By Dr. Robin F. Goodman, VOICES Director of Family Programs
There is often much hope and optimism at the start of a new year. Many people are fueled by relief that the hectic holidays are over. Life becomes more routine and predictable again. Tearing off the last page of an old calendar and turning to the first page on a new one provides people with the chance to make a fresh start. But some people look back and get bogged down by the piles of things half done or undone and feel more overwhelmed and defeated.
Reflecting on the past and looking towards the future has become quite common and can be helpful. This often results in making resolutions. Although making resolutions is commonplace, carrying them out is less common. Soon into the New Year, people are faced with the pressure (or guilt) about keeping their promises. There are things you can do to be more successful with your resolutions. The following thoughts might help you get started and finish.
How to make resolutions
· Set the right goals: Resolutions should have personal meaning. Doing something to please someone else or prove something can backfire. Making changes for the wrong reasons can lead to resentment and ultimately a lack of resolve.
· Consider the different areas of your life: Go beyond the obvious and usual resolutions. Think about all the places you may want to change course in your life:
o your family
o your physical and emotional health
o your finances
o your mind
o your social life
o your community
o your spiritual life
· Maintain perspective: No one is perfect and no one’s life is perfect. You don’t usually see messy closets advertised as the gold standard. But there are many happy, fulfilled and successful people with closets organized "enough".
· Avoid "if only" and black and white thinking: "If only I lose 10 pounds…if only I had a better job….if only my son gets into college". Take the time to count up and attend to the things that are going right, that you do well, and make you happy now. Enjoy and appreciate things as they happen and change.
· Learn from the past: If you keep making the same resolutions over and over and they’re not getting accomplished, it’s time to understand why. You may not be the problem. But you may have the wrong goal and be using the wrong strategy.
· Don’t compete or compare now and then: Focus on your individual life, personality style and goals. It’s easy to look back at how things used to be. Especially for those impacted by 9/11, things will never be the same again. There’s a natural tendency to think about how things were better before the attacks, or compare yourself to others who have not gone through such a tragedy. It’s tough, but it is important to monitor when you are stuck by wishes to go back in time.
How to carry out resolutions
· Know yourself: You may read or hear lots of advice but if it doesn’t fit for you, don’t use it. If you’re a night owl, don’t resolve to get up an hour early to do paperwork. Instead, schedule in 30 minutes of desk work before a favorite nighttime TV show. Working a goal into your natural preferences makes it easier to stick to a plan.
· Be specific: Everyone has lofty goals and aspirations – no stronger than at the beginning of the New Year. The most common resolutions would make anyone’s life better – for example, be healthy, save money, be kind. These sound great but vague. When goals are vague, it’s impossible to know when they’ve been met. Better to figure out what "healthier", "saving more" and "being kinder" means for you and your particular life.
· Start small: Make your goals manageable. Progress happens step by step not all at once. It takes time to make and to break old habits and establish new ways of doing things. Think about the steps involved to get you where you want to go. No one would (or should) dare promise to run a marathon if she never jogged. Better to start with a one mile mix of jogging and walking and build up to a three mile fun run. If your goal is to be healthier, and you’re a meat and potatoes person, vow to eat one vegetable a day. Once established, challenge yourself to eat two a day.
· Keep track: The simple act of writing things down can make them more real. Seeing your goals on paper, scheduling activities that help you meet your goals, and keeping track of progress and obstacles enables you to understand what works and what needs to be revised.
· Expect slip ups: When things start to slide or life interferes with your best intentions, go easy on yourself. Instead of feeling like a failure, assess what happened and how to get back on track. Determine if you need to revise the original plan, scale down your expectations, or use a new approach. If you never make it to the gym 3 times a week as you vowed, perhaps it’s better to park the car farther away from the office 3 times a week.
· Reward your success – big and small: You can and should celebrate the journey – even a day or week of sticking to our guns should be acknowledged.
· Involve others: Support is necessary and camaraderie can be invaluable. Others can be used as a sounding board, help you stay on track and boost your spirits when you slack off. In addition, helping someone else stay focused and motivated can make you feel better and remind you to stay committed to your own plan.
· Have the right attitude: Believing in yourself and your ability to make change goes a long way to getting you there. The ultimate payoff is to feel more in control of your life.
References and Resources
Make 2005 Resolutions a Reality: www.webmd.com/content/article/97/103973
To Ten New Year’s Resolutions pittsburgh.about.com/cs/holidays/tp/resolutions.htm
Twenty Healthy New Year’s Resolutions for Kids: www.aap.org/advocacy/releases/jankidstips.htm
Where to Begin: Expert Advice on Maintaining Resolutions: www.umm.edu/features/prepare.htm