My best friend often scoffs at the entire notion of having New Years resolutions. It is his belief that New Years Day amounts to an arbitrary day of the year to make promises and goals that we give up on days later. To some extent I agree with him. However, every year I dutifully make a list of ten items that I’d like to accomplish by year’s end. While I do often achieve one or two of the goals, like so many others, I fail to do the majority of my list. In recent years I’ve tried to scale the list down to five goals. That doesn’t seem to work either. Regardless, I’m again going to make my list and try yet again to accomplish it. The difference this year being that I’m aiming for five attainable goals.
I think that the key in making resolutions is in making ones that you don’t just hope to do but those that you are actually likely to do. The usual failed resolutions involve radically changing behavior that’s ingrained into our lifestyles. For example, most Americans want to lose weight. Actually, most Americans (including myself) need to lose weight. However, the detriment in making a resolution about losing weight is that we make unrealistic expectations of ourselves. We say “I’m going to exercise everyday for at least 30 minutes” when we really should say, “I’m going to exercise three times a week for at least 30 minutes.” Considering that many of us do very little exercising the aim is changing our behavior gradually and not trying to do so radically. It’s like having someone go cold turkey. It seldom works. Would you much rather complete a goal or be discouraged by completely failing at it? I’m the type who can get caught up in the lack of completion rather than in the actual steps. Even if I workout five out of the seven days in a week I become discouraged and am unlikely to continue. I’ll just mark it off the list as an incomplete.
Last year I resolved to read at least one book per month. Yes, I know, there’s a perception that librarians are avid readers. I was in my youth but as an adult I’ve been a horrible reader. Five college degrees left little time for leisure reading. I’d previously started reading more regularly and decided that my goal would be to read 12 books, one book per month. As I had already been reading it wasn’t a goal that required a radical change in my habits, it was a realistic and attainable resolution given my present behavior. Setting that goal was to reaffirm my commitment to reading. I surpassed my goal and was able to complete 15 books. It felt so great doing something that I knew that I could realistically complete.
I really don’t think that New Years resolutions are necessarily meant to be something that requires one to radically change. I think that they’re meant to nudge you in the right direction. Having said that, you should keep your list short and capitalize on the things that you already do that you’d like to improve upon. It certainly makes it more likely that you’ll actually complete your resolutions. After confidently completing those the more daunting goals will be easier to slowly integrated into your lifestyle. Also, make your list realistic and be sure to write it down. Don’t expect to change your behavior overnight.
Always keep the list with you and mark off your completions as you do them. This provides you with positive affirmation and bolsters your belief in yourself and your ability to start and finish tasks. Don’t get caught up in the details. If you aren’t able to complete your goal concentrate on the steps that you took and if necessary, readjust. So, if you find that you consistently work out two days a week instead of three, modify your goal and then next year push for that extra day.
It’s easy to become discouraged, I do all the time, but it’s all a matter of keeping things in perspective. Nothing ever really goes as planned but having a plan is still crucial as it provides you with focus and reason to succeed in the things that are important to you. Having and even completing the same goal for more than one to two years is really okay. You’re trying to create a habit, a permanent change in your lifestyle so take the time you need to do so.
Lastly, a New Years resolution doesn’t have to be made at the start of the year, it’s just important to start and hopefully complete them. As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built-in a day and neither are things that you want to do to change behavior in your life. Hang in there, you can do it!
This article appeared on page 5A in the 1/11/12 issue of The Union-Recorder.