How to Invest in You in 2012


Check out these tips to take action on your New Year's resolutions.

By Amanda Hearle    

We often treat resolutions like birthday wishes - they're nice to dream about, but they'll probably never come true. Don't let this be another year where your resolutions evaporate like the smoke from a birthday candle.

Instead, set a plan in place to ensure that you follow through. Whether your resolution involves going back to school or quitting smoking, preparing a strategy is an essential part of making resolutions stick, according to John Norcross, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Scranton.

To help you begin the New Year on the right foot, we put together this list of practical tips to help you turn your resolutions from wishes into concrete changes.

Resolution #1 - Learn Something New

Are you ready to switch careers, or just eager for a new challenge? Going back to school could expand your knowledge and open the doors for new opportunities in your professional life. Here are a few education options to consider:

  • Earn a degree: From master's, bachelor's, associate's, and certificate programs, there are degree options that could help you move forward at any stage of your academic and professional life.

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  • Take online classes: An online education gives you the flexibility to attend classes when and where it's convenient for you. This means that you could maintain your daily responsibilities - whether it's work, family, or social responsibilities - and still go back to school.

Resolution #2 - Get Active

While some people dream of running a marathon, many would settle for not getting winded going up a flight of stairs. Whatever your reasons or goals, here are some tips for starting a healthy, safe exercise routine:

  • Start small: The American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, but everyone needs to start somewhere. Start with 10 to 15 minutes a day of walking or jogging. After a few weeks, start inching closer to that 30-minute mark.
  • Vary your routine: Working on those biceps may boost your self-esteem, but you're more than just an arm. Remember to exercise in a way that benefits your whole body. According to the ACE, a complete, safe, and effective fitness program should include aerobic exercise, muscular conditioning, and flexibility exercise.

Resolution #3 - Lose Weight

It's that time of year when all our bad eating decisions from the holidays come back to haunt us. Get out of the vicious cycle and take control of your diet with these tips:

  • Do it for the right reasons: "Many people find more success when they find other reasons [besides losing weight] to change their diet," says dietician Rachael Richardson. Understanding how a healthier diet can improve sleep and brain function, increase energy, and reduce pain - to name a few examples - can help you stay motivated when faced with temptation.
  • Cut back on sweets and junk food: Giving up sweets and junk food cold turkey usually leads to secret late night binges and an unhealthy dose of guilt. Start by limiting what you eat rather than cutting them out completely. For example, if you usually drink two sodas a day, try drinking just one. As you begin feeling better and losing weight, you'll be more motivated to continue cutting back.

Resolution #4 - Quit Smoking

You probably already know that smoking puts you at greater risk for heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer. But knowing the reasons to quit isn't always enough to kick the habit. Sometimes you need extra help. Consider these tips:

  • Look into Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT): This method includes nicotine patches, inhalers, nasal spray, and lozenges. In a survey of 132 clinical trials, the Cochrane Collaboration, an international nonprofit, found that NRTs help increase your chances of quitting by 50 to 70 percent. Take time to do some research and talk with your doctor about what NRT could work best for you.
  • Find a support group: Quitting can be easier when you're surrounded by people who share your struggles and your commitment. Nicotine Anonymous (NA) is a national network of support groups with meetings 365 days a year.

Resolution #5 - Help Those in Need

Looking for a way to make a positive impact? Volunteering with a nonprofit organization can help you give back to your community. Here are some ways to get connected:

  • Tap into your passion: Think about what you really love to do. Are you a gifted artist, an athlete, or a reader? Whatever your passion, it can help those in need. You could mentor a child, read to the elderly, or coach a sports team.
  • Put your professional background to work: Many nonprofits rely on volunteers to work in a variety of areas. If you have a professional background in marketing, administration, finance, or business, your experience could be invaluable in providing training, streamlining administrative tasks and more.

Resolution #6 - Save Money

The New Year is a great time for making financial resolutions and breaking them as soon as the first clearance sale hits. Don't let your good intentions collapse at the sight of the first 50 percent off poster. Consider these plans to take control of your spending:

  • Set a goal: It's no good saying, "I want to save money" without knowing why. Ask yourself where you hope to be financially in 10 years. Do you see yourself out of debt, buying a house, or traveling the world? As financial advisor Keith Newcomb says, "If you take the time to think through your values and what's important to you, it's easier to resist what feels good now."
  • Set a budget: Tossing your receipts in a drawer and not looking at them till tax season is no way to control your spending. Find a systematic way to track your expenses and spending. There are several online options, such as Mint, that provide free services for categorizing your expenses, tracking spending, and setting long-term financial goals.

Resolution #7 - Spend More Time with Loved Ones

Can't remember the last time you had a family gathering that didn't revolve around the television? With all your obligations leaving you short on time and energy, consider a more proactive approach to quality family time:

  • Reinstate family dinners: Regular family dinners have been linked to better achievement in school, fewer behavioral problems, and healthier dietary patterns in children. Anne Fishel, a professor of clinical psychology at Harvard, explains that mealtime "is a medium of play - a way for families to have pleasure with one another."
  • Plan a vacation: There are plenty of fun and relatively inexpensive ways to get away as a family. Consider visiting one of our nation's 397 national parks. Annual passes are just $80, according to the U.S. Forest Service, and can be used for family hikes, backpacking, and camping trips.

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