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Prepare for success with your New Year’s resolutions

Shirley McMarlin
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When having a drink, save calories by sticking with wine, beer or liquor mixed with tonic or diet soda.
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To kick the habit, smokers need to deal with the physical craving for nicotine and the psychological aspects related to smoking.
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One of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to save more money.
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Among people who make New Year’s resolutions, vowing to get more exercise is one of the most popular.
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When making a New Year’s resolution, many people say they want to pay more attention to self-care, including getting more sleep.

We’ve all heard it or said it: This is the year I’m going to get fit. Read more. Kick the habit.

New Year’s Eve is coming and, for better or worse, it’s time to make resolutions for 2019.

Supposedly, we have the ancient Babylonians to thank for the practice. Some 4,000 years ago, they were promising to repay debts and return borrowed items, in hopes of finding favor with their gods.

Nowadays, we mostly make vows to ourselves, or to our family members and friends. Maybe the stakes are lower that way (human disappointment vs. divine retribution).

According to Statista, an online statistics portal that gathers information from more than 22,500 sources, the top three resolutions for 2018 were to eat healthier, get more exercise and save more money.

Other popular resolutions included focusing on other kinds of self-care, making new friends, learning a new skill, starting a new hobby and finding a new job.

Perhaps understanding how hard it is to follow through, many folks don’t even bother, Statista says.

So how can you help yourself to succeed in accomplishing what you set out to do? We reached out to experts for tips on wrangling some common resolutions.

The concept of mindfulness — of being aware of where you are (physically, mentally and emotionally), what you’re doing and why you’re doing it — is a theme running through many of their answers.

Saving (more) money

Mindfulness should be part of your financial planning, says Kim Kramer, president of Legacy Wealth Solutions Inc. in Ligonier. A good first step is to track exactly where your money is going.

After that, it’s important to make a distinction between your wants and needs, she says. How much of your spending is essential and how much is frivolous?

For those just starting a savings plan, or those looking to boost their nest eggs, Kramer suggests:

• Start small — Saving something is better than saving nothing, even if it’s $5 a week. For young people just starting their careers, Kramer suggests saving 5 percent of their income, if possible, with the goal of bumping it up 1 percent per year.

When the deposit hits your bank, pay yourself first, before you’re tempted to spend the money elsewhere.

• Let your employer help — If your employer matches your retirement plan contribution, try to put in the maximum amount. Hey, it’s free money.

• Bank your bonuses — Again, out of sight is out of mind.

• Hold the line — Don’t make big lifestyle changes every time you get a raise. There’s a lot of temptation to keep up with the Joneses, Kramer says, but “that’s where most people get into trouble.”

• Find a balance — “People do need to treat themselves,” Kramer says, but that can be done responsibly. One way to do that is to calculate how long you would need to work to pay for something on your “want” list, and decide if your time and labor are worth the cost.

Cutting down on alcohol

“Alcohol is a tricky subject to navigate,” says Ian Hunter, a clinical dietitian with the Excela Health Well Being Center. “On one hand, most of us know we would benefit in the long run health-wise if we stopped, but on the other hand it is something that many people enjoy.”

If drinking is affecting your life negatively, it’s time to check with a professional or at least a self-help group. But if cutting back is a way to improve your lifestyle, Hunter offers these tips:

Decide why you want to drink less — this could include health benefits or saving money. Whatever the reason, keep yourself accountable by writing your goal down or telling someone about it.

Don’t keep alcohol at home — If you don’t have it, you won’t drink it.

Choose drinks wisely — Save calories by sticking with wine, beer and liquor mixed with tonic or diet soda. Avoid calorie-laden fruity drinks.

Alternate alcoholic drinks with water — This saves calories and keeps you hydrated, which also helps you avoid a hangover.

Be the designated driver — In this case, your only option is not to drink. Simple and effective.

No more smoking

People aren’t always aware that there’s a double whammy in stopping the use of tobacco products, e-cigarettes and vaping devices, says Vicki Oles, a cessation and prevention coordinator for Penn State Cooperative Extension.

“There’s a physical addiction to the nicotine, but it’s also a habit that people attach to certain situations,” she says. “People smoke when they’re happy, sad or in social situations, and it becomes so much a part of their life. The nicotine patch or gum can deal with the withdrawal symptoms, but you have to deal with both of those things.”

Here are some steps to success from Norene Auer, a tobacco cessation coordinator for the Excela Health Well Being Center:

Get prepared — Define your reasons for quitting, set a date and make a plan, including seeking expert help. A physician can refer you to a treatment specialist or order nicotine replacement therapy. Many insurances cover the cost of prescribed quit aids.

Fight the urge with the Four D’s Do something else. Delay until the urge passes. Drink water to fight cravings. Deep breaths help.

• Strategize — Prepare ways to handle situations in which you would usually smoke.

• Keep trying — A slip isn’t a reason to give up. Remember the number of cigarettes you DIDN’T smoke. Quitting is a process.

In the end, the health benefits and money saved will be worth the struggle, Oles says.

Learning a new language

Parlez-vous français? Or Spanish,
German or Mandarin? No, but you’d like to.

“Much like going to the gym, the hardest part about learning a language is staying motivated to keep up with it,” says Michaela Kron, senior PR manager with the language-learning platform Duolingo in Pittsburgh. “The first step you should take is committing to make language learning a daily habit.”

To build that habit, especially when trying to learn on your own, Kron recommends these steps:

Practice daily — You’ll retain more by practicing even 10-15 minutes a day than by bingeing once every few days.

Timing matters — Duolingo’s research shows that those who practice daily before bedtime retain more. First thing in the morning is the next best time.

Listen — Foreign language podcasts, television shows and movies can help with listening comprehension. Turn on the subtitles when possible.

Connect — Find ways to connect in person with native speakers or other learners. Check out language exchange or meet-up groups in your area. Kron says Duolingo sponsors some events in the Pittsburgh area, with information available at duolingo.com/pittsburgh .

Get some help

For help with serious issues related to alcohol and tobacco use, there’s no need to go it alone.

Information on Excela Health programs is available at 877-771-1234 or excelahealth.org .

A Penn State Extension tobacco cessation program that begins in January will include free telephone coaching during certain hours and free nicotine replacement products. Call 724-858-4223 for information.

Free resources to help eligible Pennsylvania residents quit smoking or using other tobacco products are available at 800-784-8669 or pa.quitlogix.org .

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley at 724-836-5750, [email protected] or via Twitter @shirley_trib.

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