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RESOLUTIONS OFTEN TURN TO DISSOLUTION

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Most New Year's resolutions are doomed before the calendar even reads Jan. 2, a researcher says.

If you really want to lose weight or quit smoking, the trick is to start well before New Year's Day, says James Prochaska, a University of Rhode Island psychology professor and author of "Changing for Good.""An awful lot of people will fail because they set up to take action at New Year's but they're not adequately prepared," said Prochaska, who also directs the University of Rhode Island's Cancer Prevention Research Consortium, which searches for ways to alter behavior and thereby reduce people's chances of developing cancer or other diseases.

He said people pass through six stages on their way to stopping addictive behavior:

- Precontemplation. This stage, which can take years, consists of reinforcing the desire to change. "Your average couch potato in this stage could list maybe four or five pros to starting to work out," Prochaska said. "(You) are increasing motivation by discovering more motives for change."

- Contemplation. Action is still more than a month away - this is the time to play down the drawbacks of a change and take small steps to prepare for it.

- Preparation. The month before attempting a drastic behavior change, it's important to publicly state intentions, Prochaska said. "Many people don't go public because they're afraid to fail. That actually weakens their willpower. Public commitments are much stronger."

- Action. During this stage, which lasts several months, the temptation to relapse is strongest. "Be prepared to reward yourself more than others will reward you," Prochaska said. "Use positive self-statements like a coach would; coach yourself."

- Maintenance. This can last from five years to a lifetime and is most difficult during hard times. "Two-thirds of relapses come during times of emotional stress," Prochaska said. "The three best ways for dealing are talking with others about it, physical activity (and) some form of relaxation."

- Termination. In the final stage, the new behavior becomes as much a habit as the old one was.