5 Tips for Your New Year’s Resolutions

New Year's in Costa Rica
New Year’s in Costa Rica

As we were preparing to ring in the New Year last week, my niece observed that the gym would be extra crowded for the next few weeks, filled with people looking to make a fresh start. If you work out at a fitness center regularly, you know the drill, too: a full parking lot, lines for the popular machines, and over-crowded classes. You also know that by mid-February you won’t have to wait for a treadmill, and you’ll have more elbow room in your Zumba class. Sadly, the good intentions of January 1st will be guilt-ridden memories.

I actually don’t make New Year’s resolutions because I believe you should assess your lifestyle more often. You can decide to change your life 365 days a year, so why wait? I understand, however, the symbolism of the New Year for turning over a new leaf, so here are some suggestions for making your resolutions stick.

Set a concrete goal.

Most resolutions are too vague to be successful. “Get fit” or “eat better” or “lose weight” capture the spirit of your intentions but they don’t provide enough direction to stay on track. A specific target will help you make the right choices to turn your resolution into reality.

Here are some examples of what I mean:

  • Exercise 5-6 days a week.
  • Run a 5k without stopping by April 1st.
  • Lose 5 pounds a month until reaching your goal weight of ______.
  • Eat “clean” (as you define “clean” – like “no sugar” or “no processed food”) on weekdays.    

Make Weekly Plans

Planning provides the how-to for achieving your goal. However, schedules change, life happens, and the best-laid plans can be turned upside down. So the trick is to be specific but not plan too far in advance.

Every Sunday I size up my week and plan my workouts. I put what I’m going to do and when in my calendar. This helps me accommodate business travel (e.g., packing Beachbody DVDs that are easy for me to use in a hotel room). It also ensures that I achieve my desired mix of cardio, stretching, and strength training. I admit that a plan is motivating for me – I actually wake up looking forward to a particular workout.

Beachbody programs provide easy-to-follow plans
Beachbody programs provide easy-to-follow plans

When you have a thoughtful plan in place, it’s also easier to change your plan and stay on track toward your goal. Eisenhower said, “Plans are useless. Planning is everything.” So if an urgent pre-dawn overseas conference call threatens my scheduled workout, I can make appropriate decisions that attend to work and accommodate working out. For example, if I was planning to do 45 minutes of cardio, I can pop in a DVD that’s only 25 minutes long (like Focus T25), or adjust swap that day with my scheduled rest day, or block out lunch as busy on my calendar so I can squeeze in a noontime run.

While you’re sitting down to plan your workouts for the week, why not plan your meals, too? You’ll be less likely to buy food you don’t need or make impulse choices.

Go public.

This idea is built into the concept of a New Year’s resolution. A resolution, after all, is a “declaration” or a “promise.” When you say you are going to do something, you set

yourself up for public scrutiny. That’s great motivation when you want to hit the snooze button instead of lacing up your sneakers in the dark. So share your goal with family and friends.

Keep a journal (or use a fitness tracking app).

This blog post was going to contain only 4 tips until one of the people in my fitness accountability group posted her commitment to keep a food journal. It’s a great idea! Recording what you eat and what you do helps you:

  • Identify patterns in your decisions. (Do you snack more when you skip breakfast? Do you tend to skip workouts when they’re solo activities?)
  • Discourages less healthful choices. (Who wants to write down they ate an entire bag of potato chips?)
  • Gives you the chance to celebrate your accomplishments.
  • Make informed decisions if your plan doesn’t seem to be producing results. (The best salespeople track their sales-related activities, knowing that more prospecting or sales calls generate more revenue.)

Find an accountability partner(s).

Change is hard. Time management is hard. It helps to have someone to confide in, to share your struggles, to check in on your progress, to encourage you when you’ve lost your way or hit a plateau. I’m a big fan of online communities, where I can benefit from the ideas of a group of folks. I also have a coach who I rely on for advice. You may want to make a pact with your BFF and agree on a reward you can enjoy together when you achieve your goals. Just don’t go it alone.

If you’d like to join one of my online health accountability groups, let me know by filling out the form below. Happy New Year!

Give and get support!
Give and get support!

Find Your Purpose

Recent pre-birthday fun.

My birthday is approaching. I’m moving right along through my 50s. Happily so. I’ve never been one to complain about birthdays. I truly don’t get the whole “I’m still 29” thing.

I’m also not one of those “college was the best time of my life” people. Some day I might write a blog about surviving the misery and self-doubt of high school and college. But today I want to talk about how life can (and should) get better.

The Purpose of Purpose

We are here for a reason. Years ago, my friend Diana told me that she took birthdays very seriously. The conversation stuck with me, and I now find myself sharing a similar message: Birthdays remind us that we have been put on this earth to make a difference.

Identify the Impact You Want to Make on the World

What’s your purpose? Don’t fret if you don’t want to cure cancer or eradicate poverty! Your impact doesn’t have to be so grand. I’m a firm believer in the compound effect — where consistent small actions can generate an enormous impact over time. Think instead of what your unique gifts can do. What impact can you have just the way you are if you focus your time and talents? Commit to a purpose. And see how you bounce out of bed tomorrow morning.

When in Doubt, Trust  “The Plan”

You can have a sense of purpose even if you don’t exactly know what you want your purpose to be. I am convinced that the world is better because you were born. You may not know the details. Just trust me.

Me? I Want to Help People Thrive Until They Die

I didn’t figure this out until recently. At my day job I help organizations increase employee engagement (which is really about people having great days at work). I write about personal accountability for success on the job. I’ve seen magic happen when people understand what matters most to them — and to their employer. Most nights I can fall asleep knowing I’ve made a difference in supporting work environments where people can thrive.

For the last year or so. in my spare time, I’ve also been trying to help people to become healthier through fitness and food. So many of the ailments that people experience as they age are preventable or manageable through activity and nutrition! That’s the point of the blog’s tagline: Decay is optional. (I didn’t think of the phrase. Chris Crowley did in Younger Next Year.)

I welcome the chance to support your improved health. There are still openings in my p90 Challenge Group. To learn more, check out the video below.

It’s Not All or Nothing

We all know the slippery slope. You know, that path from “I’m on a roll toward my goal” to Slippery Slope“I’ve lost my way and boy do I need to get back on track”? Despite the very best intentions with exercise, healthier eating, continuous learning, a more organized home, or even a new work project, something happens. “Life intervenes,” we sometimes say. “I have no time.” “I totally messed up once, so I give up.” “I just can’t do it now.” “If I can’t do it right I’m not going to do it.” “I’ll try later.”

I see this mental slide when it comes to health and fitness in particular. I’ve done it myself: “I can’t do my 60-minute, sweat-up-a-storm workout so I won’t be able to do anything today.” A few days like that, and I’m off my routine, disappointed with myself, and scared that the next workout will feel really awful. So I find a reason not to do it again.

Just Do Something

Activity is important. If you can’t do an entire workout, do half. Walk up and down the stairs for 15 minutes. Add an extra block to your route when you walk the dog. Do 10 push-ups before you go to bed. Or 5 if that’s all you can do. (And check out Kit Horton Caldicott’s push-up tips for women.) Maybe you won’t hit your target heart rate. Something is better than nothing.

Healthy eating is important. If you’re going to eat dessert, share it (and the calories!). Add frozen kale into that decadent soup recipe you want to try. Eat at least one clean meal a day if you can’t manage all three. Grab a nutritional drink like Shakeology if you think you have no time for a healthy breakfast.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect

I recently experienced the slippery slope with this blog! After months of weekly posts, I lost momentum. My day job was bonkers. The holidays were upon us. I didn’t have the time to research the type of carefully crafted message I wanted to share so I posted no message at all. I sheepishly told my Beachbody colleagues Eileen and Anu on our weekly calls, “No blog this weekend. Next weekend for sure.” Ugh.

Then in the middle of a p90x3 workout this week, Tony Horton said something like, “Having a rough workout? Not meeting your goals? At least you are in the room. You showed up. You’re trying.” Well hello! Yes I am! You can too! I’m back online today. Even if it is for 30 minutes. Even if it is for a message that I believe you already know.

So now it’s your turn. This is not an all-or-nothing journey. What will you do today?

Who’s in Your Closet?

grandpa and grandma masarech croppedEvery few years, I drive to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery around All Saints’ Day to visit my grandparents’ graves, explore the gorgeous grounds, and search out the resting spots of some of the more famous residents, like Washington Irving, Brooke Astor, and Andrew Carnegie. I didn’t make the trip this weekend, but I did think a lot about my deceased friends and

They are sources of motivation as I strive for a healthier lifestyle.

Some I remember for inspiration and strength; others are sober reminders of the health challenges hiding in the shadows.

My Cheerleaders

I am pretty lucky on the friends and family front. There are plenty of people who believed in me through the years: dad, mom, Aunt Betty, Nana, and our neighbor Marie are just a few. I carry their words of wisdom with me and hold them up as role models for living a vibrant life. My dad, in particular, enjoyed 20+ very full years of retirement after two careers.

My Skeletons

I have to admit, though, that the skeletons that lurk in the family closet are even bigger motivators. Type 2 diabetes, dementia, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and stroke, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), can run in a family.

Lifestyle choices can reduce my odds of getting these diseases. So I run. I do strength training. I pop in my Beachbody DVDs. I don’t smoke. I try to eat “clean.” I try to break up my workdays with walks.

Who’s in your closet? Who are the people who cheered you on to do things you thought you couldn’t do? Tap them for inspiration. And what about those skeletons? Face your fears. Claim your health. Take control of those things that fuel a vibrant life.

Do It with a Friend

Years ago, I used to run with my boss, Ed. He would pop his head in my office around lunch time, and we’d brave the streets of Stamford, CT, at a brisk pace, talking about work and family when we weren’t huffing and puffing up a hill. One year our team had a huge project in Chicago. In the winter. When the temperatures on Lake Michigan were single digits. And the hawk (aka the wind) was out. Geez. Knowing that Ed would be waiting in the lobby of the hotel at 6 a.m. was all the motivation I needed to lace up my running shoes and put on gloves. I was not going to disappoint the boss.

Ready for a run.

Earlier this month I started running with Cooper. He seems to know the difference between my running shoes and my cross-trainers, which I wear when I join my DVD buddies Shaun T and Tony Horton for indoor workouts. Cooper wiggles his tail-less body in anticipation when he realizes a run is in his future. And although I don’t have the need to impress him the way I did Ed, his enthusiasm is enough to get me over the “should I go for a run?” hump.

Meanwhile, my friends Dede and Kiye have made the difference recently between my thinking about running a 5k and actually completing one. And as I look ahead to a NJ business trip this week, I know I can count on my colleague Lester to slow down enough to join me in a before-dark after-work run on a section of Princeton NJ’s beautiful towpath.

Just Ask

My email exchange with Lester went something like this: “Hey, I’ll be in the office Monday afternoon after the Philly meeting. Don’t know if I’ll stay over or not.” He replied, “I’ll bring my running stuff just in case.” Easy enough. If work hijacks the day, no harm no foul. But I’m hoping things aren’t too crazy so I can spend time with a colleague I don’t get to talk to a lot. Doing an activity we both enjoy.

So what do you like to do? Hike? Walk? Zumba? Cycle? What are you waiting for? Invite someone to join you. And although I like the accountability of making a date to exercise, I do appreciate the social aspect. Sometimes, it’s nice not to go solo. Share the experience. Your heart will benefit from cardio and your “heart” will benefit from connection.

Cook More.

One of my favorite messages from the recent Achieving Optimal Health Conference in DC was made by Georgetown University Professor Thomas Sherman: “Buy real food and cook it.” Some day, I’ll write another post inspired by one of his other comments that day: “Olive oil — pour it on like gravy.”

(c) BB&R Wellness Consultiing
(c) BB&R Wellness Consulting

You can read Dr. Sherman’s commentary on his speech, “Finding a Diet You Can Live With,” on the Georgetown Food Studies blog. There he summarizes how we ended up with an “all fat is bad” approach to what we eat and higher rates than ever of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. It’s definitely food for thought.

A few days after I heard Dr. Sherman speak, I had a conversation with my employer-provided health coach (yet another future post). I think we were probably talking about kale recipes, and she made the comment, “You would be surprised how many people just don’t cook.”

Why cook? Because you’re likely to eat more fruits and vegetables. You can also control what you’re putting into your body (and you don’t even have to be fanatical). And, let’s face it: Meals taste better when they don’t come out of a package.

Now I know some reasons not to make a meal from scratch: no time, no know-how, no one to share it with, and no interest. If you hate to cook, read the NY Times Opinion Pages from last spring to find a kindred (and very funny) spirit. Then find someone to cook for you so that you can enjoy the benefits of real food. 

If you are willing to “stand facing the stove” as Joy of Cooking author Irma Rombauer instructed, here are my suggestions.

Read cookbooks. 

Cooper likes Jamie at Home.
Cooper liked Jamie at Home a bit too much.

Flip through them, check out recipes, get inspired. Maybe I’m the only one who reads cookbooks in bed. It’s a cheap past-time because the library is full of cookbooks. Check some out. Flag some recipes to try. Or don’t. The more recipes you read, the more you will get the sense of how flavors and textures play together.

“Like” food blogs and “friend” friends who like to cook and eat.

Social media has made our dinners more interesting. I’m inspired by photos that our vegan friend Olga posts. Just the pictures will set me in a certain direction. Most of my friends are generous with their recipes. I’m sure yours will be, too. I also love having new recipes pop up in Facebook by bloggers I follow, like Louisa Shafia or Smitten Kitchen.

Make more than you need. Then eat the leftovers.

I just realized it’s 6pm and I need to practice what I’m preaching. I think dinner tonight will be inspired by Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking.Something with chicken. And ginger. And chiles. And cumin. A lot of it, so we can have a fast lunch tomorrow.

Let me know what you’re cooking!

Postscript Sunday Night: Too hungry to wait for chicken to cook. Used Jaffrey’s Gujerati-style Cabbage with Carrots as the base and added a can of black-eyed peas for protein. Fast and yummy! Heat 3 T of oil (I used coconut), add a pinch of asafetida if you have it, then 1 T of mustard seeds, and some red pepper flakes (I didn’t have a dried chili). When seeds start to pop, watch out! Add shredded cabbage, grated or chopped carrots, and finely chopped jalepeno. Cook on medium heat. After 5-7 mins, add black-eyed peas, big handful of chopped cilantro, 1+ t salt, 1/2 t sugar…. let cook. Add 1+ T of lemon juice at the end. Serve with brown rice.

Why Yoga? Reason #2

Sunday is yoga day. I’ve written about how it helps me avoid the tin man syndrome.  Here’s another reason I include yoga in my regular fitness routine…

To Calm the Beast in Me

My family can tell you that I can be a bear, a bit on edge, even tightly wound. I blame it on a Masarech gene, passed down through the family, labeled a bit fondly as “street-angel-house-devil.”  The first time I heard Johnny Cash’s rendition of “The Beast in Me” (written for him by Nick Lowe) on the American Recordings album produced by Rick Rubin, I knew Johnny and I were soulmates. But I digress. Actually, his performance is a worthy digression.


Yoga centers me. It forces me to slow down and focus. It makes me breathe with purpose. It calms me. It helps stress melt away. I’m a nicer person when I do yoga. I should probably do it more often!upward_dog

And it’s not just me. One study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine a few years ago found evidence that yoga has a more beneficial impact on mood than walking.

Body and Mind

A vibrant life requires more than a strong, healthy body. There’s also an emotional, attitudinal component. So don’t think you’re all set if you’re watching calories and doing regular cardio.

Try yoga if you need to to address the mind/heart part of your life. If you’re new to the practice, check out a local studio. A good teacher can really help you understand how to do the different postures correctly. You can also check out Living Green’s 15-minute awakening practice.

Yoga is the closest I get most weeks to meditation. It’s a topic I plan to explore more, after hearing Tara Brach speak about the benefits of meditation at last week’s Achieving Optimal Health Conference at Georgetown University and discovering Shirzad Chamine’s positive intelligence writings.

Stay tuned. And breathe.

October 18th update: I just came across this short post that I thought was worthy of sharing: MindBodyGreen’s “7 Reasons Why Yogis Are Happier People.

Are You Your Own Worst Enemy?

It’s good to have goals. I, for example, don’t want to be ordinary. You may want to lose that last five pounds, achieve a PR in your next 5k, or keep high blood pressure and diabetes at bay.

It’s good to have a plan for achieving your goals, too. Part of my plan is this blog. If I write about health and fitness, then I have to practice what I preach, right?

So what gets in the way of successful achievement of our goals? What trips us up from being the extraordinary people we were born to be?

10 Saboteurs

According to Positive Intelligence author Shirzad Chamine, there are saboteurs lurking inside us. In his blog he explains:self

Saboteurs are the internal enemies. They are a set of automatic and habitual mind patterns, each with its own voice, beliefs, and assumptions that work against our best interest. To illustrate, when our mind tells us that we should prepare for tomorrow’s important meeting, it is acting as our friend, causing positive action. When it wakes us up at 3:00 a.m. anxious about the meeting and warning us for the hundredth time about the many consequences of failing, it is acting as our enemy; it is simply exhausting our mental and physical resources without any redeeming value. No friend would do that.

So who’s living in you? The Judge, most likely — and which of his or her accomplices? Controller, Stickler, Avoider, Restless, Pleaser, Victim, Hyper-Rational, Hyper-Vigilant, or Hyper-Achiever? You can take a self-assessment on Chamine’s site to find out. He also talks about these saboteurs (and especially his experience with the Judge) in his TED talk below.

Exercise Your PQ Brain

Want to keep those saboteurs in check? I just downloaded a copy of the book to my Kindle to find out more about Chamine’s three strategies. The short answer for this short blog: Exercise. Not the kind of workout that I’ve been writing about, though. From what I can tell from Chamine’s site (and his PQ Gym), we’re talking mental reps, not push-ups. It involves stopping your “busy mind chatter” and redirecting attention to your physical sensations. Sounds a lot like meditation and prayer.

I think it’s a great reminder that we need to take control of what we eat, what we do, and how we think.

“Ring, Ring, It’s Your Brain Calling: Get Up!”

Next time you consider hitting the snooze button or flipping off your calendar prompt when it’s time to workout… Don’t. Resist the urge to sit tight. Get up and move. Don’t do it to squeeze into that size 8 dress in the back of the closet or look good at your upcoming reunion. Don’t do it for a healthy heart. Do it for your brain.

Exercise Boosts Brain Power

Brain Rules by John Medina is one of my very favorite books. There are 12 rules, but the first is “exercise boosts brain power.” I could summarize the main points of his chapter here, but I encourage you to check out Professor Medina’s interactive explanations on the Brain Rules site and the YouTube video below.

Don’t Stop with Exercise

Medina advises weaving activity into other tasks, and this idea may be taking off in the workplace. A client from my day job recently reported that her employer put a treadmill with a laptop desk, power cord, and Internet connection in the middle of the new open space office so employees can walk and work (maximum speed 2 miles/hour).

Playground Power

Earlier this month, I heard a PRI radio report about the impact of longer recess on student achievement in Finland. It appears that the secret to smarts isn’t more time in class but out. That prompted me to send an email to the Fairfield school board to understand why high school students are not required to take gym every semester.

I won’t bore with you the long reply, which noted that there was increasing pressure for standardized testing and that Fairfield actually requires more physical education than the state’s standard for graduation. Instead I’ll share the good news about recent legislation: Apparently teachers cannot require participation in gym as a form of punishment. Whoopie.

Danielle Henderson: Kickass Woman #3

Dani Get Your Guns in action. In red.
(c) 2013 Donalee Eiri, Photography by D.E.Sign Dani Get Your Guns in action. In red.

Today is my friend Danielle’s birthday. She’s a wife, a mom, a business professional with a full-time job, and a roller derby skater. Yup.  Roller derby. I am in awe. I don’t know how she does it all.

Danielle is one of two friends who inspired me as I was approaching 50 to return to a healthier, fitter lifestyle. (My other pal, Darlene, will no doubt get her post one day, too!)

Danielle, who skates as Dani Get Your Guns for the Windy City Rollers, was my colleague at the time. One Friday night I was in the Princeton office; she was in her home office in Chicago. Our Skype chat had moved from business to personal. She recommended I try the 10-Minute Trainer DVDs to work up to the type of fitness regimen she had. I shut down Skype, ordered it for Saturday delivery, and drove home to CT. I pushed play that weekend. A month later, we were both in NJ for work. I joined her at 5 a.m. for a 2-hour combo of p90x, Insanity, and Brazil Butt Lift. (That night when I drove into my driveway I could barely get out of the car!) Since then I’ve been pushing play for one program or another. I’m even an Independent Team Beachbody coach

What’s my point? Kickass women inspire others.  They take the time to help people accomplish things that they may not have considered possible. Thank you, Danielle! Maybe some day I’ll even have biceps like those you sport in your team pic!