 pounds this year" doesn't allow you many options between losing 50 or none. This thinking promotes perfectionism and may lead to a sabotage of all efforts.

Be flexible and adjust your goals according to circumstances. If you're invited to a dessert party, plan on enjoying a guilt-free pastry or piece of cake. If you're making an effort to eliminate fast food and you decide to grab something on the go, recognize the progress you've made so far. Just because you may have slipped this time doesn't mean that all your efforts don't count anymore.

Learn from the experience by identifying possible reasons for your actions or cravings. Then, develop a plan so you're less likely to repeat it: preparing lunch the night before, perhaps, or carrying healthful snacks with you.

Keep in mind that you didn't get to look or feel how you do overnight, therefore you shouldn't expect to see dramatic changes in just a week or two. Just as you wouldn't go out and run 26 miles every day to train for a marathon, you shouldn't attempt to lose 20 pounds in a month. Know that every day will bring you closer to your goal if you remain persistent and determined, even through difficult or unmotivated days.

Finally, realize the significant role your mind plays in your effort to shape up this year. Though promises of dramatic weight loss via the Atkins diet or diet pills are enticing, they don't speak to the moments when decisions are made -- the times of stress, loneliness or boredom when one is most likely to reach for the Pringles or Haagen-Dazs. Make a distinction between feeding your body and feeding your emotions and find alternative ways of handling stress, such as psychotherapy, yoga or exercise.

And if you're already falling off the wagon, don't wait until 2008 to start over again. Every week, and every day, presents a new opportunity for change. There's nothing magical about Jan. 1.

In On the Mind, Jonathan Alpert, a psychotherapist in New York, answers questions about healthy mental living. Send questions and comments to

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