Does this scenario sound familiar? New Year’s coming! Like many of us, you examine your life, find things are less than ideal, and begin dreaming of a better future. You make a New Years’ resolution to lose weight, get back into shape by exercising regularly and eating healthy. You’re excited by the prospect of change. You buy a cool outfit, maybe even invest in expensive exercising equipment, and start an exercise program ….and then you fizzle out before actually incorporating any real changes into your daily routine. By February or March, it is the same old you, the same old life, and the same old couch potato vegetating in front of television.

This does not mean you are weak, but you are obviously stuck big time. You’ve fallen victim to the biggest myth ever -that all you need is a little more willpower. It’s a highly overrated concept and can lead to great disappointment, particularly if you are working toward long-term change. The problem with willpower is that it is defined and fuelled by emotions. Think about it: When you start your exercise program, you feel strong, committed, and confident. You’re highly motivated because emotionally you’re on a high. You can do anything, right? But emotions tend to fade. No one can be up all the time. Soon you lose energy and become less committed. The less committed you feel, the more you find excuses not to exercise and eat right. How often does this happen? Not some of the time – all of the time.

That’s not to say willpower doesn’t have its purpose. It’s great in the short run. But willpower is not how you change your life in the long run. Many of us aren’t strong in the willpower department. The only way to achieve real change can be summed up in one word: programming. Unlike emotionally fuelled willpower, good solid planning will carry you toward your goals even when you don’t feel like it. Programming will get you out of bed on a cold February morning to go walk or jog when you feel as if you’d much rather crawl back into the warm bed. To succeed longterm, you have to take emotions out of the equation and to do that, follow these six steps, and reprogram your approach to your resolutions.

Step 1: Choose a realistic goal. Focus on only those you have control over, and don’t pursue outcomes that are unattainable. For example, if you want to lose some weight, losing weight would be your goal.

Step 2: Quantify your goal. Real goals must be measurable and observable; otherwise you’ll be bogged down trying to figure out what you’re actually aiming for. Serious goals leave no room for confusion about what is desired. Going back to the previous example of losing weight, losing 10 pounds would be an excellent way of measuring your goal.

Step 3: Define your goal in terms of small steps. Goals must be carefully broken down into manageable steps that ultimately lead to the desired outcome. Don’t try to create change in giant leaps. Be patient and let it happen over time. Back to the example of losing weight, think about losing weight through physical activity and healthy eating. You can start by walking 30 minutes every day and eating 3 healthy meals a day. No more poutine. Drinking water or diet pop instead of regular soft drink, having a fruit instead of chips or chocolate bar, and making other small but healthy changes.

Step 4: Set up a time line for achieving your goal. You need a particular calendar date and a schedule for completion. “Some day” is not a day of the week. Be precise as to what you are going to do and when you are going to do it. Think about losing your 10 pounds by June 30,2003.

Step 5: Get one or two friends or family members to change with you. This way you can encourage each other through rough and tough times.

Step 6: Create a system to monitor your progress. Without accountability, you are apt to con yourself – or fail to recognize poor performance in time to adjust your behaviour. Ask your local CHR or a friend or a family member if you can report your progress to them on a regular basis. The thought of looking someone in the eye and admitting failure is typically unpleasant enough to motivate you to stick with your resolutions.