Tips for Making—and Keeping—New Year’s Resolutions
by Karina L. Fabian
New Year’s resolution-making is a tradition over four thousand years old. The ancient Babylonians made resolutions as part of their New Year’s celebrations, according to Charles Panati, author of Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things. The favorite resolutions of this ancient people were to get out of debt and to return all tools and household utensils they had borrowed the year before. (Remember that rake I borrowed…?)
Getting out of debt aside, modern New Year’s resolutions seem to have gotten more complex. We want to lose weight, have a calmer family life, find new success in our careers, write a best seller--or all of the above. Is it any wonder so many resolutions flag after a month?
The bad news is that many of us make and break goals, in the form of New Year’s resolutions and otherwise, throughout our lives. The good news is that the problem often lies in the resolution itself. It may be unrealistic, unclear or somehow at odds with another life goal we’ve set for ourselves.
If you’re willing to try a resolution or two, consider these tips:
• Set attainable goals. Goals must reflect your abilities and resources, not someone else’s idea of what you “should” do. That woman in the magazine might lose 50 pounds in 3 months, but unless you have the time and will (personal trainers, organic garden, etc.) she had, perhaps losing 15 pounds in 4 months and keeping it off all year would be more realistic. When you determine your resolution, examine your life: what changes will you need to make to meet this goal? Are you willing to make those changes? If not, find a new goal.
• Set clear, measurable goals. A nebulous goal like “play more with the kids” is easy to set aside. “Spend one afternoon a week just playing with the kids” is something you can schedule, plan for—and meet. State your goal in terms of time, deadlines, measurements, or other concrete details.
• Expect setbacks. No one learns to run or read or balance a checkbook perfectly the first time, yet we continue trying until we have some mastery. The same goes for resolutions; remember that two steps forward and one back is still progress.
• Examine failure. If you constantly break your resolution, particularly if you’ve made and broken the same one over years, examine what’s keeping you from your goal. Does some other goal conflict with it, such as spending more time with your family conflict with your goal of becoming sales manager of the year? Is the goal contrary to your purpose in life—you find you can’t make yourself clean house every day because you’d rather make Play Dough sculptures with your child? If you find a conflict, re-set your goals to something more realistic, or, if the goal is more important than what it conflicts with, make some changes.
Sometimes, we have a subconscious reason for breaking our resolutions. Psychologists and communicators Richard Bandler and John Grinder assert that every aspect of our personality, even our bad habits, exists for some positive purpose. For example, a married woman may subconsciously believe that if she works out, she’ll draw the attention of other men--and attract the jealousy of her husband. Subconsciously, then, she believes that by staying out of shape, she is preventing conflict in her marriage. In such cases, the person needs to find some other way to meet that subconscious goal—in this example, if jealousy is an issue, they may need to resolve with marriage counseling, or she may convince him to join her in a her work-out program, so that they build their relationship along with their muscles.
• Get help. Resolutions are easier to keep when someone else helps you keep them. Instead of vowing to work out at home, make a deal with a friend to walk on certain days, or get a personal trainer at the Y. If you’re writing that best-seller, recruit a friend, co-worker, someone involved in the topic to read it—and deliver them a certain number of pages each week. Then you have a promise to an outside party to motivate you, as well as a person to get you moving again if you stall.
If you’re not a person for resolutions, don’t worry; you’re in good company--though giving back that rake wouldn’t be such a bad idea.