How to Make ‘Em So You Don’t Break ‘Em

By Marilynn Preston

As 2017 bangs to a close, many of us open up to the possibility of a zippier, zestier 2018. We resolve to make changes, positive changes that move us in the direction of enhanced well-being, less stress and a new determination to find the “Off” button on our mobile phones.

“I want to start exercising every day!”  

“I’m going to lose 20 pounds by Valentine’s Day!”

“I want to play more, work less, start eating breakfast, bicycle to

work, go to yoga twice a week…”

It’s your call, your choice, your personal vision of what your best self looks like.

But if you dream it, can you do it? I say yes! Like plants to the light, we’re all capable of making smarter choices. Statistically, I must tell you, the odds are against it. Backsliding is to behavior change what slicing is to golf.

But here’s the good news: You are not most people. You are uniquely you, hard-wired to change your life in profound ways if and when you are ready.

Genuine and long-lasting lifestyle change isn’t easy, but it is possible. You must believe that – really! truly! deeply! – because the more you believe you can do something, the more likely you will do it.

That relationship between belief and action is called self-efficacy, a key concept that enables you to defy the odds and make New Year’s resolutions that last a lifetime. Here are some more winning strategies:

Learn About Change. To make change happen in your life, it helps to understand how self-change happens. For that, please turn to more than 25 years of research by Dr. James Prochaska and his colleagues, authors of the classic book “Changing for Good,” an excellent guide to help you move from not thinking about change to thinking about it, planning for it, doing it and maintaining the change for a lifetime. One of Prochaska’s pearls (or maybe it’s a thorn) is that if you’re not ready for change, it won’t happen. How do you know if you’re ready? Here’s one way…

Go Inside. You can’t start a meditation practice or cut out toxic processed food just because your spouse, doctor or insurance company wants you to. You need to dig deep and decide for yourself: Am I truly ready to change? What are the pros? What are the cons? Write them down. Think it through. If you can afford it, consider some sessions with a skilled coach.

When your pros outweigh your cons, you’re ready for the next step: identifying the challenges involved and coming up with specific strategies to overcome them. You can’t rush through this self-discovery phase. Or fake it. Well, you can, but your change will last as long as a box of brownies at a birthday party.

Set Realistic Goals. Setting unrealistic goals — e.g., “I’ll lose 20 pounds in two months” — sets you up for failure. Can you starve, deny and torture yourself? Sure. But it’s dumb and teaches you nothing about healthy eating. Scale down your 2018 goals to bite-size, doable challenges — a pound or two a week or month, three 30-minute walks a week instead of six, etc. The key is to feel successful every day and every week. Small victories boost your confidence and motivate you to stay on track.

Be Specific. Don’t vaguely tell yourself to cut down on sugar, for instance. Decide on the details: a bite of doughnut instead of a whole cruller; 10 chocolate-covered raisins at a sitting instead of a box; switching your morning cereal from Cap’n Crunch to Cheerios. If it’s exercise you want more of, be specific about what you’ll do and when. Schedule workouts on your calendar. Details, dear reader!

Give it time. Some days, the best part of your workout is simply showing up. Accept that. New habits take time. Three weeks? Three months? Be patient. When you feel yourself slipping and falling – and you will! – don’t beat yourself up. Every day is a new beginning. Accept your imperfections and know you can always begin. Again.

Today’s column is adapted from Marilynn’s new book, “All Is Well: The Art {and Science} of Personal Well-Being,” available from Amazon and other places where smart and funny books are sold. Marilynn Preston is the author of Energy Express, America’s longest-running healthy lifestyle column. Her new book “All Is Well: The Art {and Science} of Personal Well-Being” is available now on Amazon and elsewhere. Visit Creators Publishing at to learn more. For more on personal well-being, visit

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