New year, clean slate

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There is something about the shiny pages of a new calendar that makes everyone feel that the slate is just as clean. There are no coffee rings yet on the desk calendar. There isn't a single birthday or "bill due" note scribbled in any of the date squares, which means that there also haven't been any forgotten birthdays or overdue bills yet.

For the first week of January, everyone is optimistic.

They pull out a pen and a piece of lined paper and write down a list of new year's resolutions.

New year's resolutions typically fall into three categories: physical, spiritual and financial. In an informal survey of 15 Steamboat residents, almost all were promising to lose weight, go to the gym and eat healthier in 2005.

Simonne Oliver, fitness director at the Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Center, said that at this time every year, she and her staff of personal trainers get really busy.

"Everyone wants to start off the new year on the right foot," she said. The new resolutions typically last until mid-February, and then people start giving up, one by one.

The problem, Oliver said, is that people do not set reasonable or attainable goals for themselves.

"They've taken a lot of years getting unfit, and it takes awhile to get fit again," she said. "They have to make it a part of their life for the rest of their life."

The best way to ensure that you stick with a new year's resolution is to be careful about the way you word that resolution. Saying that you are going to lose 10 pounds is a different sort of resolution from setting a goal to live a healthier life.

Someone set on losing 10 pounds will throw themselves into a strict diet and a difficult workout routine that will disappear when the pounds are gone, but the key to changing your lifestyle, Oliver said, is to start slowly.

"Don't overload yourself," she said. "If you aren't used to working out, come in two days a week."

For people who have never been in the gym before, the Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Center offers a free orientation to the weight room with each membership. A personal trainer shows you how to use the equipment.

"A lot of people come into the weight room, and they have no idea where to start," Oliver said. "They are intimidated."

She also advises that going to the gym isn't for everyone.

"Walking is also good exercise," she said. "You shouldn't feel that you have to be inside a building to get fit and be healthy. Meeting the goal of being healthier is to do something every day, even if it's as simple as eating something healthy or doing an exercise or sitting and laughing with someone."

The second kind of new year's resolutions people make are spiritual. They promise themselves to go to church more, read the Bible more or, in general, be a better, happier, more spiritual person in some way.

Tim Selby, pastoral associate at the United Methodist Church of Steamboat Springs, has been thinking a lot about the spiritual resolutions people make this time of year.

"The first thing I was thinking was the spiritual (resolutions) are a little more secondary to things like losing weight," he said. Just as Oliver told her health conscious goal-makers to watch the way they make resolutions, Selby told spiritual goal-setters to think before they make resolutions.

"The new year is a good time to envision where we want to go spiritually," Selby said. "Think a little more about the bigger picture than just assigning yourself a task. Ask yourself, 'Who do I want to be?' and 'What do I want to bring to the world?'"

When those questions are answered, the steps to reach the larger goal will present themselves naturally, he said.

Many people set a concrete resolution for themselves, such as reading the Bible every day. For the first month, they pick up the Bible every day, then they get busy and forget for a few days. They missed their goal. They failed. They quit.

"I think it's good to set goals, but be gracious with yourself," Selby said. "People who set those kind of goals usually feel like they failed in some area, but rigid goal-setting just sets you up for more failure. It's a cycle."

The third most popular kind of new year's resolution to make is financial. Of the Steamboat residents informally surveyed, most wanted to budget better this year to be able to set money aside.

Joe Birkenbine, financial advisor at ATP Financial Services in Steamboat, wrote an article titled, "How Can I Keep My Money from Slipping Away?" He advises "the four As" for success -- accounting, analysis, allocation, adjustment.

Accounting: "Gathering all your financial information -- such as mortgage payments, credit card statements, and auto loans -- and listing it systematically will give you a clear picture of your overall situation," Birkenbine wrote.

Analysis: "Reduce restaurant expenses or spending on non-essential personal items by $100 per month," he wrote. "Use the extra money to prepay the principal on your mortgage. On a $130,000, 30-year mortgage, this extra $100 per month could enable you to pay it off 10 years early and save you thousands of dollars in interest payments."

Allocation: "Distinguish between your real needs and your wants."

Adjustment: "Review your income periodically and make changes. For example, as a new parent, you might be wise to shift some assets in order to start a college education fund for your child."

-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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