By Lisa Chinn
As the end of December approaches, many of us are beginning to think about an annual end-of-the-year ritual: the New Year’s resolution. For some, New Year’s resolutions are inspiring tools to help better oneself each year. For many, previous resolutions are also reminders of crash diets, gym memberships that lasted only from January through March, and numerous other unachieved goals.
What makes a good resolution? Well, it should be a positive thing in your life, but it also needs to be attainable. Attainable doesn’t just mean that the resolution is physically possible to accomplish with the 24 hours we have each day. Attainable also means that you can accomplish it without severely reducing your quality of life and without driving yourself so crazy that you want to give up. A realistic plan might mean attending a twice-weekly yoga class rather than planning to work out for two hours before work each day and then operating on a smaller amount of sleep. An achievable plan might mean eating two small pieces of chocolate for dessert instead of the usual four, not cutting out sweets all together. After all, aren’t resolutions supposed to improve our quality of life?
Think about areas of your life you’d like to work on. For me, a big one is having a more consistent sleep schedule when my work hours are inconsistent. For many people, high priority improvements include healthy lifestyle changes, budgeting goals, learning something new, giving back more to the community, or spending more time with loved ones.
Once you’ve identified something you’d like to improve, brainstorm ways that you could improve in this area. It’s better to have an actual action as a resolution rather than just a goal. For example, it’s easier to cut back on sugar and processed foods than it is to stick to a vague goal of eating healthier. It’s easier to save $40 per month by eating out less often than it is to stick to a goal of simply spending less next year.
Making an actual list is helpful, because you can easily compare different potential resolutions. Write down solutions that require drastically different amounts of effort. For example, a list of ideas for getting in shape might include something as small taking the stairs instead of the elevator once a week and something as big as training for a marathon next fall.
Making a Choice
Sometimes, the best resolution choice will be obvious to you. Other times, it can be more difficult to decide exactly what action you want to commit to in order to accomplish your goal. Narrow your list down as much as possible, making sure to reconsider the least beneficial and most time-consuming, self-depriving, and physically demanding options. Taking the stairs once per week might not make enough of a difference, while training for a marathon might aggravate an old knee injury too much. However, walking the dog for a half hour longer each day or signing up for a twice-weekly class at your gym might make a difference and be realistic.
If you’re having a really hard time choosing the right resolution, try flipping a coin. I like flipping coins, because I often find myself rooting for a certain outcome while the coin is in the air. It helps me discover what I really want, and I often go with the side I rooted for rather than what the coin chooses. If you don’t find yourself rooting for heads or tails, at least the coin will help you make a decision.
Keeping the Resolution
Make a plan and stick to it as best as you can. With a little luck and some New Year’s motivation, it will be easy to stick to the resolution, at least for a while. For long term motivation, some people find it very helpful to share a resolution with a friend and stick to it together. It’s easier to make it to the gym when a friend is there waiting for you or to spend less money when you have a friend who’s interested in making inexpensive meals at home together. Encourage your friend and reward her at milestone points with something that will make it easier to continue sticking to the resolution. For example, after a few months of regular attendance at yoga class, reward your friend with a new yoga bag or by paying for her class one day. After making dinner at home for a few months, buy your friend a cookbook full of new meal ideas or present her with a gift of few of your favorite (handwritten) recipes. The gift doesn’t need to be extravagant, just something that shows you are proud of her and will encourage both of you to keep going.
A common trap people fall into with resolutions is quitting them once they mess up one or two times. It’s easy to get discouraged if you fall behind schedule, but keep in mind that the resolution can still improve your life. If you overspend or overeat once, don’t decide to give up on the whole resolution because you feel as though you’ve already messed it up. Instead, get back on track and remember how much you can accomplish with the portion of the year you have left. So what if by the end of the year you’ve attended 70 aerobics classes instead of the 85 you originally planned to attend? You will still be in much better shape than if you had let a slip up derail your entire resolution. Nothing in life goes as planned 100 percent of the time, including resolutions.
This year part of my resolution will be to get up immediately when my alarm goes off (after 7-8 hours of sleeping), without snoozing a few times. I love the idea of waking up at 6 a.m. every day and starting to write bright and early, but I know that my work suffers if I start out tired on a regular basis. Instead, I’m choosing a goal that will improve my sleeping patterns without making me get up too early to function.
Readers, I’d love to hear about your goals and your realistic plans for attaining them. If anyone has any resolution success stories, tips, or ideas, please feel free to share them in the comments below!
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