There are two times each year that I am convinced that I will actually become a different, better, person. The first is the start of the school year. In getting ready to send my own kids off for another year, I remember the joy of a brand new Trapper Keeper (remember those?), the smell of new, unblemished, notebooks, and I think about all the things I never did that I’m finally now going to do.
The other is New Years. After a fun, frenzied Christmas, filled with more than my fair share of good food and lots of events, some part of me is ready to de-stress my life and get on the exercise bandwagon again. But this year, even after seeing some pictures of myself that would in past years send me straight to a spinning class, I curled up on the sofa and started The Crown on Netflix instead. So it got me to thinking, what good – if any, are New Year’s Resolutions at all?
For some people it’s working. Reader Lindsey Romeo wanted to clean out her closets. She’s already done one and a half, plus her garage.
Julie Osterman says her resolutions always seem to center around eating healthier, exercising more, being more present and organizing/cleaning out.
“I tend to do very well at least through Spring Break,” she said. “I think it’s worthwhile and a great way to rejuvenate and develop better habits.”
Stacy Barry says she’s never good at following through on something that isn’t self-motivated and New Year’s resolutions feel peer pressured to her.
“I use my birthday as my New Year for holding myself accountable to personal goals,” she said.
While health guest columnist Catherine Kruppa has some good ideas in the B section for achieving your wellness goals, I also wanted to ask Elizabeth Cobb, LMFT-S, LPC-S, her take on resolutions as a whole – to resolve, or not to resolve?
“The new year provides the opportunity for a do over, a second chance, and better yet, a new beginning,” she said. “I think that’s the allure of the New Year resolution, and often people make a resolution that is ultimately about self-betterment, which in my book is a great aspiration. Resolutions and goals, if not properly structured, can definitely set someone up for failure, though, and that is a bad gig.”
Cobb recommends that people look at their values first, and use that compass to guide them in selecting their goals. She said it’s also important to write down your goals, stated in the positive and in explicit terms.
Example: “I will train for the 2018 Houston Marathon.”
Next, be realistic and use an action plan punctuated with mini-goals that can be accomplished along the way to help steer your course.
Like: “I will run a 5K in the first quarter of the year. I will run a 10K in the second quarter, etc.”
Accountability is your friend, according to Cobb. Whether that’s an actual person or a calendar that you can check off each day, having someone or something that you report back to can be a great cheerleader to keep you going. Monitoring your progress also shows you what you’ve accomplished and will keep you motivated.
Finally, extend yourself grace.
“We all slip up, fall down, or completely fall off,” said Cobb. “That’s okay. Use these missteps as an opportunity to evaluate your goal. Was it too big or unrealistic for the demands in your life? Need to scale it back to something smaller, more manageable? I think that most often people give up on their new year’s resolutions because they feel discouraged by what they perceive as failure instead of an opportunity to try again.”
I really liked Cobb’s other approach to goal setting. She has a few clients, who feel frustrated and intimidated by goals, who choose instead to focus on words for the year instead of a particular resolution.
“One client chose ‘gratitude’, and looks for it and lives it in her daily life,” said Cobb. “I have a friend who chooses a hashtag that binds her year together. This is year three for her doing that, and there’s a common theme to each phrase she has chosen: it focuses on being present. It’s a value and inspiring, and she holds herself accountable by putting it out there.”
Reader Laura Jackson does a word too. The word this year is ‘balance’.
“It is something we want to work on and also teach our kids,” she said.
To Cobb, the most important thing is that people are kind to themselves.
“Start small, build up, and be proud of what you accomplish,” she said. “Most importantly, though, don’t let a calendar dictate or pressure you into setting goals for yourself. A resolution to increase the quality of your life need not wait until January. It can be any time of year. Just start.”
And I will. Just as soon as I finish The Crown.