The Trick to Make Your Resolutions Stick

It's that time of year again. We ring in the new year with a list of resolutions to improve our lives, but after a few weeks, good intentions fall by the wayside. If this sounds familiar, you're not alone.

According to one study, 45 percent of Americans make yearly resolutions, but only 8 percent actually achieve them  But this doesn't have to be you. The secret to changing your life is not in grand gestures. Instead it's about thinking small.

The best way to achieve change is to set realistic goals," says Dr. Christos Giannoulias, a clinical instructor in sports medicine at Chicago's Loyola University. "For example, you can't be a couch potato and expect to start working out for an hour, five days a week and have it become a lasting habit."

Whether you're hoping to run a marathon, boost your energy, or improve your diet, here are expert tips on how to make small changes that deliver big results.

1. Be your own cheerleader.
A positive attitude is key to accomplishing your goals."Instead of writing an endless to-do list, how about writing a "Look what I did today list' and give yourself a pat on the back," says Debbie Mandel, author of Addicted to Stress: A Woman's 7-Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Her Life. "Virtually all of us respond to a loving coach as opposed to a stern inner critic.”

2. Make it a habit.
Creating a habit is a crucial step toward making a change succeed. So, when you start a new fitness routine or diet, incorporate it into your daily routine. "Stick with your plan several days a week, for two to three weeks, and it will become habitual, just like brushing your teeth," says Giannoulias."You won't even think about it after awhile."

For example, start with a simple and doable five to ten minute bike ride each day, or add another serving of vegetables to your lunchtime meal. Gradually increase the length of your rides, or your intake of veggies over time.

3. Pair up.
Finding someone with a similar goal to yours and joining forces is a great way to succeed at your goals. "It's more enjoyable to work out with a partner who's sharing your same experience," says Giannoulias."You're responsible for each other and making sure you stick with it. Everything is easier when there is someone there pushing you to succeed."

4. Hit the road.
Looking for a quick way to get fit, de-stress and boost your energy? Try adding a daily walk to your routine. "Walking is a fantastic form of exercise," Giannoulias says. "It's easy on the joints, it doesn't involve money or memberships, and just about everyone can do it."

Walking is also a great way to de-stress, says Mandel. "When you are really upset about a conflict or deadline, take a walk in the daylight with headphones. You will decompress quickly and improve focus.

5. Count it down.
Many people begin the new year resolving to shed pounds, but succeeding is not so easy. Being aware of the number of calories you consume is one of the easiest ways to slim down. "Everyday caloric intake is the most important factor when it comes to why people gain or lose weight," Giannoulias says. "If you stick to the recommended balance of fats, proteins and carbohydrates and the number of calories appropriate for your age and gender, it will be easier to lose and maintain weight.

6. Put yourself first.
It's easy to lose track of yourself when you're devoted to meeting the needs of your kids, job or partner. "The things that provide the most amount of stress in your life -- work, family, finances -- you can't eliminate entirely," says Giannoulias. "So you need to learn how to set aside a period of time every day where you focus on you. This will help deflate stress."

Mandel recommends adding this "me time" gradually. "Start by shedding one unnecessary item -- like doing laundry every day -- from your to-do list. Make a mental note of how that makes you feel," she says. Then next week shed another task. Use this new-found time just for you. There is great productivity in rest, says Mandel. "You will come back feeling even better."

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Fun Family Bonding Ideas

The holidays are all about spending quality time together as a family, but that message can get lost in the hustle and bustle of the season. This year, don’t let the days fly by without scheduling some special activities. Not only will it make the season more special, but you’ll also create traditions for years to come.

1. Make handmade gifts.
Shift the focus away from big-ticket presents by agreeing to give each other only homemade gifts. Have a large clan? Try drawing names. You can decide as a family what the criteria are for making the gifts, like only using items found in the home or spending less than $10 on the materials.

2. Play games.
When the whole gang’s in town, make one evening “game night.” There’s something about sitting around a table with a board game that brings out the laughter, talking and family bonding.

3. Start a memory jar.
Label an opaque container “Merry Memory Jar,” and place cut-up strips of paper next to it. Tell everyone to write down their favorite memories from past holiday seasons, or the past year, and place them in the jar. Then sit down as a family read the strips one by one. Just have a box of tissues on hand to dry up those sentimental tears.

4. Check out the festive lights.
Most kids love seeing holiday decorations twinkling at night. Pack cookies and hot chocolate or cider in the car, and take a tour through your town’s festive streets. When you get home, spend a few minutes discussing which display was your favorite.

5. Bake holiday treats.
Cookies and cakes are easy for kids to make without much instruction. Using a family or favorite recipe, whip up a batch -- and then spend the afternoon decorating them with holiday music playing in the background. Wrap up the leftovers and pass them out to your neighbors as gifts. Your kids will take pride in being able to create their own presents.

6. Plan a live “12 Days of Christmas.”
For the 12 days leading up to Christmas, create a unique craft or food for each day of the song. For instance, five golden rings could be homemade doughnuts or the pineapple rings on an upside-down cake. You can also turn this into gift-giving tradition: Give them to a different friend, relative, neighbor or local charity each day. This allows your family to bond and spend time thinking up creative presents together. Plus, it will put everyone in the spirit of giving.

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Holiday Mental Wellness: Simple Steps to Recharge

Every holiday season, you shop for presents, prepare the house, host a celebration -- and get worn out in the process. Join the club: According to a survey from the American Psychological Association, 69 percent of people say they don’t have enough time, and 55 percent say they fall short on energy.

Even though it’s probably the last thing you have time to do, it’s important to take a break to relax. By recharging, you’ll be able to accomplish even more. Plus, indulging yourself doesn’t require much time or money. Here are five quick and easy ideas to help you decompress and get a little peace amidst the chaos.

1. Indulge in a free massage.

Research proves that massages can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, but you’re short on time and money. The solution? Do it yourself. Do a mental assessment of your body to determine where you’re feeling pressure. Then, starting from the crown of your head and moving down to your feet, briefly tighten and release each area. Breathe deeply as you imagine the tension leaving your body.

2. Give yourself a mini-makeover.

Between caring for your family and managing holiday activities, you’ve barely had a chance to look in the mirror. But carving out 10 minutes to spruce up your appearance can do wonders for your confidence. Try playing up your favorite feature, such as swiping on a bold shade of lipstick or giving yourself a smoky eye. Keep tissues at hand to wipe away any excess -- we don’t all get it right with the first try!

3. Play music.

The right tunes can ease stress and anxiety, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing. Compile a few different playlists: an upbeat one for a mood boost, soothing tunes for decompressing and energetic songs for sluggish day. The next time you’re starting to drag, just push that play button.

4. Take a bath.

There is nothing like relaxing in a warm bath. Rather than taking a quick shower in the morning, allow yourself a 15-minute soak at the end of the day. To create a spa-like atmosphere, add bath salts or bubbles and bring in a favorite drink.

5. Phone a friend.

Venting to an understanding pal may be all you need to feel better, and research proves that talking to a friend can help dial down the pressure. Besides, laughing with a loved one will remind you that relationships are the most important part of this often-hectic season.

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5 Time-saving Holiday Shortcuts

‘Tis the season for out-of-town guests, dinner parties ... and stressed-out women. But the holidays don't have to be the craziest time of the year. To help you breeze through the season, we asked a chef, decorating guru and stress-management expert to share their smartest and simplest tips. Not only will you look like the perfect hostess, but you'll do it all with time to spare.

Decorate in Minutes
Having a dinner party? There's no need to make a trip to the florist or to glue together an elaborate tablescape. All you need for a festive centerpiece is a glass garden cloche, a bell-shaped cover for outdoor plants that's sold in gardening stores, says Jenn Andrlik, holidays and crafts editor for Turn it upside down and fill it with it ornaments or pinecones from your yard. Then invert a plate over the open end and turn it back over.

If you have leftover [holiday decorations] or you're swapping in new ornaments this year, this is a nice way to still keep the old ones on display," says Andrlik. "You can put any holiday decorations you have laying around in there and make them look beautiful.”

Keep Candles in Storage
Mood lighting is a must at festive events, but candles can burn out early. Instead, swap them for vases or frosted glass cylinders filled with white string lights, suggests Andrlik. Place them on a table near an outlet, and run the cord over the back lip of the vase -- or out the bottom if there's a hole. (Always check the label first to ensure that the lights have been tested for safety.)

Skip Shopping-center Chaos

Overwhelmed by the number of people on your gift list? Save yourself a trip to the mall and give presents that come from your heart -- and your kitchen. Baking may not seem like a timesaver, but if you can take an afternoon to churn out a few dozen cookies, you've got gifts for the whole family, says Colleen Covey, a chef and recipe developer (and new grandma!) in Orlando, Fla. Just divvy them up into pretty containers."We call my husband the "Cookie Man'," says Covey. "He makes 60 dozen in a variety of flavors.”

No time to bake? Buy some premade biscotti."You can dip them in melted white or dark chocolate to make them more festive," says Covey, "then put a few in a clear gift bag and tie them up with a holiday ribbon.”

Jazz up Simple Ingredients
To avoid extra trips to the store, look for ways to get the most out of the staples on hand, says Covey. She swears by herbed butter: a mixture of 2 teaspoons parsley, 1 teaspoon thyme, 1/2 teaspoon rosemary and 1/2 teaspoon sage mixed into 1 stick of softened, unsalted butter.

Covey cuts off half of the butter and rubs it under and on top of the skin of a raw turkey. She rolls up the other half in plastic wrap (twisting the ends to seal it) and puts it in the fridge to harden. Slice it into coins, and use it to make simple dishes seem gourmet."Mix it into gravy, place it on top of mashed potatoes, or melt a little over grilled steak," she says. The butter will keep in the fridge for seven days or in the freezer for two months.

Sneak in Some Silence
Part of what makes the holidays so stressful is that they seem to whiz by," says Kate Hanley, founder of and author of The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide: 77 Simple Strategies for Serenity. The cleaning, traveling, entertaining and cooking can run together in a blur.

No matter how busy you are, you can create a sense of calm by spending five minutes in silence each day, suggests Hanley. It could be the cup of tea you drink before the kids wake up, or the after-dinner time spent admiring the night sky with the family."Your kids may only last 30 seconds, but you'll be giving them the opportunity to learn how to quiet themselves," she says. "It'll also give you some time to savor the good part of the holidays instead of zooming from one thing to another."

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The Scent of Happiness

It seems to happen when you least expect it: You pass a woman on the street who's wearing the same perfume your grandmother used, and you're taken back to being 8 years old and watching her put on makeup in her bedroom. Or you enter a bakery and the aroma of freshly made sourdough bread transports you to the kitchen in your childhood home, where your dad is cutting into a loaf.

You already know how certain smells can instantly call up long-forgotten memories, but you may not realize that there's a scientific reason behind the phenomenon. "The part of the brain that processes odors, which is called the olfactory cortex, is located very close to the hippocampus and amygdala -- two areas that are involved in storing emotional memories," says Pamela Dalton, an odor researcher at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. "So when you breathe in salty ocean air with a hint of sunscreen in it, that whole section of your brain gets kick-started, which helps explain why you immediately flash back to the beach house your family went to every summer when you were younger."

The Scent-Memory Connection
In fact, a Swedish study found that smells unearth earlier memories better than any other type of cue. Researchers exposed elderly people to a word, picture or odor and asked them to identify their earliest memory connected to the prompt. While the word and picture brought up moments from early adulthood, the smell led them to think of a time before they were 10 years old.

And because their power transports you back to the carefree days of childhood, Dalton says scents can be useful for helping you feel less stress or anxiety. "People don't realize how easy it is to change your mood by purposefully smelling something associated with a time in your life when you felt happy," she says." For example, try keeping a little vial of your mom's favorite perfume in your purse or at your desk to take a whiff of when you feel overwhelmed or upset. The effect is instantaneous."

Create Your Own Comfort

How do you get your own children to connect certain scents with happy memories? Dalton says it's easy; you just have to be consistent. "Apply the same lotion every night before you go in your daughter's room to read her a bedtime story or bake an apple cinnamon pie for every special holiday," she says.

In their minds, those smells will quickly become associated with being nurtured or with festive occasions, and they'll always think of you and their childhood fondly when they get a whiff of it, even decades down the road." You can also use a familiar, soothing smell -- like eucalyptus or lavender -- to ease their stress or discomfort when they're sick or uncomfortable. It makes perfect scents!

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