Thursday, January 1, 2015

I Don't Make New Year's Resolutions

New Year's Day is a unique holiday. People typically do not decorate for the holiday or send New Year's cards or wear festive clothing (PJs don't count). And yet, it is a legal holiday. Banks, government offices, and many places of employment are closed.  There are parades.  There are even holiday specials, thanks to Rudolph and Charlie Brown. And there are traditions.  There are definitely traditions.  

For many, this is the day to, as my mother used to say, "take down Christmas".  In our house, this was an all-day job. (And, even then, we'd often find a remnant of Christmas past tucked in an obscure place several days later.)  I can remember many mornings dragging myself down the stairs on New Year's Day, after staying up far past my bedtime on New Year's Eve, only to find my mother standing in the living room next to a nearly naked and sad tree. It was one of the most heartbreaking and dreadful feelings to view the piles of greenery, tinsel, lights, and ornaments in every chair. The living room, which was rarely used during any other month of the year, and had been so full of warmth, love, and laughter just the day before, now seemed so cold.  So empty. So desolate.

One turn to the left, however, and I was on my way to the family room, where my father usually already had blazing fire in the fireplace, and the television chirped with sounds of a parade or an old movie.  And, of course, the kitchen table was loaded with leftover Christmas goodies: cookies, punch, cheese balls & crackers, and sausage balls. God bless sausage balls. And then there was football. Lots of football. These were part of our NYD traditions.

A popular, albeit somewhat southern, tradition for New Year's requires that black eyed peas and collard greens be eaten on the first day of the year. This iss supposed to symbolize good luck and prosperity for the year to come.  I loathe collard greens, so I never eat them...which may explain why I've rarely had more than two pennies to rub together in my life. But, that's another topic for another blog...

For me, New Year's Day is the day to take down all of my old calendars and hang new ones. I have four this year...and I could hardly wait to put them up. There is something very sacred about watching last year disappear and seeing a new, clean slate hanging on the wall.

But, perhaps the one tradition that is most practiced on New Year's Day is making resolutions. Much like my passion for hanging a new calendar, many like to view the year ahead as a blank slate, or a book with blank pages. Often, we will look back at the year behind us and realize all of the things we wish we had accomplished or done differently and vow to do them, or do them right, this year.  There is certainly nothing wrong with this tradition in and of itself. A resolution, by definition, is "a definite and serious decision to do something" (Merriam-Webster). The problem, however, lies in the fact that there is rarely a plan to help you actually accomplish said something. That's why I stopped making New Year's resolutions. Instead, I set goals...realistic goals...actionable goals.

Not sure what the difference is between a resolution and an actionable goal? Allow me to clarify.

Think about your current list of New Year's resolutions. Perhaps some of these are there:

I will start running
I will read more books
I will organize my home
I will get a new job
I will eat healthy
I will get out of debt
I will lose 30 lbs
I will start working out

While that sounds like a great list, the items are too broad; there is no actionability attached to the resolutions. Rather than simply stating WHAT you plan to do, consider determining HOW you will do it. Make a game plan or map out a path for achieving the desired result. Set small, measurable goals that will keep you on track. And make sure they are realistic, achievable goals lest you find yourself constantly feeling like a failure. Nothing breeds success like success. Reach a small goal this week, and you will be much more likely to reach the next one next week.

So, rather than saying, "I will organize my home" (which is a huge undertaking for some of us!), how about committing to clean out one drawer, box, cabinet, or closet per week? Or, instead of "I will lose 30 lbs," consider a more direct approach, like limiting your caloric intake to a set daily amount or eliminating processed foods from your diet. These are measurable, achievable, actionable goals. If you want to read more, commit to limiting your time online (ouch) and replacing some of those web-surfing hours (yeah...hours) with a book.  Not only can you hold yourself accountable for specific behaviors, but you will feel an instant thrill of success every time you achieve the desired goal. This will keep your focus on your daily activities, rather than the end of the year, thereby creating a lifestyle change.  And, isn't that really our aim?

Oh, and speaking of that...avoid using the word "start" in any of your goals.  Don't start eating healthy...which implies finishing...just eat healthy! Don't start running. RUN!  If you don't make these goals a lifestyle change, you will find yourself right back here next New Year's Day.

Write down your goals.  Keep a spreadsheet with daily/weekly/monthly mile markers. If you set your end date too far out, you'll wait all year long to get started (there's that word again). Do it now!  And, if you're reading this later on in the year, don't wait until next New Year's to do it.  DO IT NOW!  After all, every day is a clean slate. 

Have a happy, successful, and blessed 2015!

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb

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