As 2009 lurches to an end, many of us take time to reflect on the year ahead. We think about changes in behavior that can make for a happier future — if only our senator or coach or niece or next-door neighbor would take a “word to the wise”. (And by wise, we mean “stupid jackass”, of course.) We have so many good ideas about how others could improve themselves that we rarely get a chance to think about our own issues. Once a year, though, we acknowledge that we might have one or two tiny flaws of our own, and resolve to achieve absolute perfection.
These promises we make to ourselves (and which are best kept to ourselves) are known as New Year’s Resolutions. They are usually broken sometime during the first week of January. There are reasons we fail to live up to our lofty expectations for ourselves, and most of those reasons are due to resolutions that were faulty in the first place. So here are three suggestions about making a New Year’s Resolution you can trust yourself to keep.
1) Be specific. If your personal interactions with others could use a little tuneup, for instance, promising yourself that you’ll “be nicer” is too vague. Narrow that down to a particular way in which you can be nicer. A woman I used to know (this is a true story) was challenged by her spiritual advisor to demonstrate kindness by giving someone a compliment every day. On the first day of this resolution, she approached another woman and gave her this compliment: “You wouldn’t look so fat if you didn’t wear that heavy coat.” Her compliment-of-the-day was easily accomplished within a few minutes, whereas an indistinct “be nicer” resolution might have burned up most of her waking hours.
2) Set reasonable goals. Too often we make resolutions that are virtually impossible to keep. Let’s say you tell yourself “this year I’m going to learn to speak French.” Are you kidding? Come on — even the French take years to learn to speak French; there’s no way you can do that. Instead, start with something more realistic, like learning a few swear words in French. You can pick them up in no time, and if you travel to France, they’ll probably come in handy.
3) Reward yourself . Discouragement sets in when keeping your resolution begins to feel like punishment. Find a way to make it feel like an achievement. Let’s say your resolution is to lose weight. That’s a violation of suggestion #1, by the way; resolve to lose ten pounds (even if twenty would be better). OK, so you get on the scale after a grueling week in which you cut out dessert a couple of times. The scale says you only lost one pound. You feel discouraged, right? That’s because you’re seeing the glass of Pepsi half empty. Instead of feeling like you’ve punished yourself for almost nothing, simply convert pounds to grams. You haven’t lost a mere one pound, you have shed 453.592 grams, and that’s pretty darned impressive!
Ordinarily I don’t share my resolutions with others, but because I intend to take the advice I’ve outlined above, I feel confident in telling you my specific, reasonable goal for 2010: I will not travel to any country whose name ends in “stan”. If I can keep my resolution, you can keep yours. What is yours, by the way? And good luck to us all!