The best New Year’s resolution: No new resolutions

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Jan. 04, 2015, at 1:28 p.m.

The lion’s share of New Year’s resolutions many of us made have to do with better health. The online health adviser WebMD has a common-sense suggestion in this regard: Resolve not to make any more resolutions.

Doing so lessens the unhealthy cycle of denying yourself, then binging to satisfy your craving. Instead, the one-day-at-a-time approach of 12-step and other lifestyle changing programs works on a more realistic theory: achieve one small success, then do it again.

This practice eliminates the need for a self-improvement laundry list on Jan. 1. You could pledge to lose weight, exercise more and volunteer 10 hours per week, all with the aim of feeling better. Or you could pledge to do one thing every day to feel better.

You could start now. Put down the paper (or push away from the screen), get up and take 100 steps. Walk around the house, find something that’s out of place and put it away. Or go outside and get the mail. You’ve moved, gotten a bit of exercise and put something material in its place; you haven’t expended that much effort, but you probably feel better.

Contrast this with those of us who have bought year-long gym memberships and not used them.

Many gyms count on this phenomenon — they can sell thousands of memberships at bargain prices when their facility holds a few hundred people at most. What behavioral economists term “pre-commitment” acts serve to subsidize the truly motivated members; those who don’t go are just poorer by the membership fee.

Make similar plans to lose weight, if that’s among your goals. Losing 1 pound every 10 days will leave you 36 pounds lighter by next New Year’s Day. That one-pound-at-a-time goal makes sense; visualizing the removal of 36 pounds all at once is neither medically advisable nor realistic.

While we’re focused on health, avoid products that claim quick fixes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has articles about scam products at www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ProtectYourself/HealthFraud/default.htm.

Use your internal radar on flimsy claims including “quick results,” “no-risk trial” and “money-back guarantee.”

Take small steps to feel better about protecting your identity. When you need to provide a password — on secure websites only, please — use a strong series of letters, numbers and symbols that you haven’t used anywhere else and which only you know. Check for computer system updates and patches often, and keep your security software updated. Don’t click or download anything from any unknown source, and delete suspicious looking emails without opening them.

Read the Federal Trade Commission’s list of what to do and what not to do in keeping your identity safe at www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0272-how-keep-your-personal-information-secure.

Review the list frequently and try one new tool every time you read it. Find out how to get your truly free credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com. You’re entitled to one annually from each of the three reporting agencies; get one now, one in early May and one in early September.

Being a smart consumer involves much more than looking for deals. It means taking single steps on our long journeys through the marketplace.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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