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by Ute Mitchell
If you are like millions of Americans, you have made a list of New Year’s resolutions at least once in your life. According to some surveys, 40 to 45 percent of American adults create ambitious lists with things to do or accomplish during the year. Interestingly, this tradition goes back about 4,000 years, to when the Babylonians made promises to their gods at the beginning of their year in March. The tradition was carried on in the Roman Empire. In medieval times, knights promised their loyalty and chivalry for another year. Early Christians used the first day of the new year to make promises and set goals as well.
The biggest difference between modern-day resolutions and those the ancients made is to whom these promises are made. Back then, resolutions were made to deities. Now they are made to ourselves, and that may be the reason why most of us fail. According to Forbes.com, only eight percent of us succeed in following through with our lofty goals; the rest forget all about them by the time April rolls around. But why (besides the lack of punishment from above) do we struggle so much in accomplishing what we aspire to?
Let’s take a look at the top ten resolutions according to Marist Poll:
These ten items are perfectly legitimate goals; ideally, we all set our eyes on a better, healthier, more reflective life. However, the implementation of such goals proves difficult when we don’t have the first idea of how to tackle each of them. With a generalized approach, it is easy to get discouraged and give up after just a little while. The weight-loss industry alone booms with $60 billion in revenue a year, while Jane Doe can’t get herself out of the house to exercise. Especially during the dark and dreary months in Portland, Oregon, it is so easy to convince oneself to simply postpone the trip to the gym until another, nicer day.
But wouldn’t it be satisfying to place your list right there on the refrigerator door, and cross off one item after another? Setting goals doesn’t have to be difficult, and following through is possible if you set the right goals. This is not to say you should make them overly easy. You can still plan on losing weight, becoming healthier, saving more, spending less and quitting smoking — you just need to know how to go about it.
Instead of creating a list like the one above, really put some thought into what exactly it is that you want and what is most important. You’ll want to take a little time when you go about planning your resolutions.
First, write down all the potential solutions on one piece of paper. This can include large and small items. From wanting to lose weight to getting outside every day, write them all down. You may end up with a list of 30 items or more.
Now, use a second piece of paper and only write down those items you really want to accomplish relatively soon. This can still be a pretty generalized list, including things such as losing weight, learning to play the piano, walking more, being a better mom, exercising more, keeping a cleaner home, etc. These are all great items, and you may still end up with a list of fifteen goals that feel a little bit overwhelming to you.
Next, it’s time to prioritize. Number each item by its importance, then copy only your top 10 resolutions by importance onto a final sheet of paper.
Assuming your top 10 matches the list above, you now have a great list of resolutions to tackle. But they are still entirely too overwhelming, and chances are, about three quarters of them will never see a check mark.
Think about exactly how you want to reach your goals. Using the list above, your number-one priority would be weight loss, while eating healthier ranks seventh. Time to put these items in the first two spots, because losing weight goes hand-in-hand with eating a healthier diet. At the risk of wasting too much paper, grab more (or use a laptop or PC for what you will do next). Each item on your list needs to be addressed separately. Each goal needs to get an action plan. You’ll start with your first item and work your way down.
Weight loss: Write down how much you want to lose and think about what is considered a healthy rate at which to lose body fat. If you have 30 pounds to lose, do not set the expectation to lose the weight in four weeks. Healthy weight loss should be approximately two pounds per week. Give yourself permission to take at least fifteen weeks if not longer to lose the weight.
Eating healthier: There are as many diets as there are people in the United States, it seems. In order to eat healthier, do your homework about what healthier actually means. The low-fat craze is slowly coming to an end, while a more ancestral way of eating is moving in, with many people trying to follow a diet of more vegetables and fruits and with more locally raised and grass-fed meat. Figure out what you consider the best and healthiest way for you and your family to eat, then create a list of recipes for each week and make a shopping list.
Exercising more: While many Americans have the best intention to exercise more, the majority of gym memberships go unused by late summer. Before you start an exercise routine, figure out what you like. You may not need a gym, if you love to walk or run. You may enjoy yoga, CrossFit, or kickboxing. Most gyms allow you to take a class for free or for a small fee. Make use of these sample classes until you find what fits you, then purchase a membership or 10-pack. Plan a weekly exercise routine, then enter your exercise days in a calendar. If you’re using a cell phone, send yourself automated reminders. You’ll be a lot more likely to hit the gym that way.
Being a better person: What makes you a better person? Write down what you think makes you better. If you’re a mom, you may want to work on coping mechanisms with challenging teens. You may want to volunteer for a local charity, make donations, or read to an elderly alone person. The Humane Society, the Oregon Food Bank, Northwest Children’s Theater, and many other organizations are always looking for help from people in the community. Check out volunteermatch.org for many opportunities.
Improving health: Improving your health really ties in with exercise and healthy eating. But you may have other issues that you need to deal with. Write down what needs improvement and what you need to do to find help.
Stopping smoking: This could be as easy as putting away that cigarette and never buying another one. Or you may need a little help. A quick search online will reveal many options; you get to choose which one fits you perfectly.
Spending less, saving more: This may take a little more planning. Check your bank statements to see how much you’re spending on needs and wants, then decide how many of these wants can go away. On instructables.com you’ll find a list of 21 ideas of how to spend less and save more. It is important to have a plan rather than just generally deciding to spend less.
Getting a better job: There is no better day than today to start looking. If your desire is to find a new and better job, you may want to polish your resume and put the message out there. Share with friends and family, read the job ads. Most important, decide exactly what you want! Then plan to send at least one job application per week, per day, per month — or whatever schedule you choose.
Going back to school: What is your reason for wanting to return to school? How would you pay for it? When would you do it? When can you start? When will you study? Who is there to support you? What are you afraid of? If you’re scared, ask yourself, What’s the worst thing that can happen? And is it worth not going to school because of your fear? It’s never too late to go back to school, and when you have an action plan, you just may do it.
Getting closer to God: This item is an exceptionally personal one. You may require a church community or a simple walk in the forest. Whatever it is, make time for it each week, and if it doesn’t come naturally, there is no shame in setting an alarm on your phone to remind you of your commitment.
You may not be a fan of New Year’s resolutions, but goal setting is a skill needed by most of us at any given time of the year. Whether you choose to make January 1 your perfect time for a new start, or any other day of the year, the secret to following through lies in how well you plan for changes. Rather than being overwhelmed by the big picture, break it down into small bite-sized pieces. Baby steps will get you there, and you will certainly love that check mark after an accomplished goal.
Ute Mitchell is a nutritional therapist, freelance writer and homeschooling mom in Tigard.