At this same time every year, millions of people around the world resolve to make their lives into something better than the year before. We begin with a strong start — putting out those last cigarettes, dumping all the junk food and booze, hitting the gym, etc. We make vows to our loved ones, children and colleagues that we will improve our lives by spending more time with our family, working harder and more diligently, and just being better all around. We implement our plans with so much gusto and gumption that, surely, nothing could possibly sidetrack us. After all, doing the right thing, albeit sometimes difficult, feels good and, thereby, is its own reward.

But as the optimism of ringing in the New Year wears off and the normal stresses of daily life take a toll on us, we begin justifying why our resolutions are too difficult to carry out. The paradox is, however, that if we continued on with those things that we were certain would make us feel better, the everyday stresses would seem minimal as we neared our personal and professional goals.

This week, as you round out your final resolutions for the year, we would like to make a few suggestions. While cold turkey works for some, most people function better making small changes to their lifestyles, one at a time. We believe baby steps are necessary before you can progress to leaps and bounds.

When it comes to making changes and following through on resolutions, there are a few fundamental aspects of our community, our society, that if just one person make a change to his or her daily, weekly or even monthly routine in one of those areas, he or she can make a substantial difference. When it comes to the environment, philanthropy, humanity, health and even politics, if each person decided to do just one thing differently this year, the effects would be profound.

Here are some suggestions:
Environment: 1.) Reduce our carbon footprint — ride a bike to work (for more information, go to www.bikeleague.org, change out old light bulbs for eco-friendly ones, (greenhome.com), etc.; 2.) Keep our water clean — use green soap and other cleaning products whenever possible. (Greeniacs.com teaches you how to make green, eco-friendly soap.) 3.) Share the wealth — plant vegetables instead of flowers this year and surprise your neighbors with fresh veggies. (For more information on community gardening locally, go to www.venturaproducecooperative.blogspot.comwww.veggietrader.com or become a volunteer with FOOD Share’s Garden Share program by calling 983-7100.)

Philanthropy: Put aside 30 cents a day, or just $10 a month; and every six months, donate to a local charity. (A good place to start is the National Charity League Inc., the Ventura County chapter. For more information, go to www.nclventura.org.)

Humanity: Take one day a month or even just one day this year, to volunteer. (To find the cause of your choice, go to www.volunteerventuracounty.org.)

Health: 1.) Opt for a home-cooked meal over hamburger and fries as often as possible — it not only gets the creative juices flowing, but keeps the calories off, too. (For low-cal recipes, go to lowcaloriecooking.about.com.) 2.) Walk, jog or bike, whenever, wherever. 3.) Always remember, laughter is the best medicine. (One study shows 10 to 15 minutes of laughter can burn off as much as 40 calories a day.)

Politics: Get involved. It is too often that our communities become split over the way our elected officials do things. This year, have your voice be heard. Start off with by joining a local organization and make a difference. (For more information, go to www.dosomething.org.)

Just remember, it doesn’t take much to start a fire, but once you have that spark, the possibilities are endless.