Editor's note: This is a favorite column from the archives. It was published Dec. 28, 2005.
It's almost here, the beginning of a new year.
Have New Year's resolutions been whispering inside your head? I've heard them in mine. Although it may seem cliché, Jan. 1 marks two significant milestones for me.
On Jan. 1, 1988, I quit smoking cigarettes and haven't smoked a cigarette since. My wife and I quit at the same time, which turned out to be a good-news, bad-news situation. Good news: We could support each other through the difficult times of nicotine withdrawal and hopefully quit forever. Bad news: It's hard to be supportive when you're in the throes of withdrawal.
Yes, there were difficult and trying moments over the first weeks, but in the end, we made it. Soon after quitting we bought two new cars and used the money saved from not buying cigarettes to make car payments on both. Rewarding ourselves with something as substantial as cars gave us a clear, positive picture of what quitting could do for us and kept us going.
In a few short days, I'll celebrate 18 years of not smoking.
Unfortunately, I gained about 10 percent of my body weight after quitting. For someone who liked to cook and eat, the fact that food tasted much, much better only improved an already good appetite.
Two years later I welcomed the new year by deciding to enroll in a weight-loss program that would ultimately help me lose more than 100 pounds (that included what I added after I quit the nicotine sticks). Before then I'd tried and failed to quit smoking and lose weight at the same time. Only when I stopped trying to accomplish them simultaneously did I finally achieve both goals.
New Year's resolutions aren't, as some say, a waste of time. Change always requires a beginning. Races begin with the firing of a starting pistol. Picking a beginning date may not be so dramatic, but it stills means one thing: A beginning.
One thing I believed when I began my weight loss: It didn't matter how much weight I lost each week, even if I lost nothing. Losing nothing meant that I gained nothing. That's success, too. The knowledge that losing just one pound a week meant losing more than 50 pounds at the end of one year kept me on track.
I also learned to write down everything that I ate, and I still do. If nothing else, it makes me think about every piece of food I put in my mouth. When faced with temptation I always ask: "Do I want it bad enough to write it down?" Many times the answer is "No." A diary helps me look back on the week before weigh day to see why my weight changed, for better or worse.
Every new day offers the possibility and hope that it will be better than the day before. Every day you succeed at change is another day closer to reaching your goal. You can do it, just start at the beginning.
• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write to him at don@ theleanwizard.com.