By ALICIA WALLACE
We’re only two days in, so of course excitement about the new year is still in the air. It still feels like we have a lot of time and can do anything. Many of us have taken a serious look at 2018 — how we spent our time and energy, what we accomplished, where we went, who we chose to be around, what did and did not go well – and on and on. It is easy to look back on a period of time and pick ourselves apart, bit by bit, both for celebration and admonishment. This, coupled with the hope that comes with a fresh start, makes the new calendar year feel like a good time to make resolutions. We identify areas for improvement, growth and change, and resolve to make them happen in 12 months. Knowing we do this with so many other people, often shared items on our lists, gives it greater magnitude, and may even bring competition. While it is good to see fresh starts — not only with new years, but months, weeks, days, and hours — it is at least as important to put thought into what we want to do differently, why, and how we can make it possible. The resolution is just the beginning.
Go to the gym. Own a home. Quit smoking. Save money. Get into a certificate programme.
These are the kinds of resolutions people make every year. They are as vague as they are common. The way they are stated may be enough to share with an acquaintance, but does not do the work of making them specific to you, your current life and the life you envision for yourself when you succeed.
What is the big picture?
You want to start going to the gym. That may seem like a good idea. Maybe you need a safe place for physical activity, but for what purpose? Do you have specific goals connected to developing the habit of going to the gym? It could be that you want to have a particular type of body — more toned arms, a flatter stomach. You may be more interested in fitness — a stronger core, the ability to walk up a few flights of stairs without getting winded, certainty that you can keep up with fast-moving children. The gym habit may have been recommended by a mental health professional to help with the release of endorphins, or a medical doctor as part of a regimen. Whatever the reason, you need to note it in your resolution. Don’t get stuck on going to the gym and forget why you decided to do it. This becomes even more important on the difficult days when you just don’t feel like it and can’t come up with a single reason to push yourself. It’s also important for times when the gym isn’t an option. Remembering the reason for doing it can help you to come up with alternatives instead of writing it off. There are other ways to get physical activity in, increase your fitness level and release endorphins. If, however, your resolution is simply to go to the gym, when you are unable to afford the membership, travelling, or have to move, it just doesn’t happen. When you remember why, it is easier to think of other options.
What are the factors involved?
Home ownership is a massive undertaking. It is not something you wake up one day, decide to do and tackle in a matter of minutes. It’s not one of those things you practise for a while, or change a habit to accomplish. There are numerous components to this resolution. Simply resolving to own a home does not give you much to work with from January to December. Do you want to build or buy? What is your budget? How much will the down payment be? Can you qualify for a loan? Writing the steps to home ownership and the requirements can help you to break it down into actionable steps and goals. Those smaller steps will be much easier to work through week after week than the idea of owning a home.
How does your resolution relate to your current environment and habits?
Getting rid of habits and breaking routines are difficult. You can have every reason in the world to quit smoking, stop consuming alcohol, or change your spending habits, but there are probably triggers all around you. There are things you do every weekend, on lunch break, in the company of friends, or when under stress. Before resolving to end these practices, it is important to think about when you do them, what prompts you to do them, who is around at the time and what has kept you from changing them before. These all need to be addressed. It will not be easy to stop drinking beer if your friends buy rounds every time you go out. Your spending habits are not likely to change until you look at what you’re buying and why, and take a close look at your financial information to see the effect. Remember to create the environment you need to succeed, and to be realistic about changing your habits.
How many resolutions did you make?
Sometimes we overwhelm ourselves. We are seduced by the “new year, new me” refrain, and get anxious about the transformation we’re sure we can achieve. It’s fine to be ambitious. It is critical that we are realistic. How many changes can you make at once? Remember that, even if you resolve to make 20 changes this year, you do not have to tackle them all at once. It’s fine — and often a good idea — to stagger them. Developing the gym habit may be a focus from January to March, and you may decide to wait until February to decrease spending and increase your savings, after recovering from overspending during the holidays. June could be the best time to register for that online course you want to take because it’s a slow period at work. You don’t have to do it all at the same time. Look at your calendar, think about your existing commitments, and spread those resolutions out so you’re not burnt out and discouraged by March.
What will keep you going?
Even the smallest of changes can be difficult to make. Change does not tend to be comfortable. You need to be prepared to combat your own desire to give up. Build a support network. Decide — carefully — who to include in that network. Remember everyone does not want to see you succeed and some well-meaning people will be too harsh, or give you far too many passes. While it’s important to have a supportive community, it is critical you do not hitch your wagon to theirs. Workout partners may be fun, but when they can’t make it, that can easily become an excuse for you. Don’t let companionship become your reason for working toward your resolutions. Company is great, but your resolution is personal to you and connected to something more. You may slip up and miss some days, make a ridiculous purchase or not quite make your monthly goal, but keep going. Progress does not go away. Having done it before is a testament to what you are capable of doing. That said, you need a plan for dealing with guilt. That may be a progress chart you can revisit to remind yourself of how far you’ve come, a ten-minute allowance to wallow, a pep-talk from a supportive friend, or something. Whatever it is, plan it and use it when needed.
Resolutions are hard. There is the pressure of knowing a lot of people are doing it, ridicule from people who think they are silly or take pleasure in making social media posts in February about other people’s failures, and our own tendencies to judge ourselves harshly. Give yourself the best chance this year. Learn from previous mistakes and plan for the challenges you know will come. Connect resolutions to larger goals and break them down into smaller actions. Make sure your approach fits your lifestyle and environment.
If you have quite a few resolutions, stagger them over the next few months. Keep track of your progress, and don’t forget to reward yourself. After all this preparation and putting in the effort, you’ll deserve it.