Cristy Harder didn’t have a specific number in mind.
She wasn’t focused on what the scale said. She just knew she wanted to feel and be healthier. She wanted to walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded. She wanted to play with her six daughters.
She wanted to fit into a coat she saw in December 2013, a coat that her husband wanted to buy her. The shop on the Plaza in Kansas City had one size left. It wasn’t her size, and the coat didn’t fit.
“I felt humiliated,” she said. “I just felt tired of that feeling. My goal was to be in that coat by this December. I met that goal. That was a good feeling.”
It was about this time last year that Harder, like many of us, decided enough was enough. She was tired of the excuses.
She committed to exercising – more than the occasional walk. She started eating clean. No sugar. Few processed foods. More greens, less gunk.
“I set small goals throughout the year,” she said. “I’d think, ‘In two months, I’d like to drop a size.’ Or ‘By Easter, I want to be this size.’ That really pushed me.”
So far, she is down four dress sizes. She’s gained muscle and lost fat.
Her strategy to set smaller goals was smart, those who are good at these things say.
“I think it produces less stress on you throughout the year,” said Deidre Helm, a clinician at Comcare, Sedgwick County’s mental health agency.
Helm is program manager of Comcare’s crisis center. No matter what your New Year’s resolution is, the key is to set manageable goals, she said.
If your goal is too ambitious or unrealistic, you might have a hard time reaching it and then give up when you fail.
“You need to accept that you’re going to have setbacks,” Helm said. “You’re not always going to succeed. Be mindful that setbacks are going to happen and move forward. Being mindful in and of itself is so important. Step back from life and take that break. Live in the moment rather than worrying about the future.”
Instead of saying you want to lose 50 or 100 pounds, you might commit, instead, to exercising twice a week at the beginning, Helm said.
And don’t do it alone.
“Ask support for those goals. Or have a partner who is doing it with you,” Helm said. “Log your progress and revisit it.”
Harder, 38, has been working out with a trainer, John Shaw, at Shaw Fitness Solutions in her hometown of Newton. Having someone she is accountable to has been crucial to her success, she said. Harder also works out with friends she met at the gym. She does strength training Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and kickboxing on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If she is in town on Saturdays, she heads to the gym to lift weights.
“Having a trainer was motivating to me because he pushed me. Just knowing that I had committed by paying to be with him, just knowing that, motivated me to get there every day. I think it would have been really tough without a trainer,” Harder said.
Other people might be able to work out at home, she said. But she needs the structure of a gym and a trainer.
Whatever works for one person might not work for the next person, experts say.
“I think there’s a lot of people who have made some amazing changes in their lives. I wish they would share how many times they failed before they were successful,” said Amy Seery, a pediatrician who serves on the Via Christi Family Medicine Residency Program faculty.
If you’ve tried to lose weight or quit smoking or better balance work and life and failed before, dig deep about what went wrong.
“Maybe you approached it from the wrong angle,” Seery said. “There are going to be hurdles. Decide ‘Here’s how I’m going to work around them’ and find a way to make the hurdles not stop you. Don’t keep writing things off or finding excuses.”
And if you don’t hit your smaller goal, think to yourself: “If you’re doing better than the month prior, that’s an achievement.”
Seery said she has a friend who wanted to organize her baby’s photo album but never seemed to find the time to do so. Her friend’s husband had one night out with the guys, so her friend decided to carve out two hours a week to work on the baby book.
“She set aside two hours Wednesdays nights. Her hurdle was how to carve out time for this,” she said.
For Harder, getting healthy meant a “complete lifestyle change. I had to change what I was doing. I was fed up with being overweight and being out of shape. I finally had just had enough and I needed to do this for myself and for my family. You just have to make a decision to do it. You can’t let anything stand in your way.”
As for that coat she spied more than a year ago? Her husband bought it for her even though it didn’t fit then. It’s gray and black with a faux fur collar that ties at the top.
“It looks really vintage,” Harder said. “It’s so pretty.”
How to be successful at resolutions
▪ Break your goal into smaller pieces. If you want to lose 50 pounds, for example, start out by saying you want to lose five pounds by a certain date and 10 pounds by another date. If you want to spend more time with family, commit to stop taking work calls after a certain time, say 6 p.m.
▪ Enlist support. Quit smoking with someone else who wants to kick cigarettes to the curb. Hold each other accountable. Celebrate each other’s achievements.
▪ Don’t make excuses. If your goal is truly important to you, you will make time to do it.
▪ Perhaps most important, make sure your goal is for yourself, not someone else.