And that's where those pesky new year's resolutions come in. There is something about that seeing that clean slate, that new, unspent year, that makes us want to do better and be better. And so we take stock (always a good thing) and make all kinds of promises to ourselves. Often we start out with a bang, jumping into a new diet, running off to the gym, starting that great American novel. The problem with those big bangs is they can take so much energy we wind up pooping out with a fizzle. The chocolate calls us, the gym is too much work. And the novel? Well, who knew it would take so much of our time?! In spite of those problems I'm still a fan of new year's resolutions and new beginnings. I do think we have to find a way to maintain them though, so here are some suggestions that might help us all.
1. Make it realistic
Getting your first book published and then optioned by a big Hollywood producer might not be a realistic goal for 2011. Finishing your first book and finding an agent? That's more realistic. Cutting out everything you love and eating nothing but vegetables and vitamins? Very noble. But maybe start with stopping your evening snacking.
2. Break it down into doable steps
If you're wanting to write that great American novel, let's start by planning to spend January coming up with an idea and an outline. Then maybe plan to designate a couple of evenings or some mornings a week as your writing time for the next few months. Plan to write a certain amount of pages every week, say ten or twenty. That doesn't sound like much but it will add up. It's doable. How about getting more exercise? Boy, there's one we all vow to do. And there's one vow a lot of us break. Our local Rotary Club holds a giant auction-garage sale every summer. There is always an entire corner of the middle-school's parking lot filled with workout equipment, probably much of it purchased in January. (Proof that the best laid plans of mice and men and would-be fitness freaks often go astray.) Go easy on yourself and plan a workout routine you know you'll maintain. Maybe start by signing up for a water aerobics class or planning to walk one day a week with your neighbor. One day a week - that's doable for most of us. Both these strategies lead us to suggestion number three...
3. Find a way to glue your resolution to your life
Just thinking, "Boy, am I going to change" won't necessarily alter you. Most of us, when forming new habits, need some training wheels to keep us moving down the road. Paying for something often motivates us to follow through. ("I paid for those darned aerobics classes - I'm going to get my money's worth.") Paying doesn't always do it though. Otherwise, there would be no work-out equipment at the annual Rotary event. Many people buy gym memberships in January which they're not using come June. When it comes to making improvements we often need to bring in reinforcements. Find someone to hold you accountable. Get a walking buddy. Join an exercise class with a friend (and carpool to it together). If you're trying to lose weight, find someone to attend Weight Watchers with you. This will help you stay on track. At least I've found this to be true in my own life. When Me is in charge of little Sheila's behavior, well, good old Me lets little Sheila get away with a lot. Another way we glue that resolution to our every day life is to make sure our environment isn't sabotaging us. Remember what Dr. Phil says: create a fail-proof environment. If you want to lose weight, keeping Ding Dongs in the cupboard is a bad idea. Same goes for all that Christmas candy you got on sale December 26th. I know, I know. It was I'm sale. I'm just sayin'.
4. Be patient with yourself
We all fall off the wagon once in awhile. Some of us several times in a while. (Ask me how I know this!) Don't beat yourself up. Instead, haul yourself back up on that wagon and keep on truckin'. Failing doesn't make you a failure. Quitting makes you a failure. (Unless you're trying to quit smoking. - in that case I hope you become a quitter!)
5. Celebrate every success
Congratulate yourself when you get a pile of pages done on that great American novel. Crow about it. Go out to lunch and celebrate when you finish the book. Take a picture of that lovely pile of pages. Buy a bottle of champagne. If you lose twenty pounds reward yourself with a couple of new items of clothing. (Heck, if you lose twenty pounds you'll need new clothes - your old ones will be falling off. And won't that be a great problem to have!) Those little celebrations when we master a step that takes us closer to our goal are our positive reinforcement. They make us feel good. And when we feel good, well, we want to keep doing what makes us feel good. That makes for a great cycle of success.
I don't know about you but I've already made some resolutions for the new year - one of them being to eat better. Which means it's probably time for the Hershey's kisses I got on sale to go in the freezer. At least there they won't be sitting right under my nose. (Yes, like many of you, I got candy on sale after Christmas!) Of course, I have some other resolutions floating around at the back of my head. I want to be more generous, I want to be an encouragement to my family and friends, I want to do a better job of living out my faith on a daily basis. Those are all lofty goals but obviously, I'm going to have to break them down into real, everyday life actions - with some specific goals and behaviors. But, hey, it's January 1 and I have high hopes. I hope you do, too.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!