ADVERTISEMENT

This is right about the time when it gets difficult.

If you made a New Year’s resolution on the first day of 2013, you’re just starting week 4.

You’ve been watching what you eat, or trying not to smoke or drink.

You’ve been cultivating a new good habit to replace a bad one. Or maybe you are trying to learn a new skill.

Whatever the case, there comes a time – often right about now – when the novelty of your resolution has worn off, and you are left with the bleak reality: Changing yourself can be hard.

Which is why we’re going to turn to the experts.

No, not a roster of self-help gurus, fitness coaches and therapists.

We’re talking struggle-toughened veterans of the New Year’s resolution campaign: Real people who have set goals for changing themselves or their lives as a new year began – and then actually achieved them.

Here, you will meet three Buffalo-area residents who decided they wanted to change something about their lives, and accomplished it. Hearing how they did it just may help you gain confidence, or build endurance, for keeping to your own quest for change in the new year.

And take heart. With three weeks down already, there are only 49 left until you are celebrating the close of 2013 – and, perhaps, a resolution victory.

Tapping a talent

Lovejoy resident Shauna Piwowar may use her husband’s Polish last name, but her own background is Scottish. And for years, Piwowar had wanted to connect better with that part of her heritage.

Then, in 2008, she came to a decision. As a personal resolution for the coming year, she would learn to play the bagpipes.

“I always loved bagpipe music,” said Piwowar, whose maiden name was Nichols. “As a kid, I was always the one who would say, ‘I’m going to learn to play the bagpipes, I’m going to learn to play the bagpipes.’

“So I finally said: ‘That does it.’ ”

Piwowar quickly learned a valuable lesson about self-improvement: Sometimes it’s better if you have a guide – at least at the beginning. Her earlier efforts at self-instruction in the traditional Scottish instrument, using a kit bought in a local shop, had resulted in very bad noises.

“I just wasn’t making good sounds at ALL,” she said, laughing at the memory. “I shoved everything away in a desk drawer.”

But in 2008, after finding an instructor to teach her lessons, Piwowar embarked upon her goal with both support and a plan. She would practice faithfully, listen to her teachers and set a goal that was simple and achievable: She wanted to be good enough to play with the other members of her extended family who play bagpipes and drums.

“The rest is history,” Piwowar said. “I have been taking lessons ever since.”

Piwowar chalks up some of her success to her patient husband – who enjoys her practice times, totaling about five hours a week minimum, and played “at full blast” – and the joy she now feels when she plays with her family.

“We have some pretty interesting family gatherings,” she said. “We now have three pipers and two drummers in the family, so we have our own group now. At family gatherings now, it’s kind of required.”

Her advice for others?

“What are you waiting for?” she said. “If you can’t answer a good reason why you’re waiting around, just do it. Just start.”

Skeptical inspiration

In January 2011, Lynn Miller was in a place she didn’t want to be. She had come through a tough couple of years, personally. Shortly after the New Year, she had lunch with an old friend and told him she wanted to set a modest goal for herself: She wanted to be able to run 5K (a little over three miles) on a treadmill.

“That had been something I had tried a couple of times before, but I never achieved it. I just gave up,” said Miller.

Her friend’s response – he told her bluntly, “You can’t do it. You can’t even run two miles” – was what really firmed up her motivation.

“Very soon after that, I did it,” said Miller.

But then she kept going.

Miller used a few tricks to motivate herself. She bought new running clothes, and she bought herself an iPod so she wouldn’t hear her own heavy breath as she ran. Soon, the old pal who had mocked her goals was offering to be her running coach.

Miller now loves running, which has become part of her daily life. She runs five days a week, typically, and outdoors if she can. She belongs to runners’ groups and participates in races. By 2014, she said, she will probably start thinking about a marathon.

Oh, and along the way? Miller saw her size drop from an 18 to a 4.

“That was an unintended side effect,” said the Cheektowaga resident, who works in public relations. “I’m right in the middle of my weight zone, for the first time in my life.”

“But the main goal was being strong – reminding myself I’m strong – and building myself up after those two bad years.”

Miller’s advice to others trying to meet a goal is to build a network of people around you who will provide support – even if those people feel, at first, like critics.

“I was lucky that he offered to coach me,” she said of her old friend. “For me, having someone hold me accountable was very important.”

“And,” Miller added, “once you start meeting people and getting into the running community, there’s no way you can fail.”

The Mom mission

Nancy DellaContrada’s resolution – made some six years ago now – was different from many typical New Year’s self-improvement plans.

That’s because it was more about her mother than herself. Also, it involved other people – her siblings.

DellaContrada said that she, along with her four sisters and brothers, all of whom live in Western New York, decided to set up a system for checking in on a daily basis with their mother, who is now 82.

The goal was clear: make sure that their mom, Maryann, was well and healthy each night before everybody went to bed.

So they devised a plan, with a schedule worked out for their mother to call one of them each evening. If the call doesn’t come by 9:30 p.m., that sibling is responsible for calling their mom, to check on her.

And if for some reason there is no answer, the sibling drives over to personally check in on Maryann – who lives in her own home in Cheektowaga, and still works part time.

“This is good,” said DellaContrada, an Orchard Park resident who is married and has two children, ages 9 and 11. “If we call and there’s no answer, I have gotten calls from my brothers and sisters at night, saying, do you know where mom is?”

Others who have heard of their set-up have admired it – or even considered adopting it.

“My husband even said, should I do that with my mom?” said DellaContrada. “Because he comes from a family of six kids, too.”

DellaContrada said she has been pleasantly surprised that her family has been able to keep the group resolution for six years now.

“It’s kind of surprised me that it’s lasted so long,” she said.

But, she said, it has had side benefits that they didn’t anticipate.

“It’s a nice way of communication,” she said. “And I like that I know what’s going on with the rest of the family.”

email: cvogel@buffnews.com