The Care and Keeping of Resolutions
By Alyce Gilligan
January 2, 2012
Sometime between cleaning the Christmas wrapping paper off your floor and gathering to watch a blinking orb descend into Times Square, there is an internal shift. December begins to feel heavy, stifling you with the weight of the year behind it. Whatever those months held, good or bad, you imagine it can't compare with what awaits you after Jan. 1. The new calendar year represents a fresh start, each blank date a gleaming opportunity for improvement. And naturally, you begin to mentally craft a version of yourself capable of seizing this newer and better year. Next December will be different. By next December, you'll be a more exciting, intelligent and likable person—and, of course, in great shape.
Yes, everybody is good at making resolutions. Unfortunately, it’s the keeping of resolutions that actually counts—and that’s where most of us have difficulty.
This year, resolve to be better at your resolutions. Here are a few tips to make sure your good intentions stick around until 2012 closes (or the world ends).
1. Make well-rounded resolutions. There’s a reason people who work out often focus on a different muscle group each time they go to the gym. Progress limited to one area is lopsided and possibly damaging to the rest. When you draft your list of resolutions, find areas for improvement in your physical, spiritual, professional, personal and social life, even if it’s just something minor.
2. Less is more. Set a cap for your amount of resolutions. It’s OK if you don’t learn a new language, get out of debt, start writing a book, cut out sodas, visit Europe, bike every day and lead a small group all in the same year. Your list should be inspiring, not daunting. Be realistic about your time, money and abilities. By making diverse, meaningful and few resolutions, you limit the opportunities for failure and add more value to the goals you can commit to.
3. Think timely. What experiences are unique to 2012? Try to find goals that apply to them, and you’ll be more likely to achieve them within the time constraints. Given the election year ahead, perhaps you can resolve to be more informed and engaged in politics. Aim to read The Hobbit or The Hunger Games before their film counterpart reaches theaters. Be in better shape by the time you sit down to watch the London Olympics. Do you have a milestone awaiting you this year—graduation, marriage, new job, big move? Craft strategies that will enable you to reach it on time and with excellence.
4. Set goals—and schedules. The best way to bridge the gap between creating a goal and checking it off the list is to plan as much as possible. Don’t just get a big idea and then leave it up to chance and timing. Write up your workout routine, make appointments with that shelter you want to volunteer at or arrange weekly phone calls with people you want to keep in touch with more.
5. Use the buddy system. If possible, see if you share resolutions with your friends, family or spouse. Does your sister also want to get more involved in a church? Carpool every Sunday. Is your husband trying to go vegetarian this year too? Do all your grocery shopping together. Are you and a coworker both hoping to read 10 books? Pick the same titles so you can set deadlines to meet and talk about them.
6. Establish rewards ... To accompany that sense of satisfaction you'll feel when you achieve a goal, plan to reward yourself tangibly. Establish this reward system from the start and stick to it. It could be something simple—a nice dinner out, a new iTunes purchase, a day off. Or it could be something extravagant—a road trip, an e-reader, concert tickets for your favorite band. Just make sure your rewards don't interfere with the progress you've made; while it sounds fun, pigging out for a weekend because you've been eating healthier doesn't help you in the long run.
7. ... and penalties. Don't beat yourself up when you break a resolution—but don't let yourself off the hook either. Predetermine some sort of consequence. Why not make it something beneficial? Commit to cleaning up your hedges, waking up early for some sort of community service or redistributing your month's entertainment fund to a deserving charity. You might feel bad about the initial failure, but you'll feel good moving forward.
8. Create checkpoints. Choose a date in June to give yourself a mid-year review and track the progress you’ve made. If you’re feeling brave, pick a monthly date to evaluate how far you still have to go. Make it an official meeting with yourself—paperwork and all—and don’t push it back.
9. Learn from the past. It’s impossible to have a clear view of an upcoming year in January. Think of the many unexpected events of 2011, on both a global and personal scale—what can you learn from them? Can last year’s stock market, best-sellers list, sermon series or trending topics contribute to your vision for 2011? Perhaps you’ll feel the need to make room in your budget to give in times of crisis, like last year’s tsunami in Japan or tornadoes in Joplin. Or maybe you won’t allow this year’s controversial headlines, faith topics and family problems provoke you to Facebook debate.
10. Don’t hide your resolutions. It might be intimidating, but publicize your resolutions. Post them on a blog. Tell your friends. Write them on a marker board on the refrigerator. Seek accountability. While some resolutions may relate to a private matter, you still want at least one person to know what you are trying to achieve. Secret failure is still failure. Public vision is more motivating—and easier to course-correct in community.