Here's to New Year's resolutions. "The concept is wonderful because it implies that each individual has the power to make constructive changes," says Dr. Elizabeth Berger, a child psychiatrist and author of Raising Kids with Character. "The idea of a slate, wiped clean from old errors and habits, is a hopeful and beautiful thing."
Alas, promises are easier to say than to keep. Lose 20 pounds. (Eat only zero-calorie celery when you you're craving French fries.) Ride — fast — for 30 minutes a day on the exercise bike. (No slowing down to read Us Weekly.)
And you may find it's tough to make resolutions at the end of December, when you're burned out from the holidays. "It's the worst time to engage in behavior change because you're just tired," says Turner.
What's most important? Start making a realistic list of just a few vows — not 20, says Turner. "Set interim achievable deadlines."
To set yourself up for success, not failure, avoid making complicated resolutions. "If you do it, it has to be simple," says Dr. Daniel Levy, a developmental pediatrician who sits on the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on communications and media. "Keep them realistic and short term."
Work on yourself before you try to foist resolutions on your spouse — or your teens. "How many parents can name last year's personal resolution that was fully honored and actually kept?" asks Berger. You can sit down together and come up with ideas for each other only if it's "in an affectionate and light-hearted way," she says.
Here are a few popular resolutions to consider:
Lose weight. Given that two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight, it's a popular one. And it's a good idea since obesity increases the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, breast and colon cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, sleep apnea, and infertility. Come up with realistic goals, such as eating fruit for dessert at family dinners. Turner recommends monthly mini-deadlines. Vow to lose four pounds a month — not 50 pounds for the year. That's true for kids, too. "Kids who want to lose 50 pounds in the next month or two, it's not realistic," says Levy. "They get to that point over several years.
Exercise more regularly. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that Americans do eight to 10 strength-training exercises, with eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise, two times a week. Vow to become a fit family and exercise with each other. If you like biking, pick some new routes on mapmyride.com.
Be nicer to others. Vow to do more thoughtful actions, such as donating old linens to an animal shelter, shoveling a neighbor's snow, donating old clothes, or writing a letter to a soldier.
Save more money. If your spouse is a big spender, talk to each other — and consider getting professional help. (See the Financial Planning Association and AARP sites, which can help you plan for retirement.) In the short term, figure out how you plan to avoid giving too many gifts and being financially strapped later, says Turner.
Drink less alcohol. Remember that the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.
Enjoy more frequent sex with your spouse. If either of you has been feeling less frisky, get a checkup to make sure the problem isn't physical. Try some new techniques, get more shut-eye, and talk to your doctor about erectile-dysfunction drugs.
Spend more time with your family. Could you switch to a part-time job? Do the math and figure out whether it's worth sacrificing some income for more flexibility.
Happy New Year!