It’s January. Time to ring in the New Year. And you have, without a doubt, made a ton of resolutions that for once you vow to finally keep. Yes, we all want to lose weight, eat more vegetables, get fit, drink water instead of white wine, hold fewer grudges, manage our stress, sleep better and help the planet go greener. Well, I don’t know about you, but the first of my best goals and good intentions seem to be forgotten faster than old acquaintances. That means about one minute past midnight on January 1st.
Of course, having to make big changes right at the heart of both the party and vacation season makes it even more difficult. And it’s also the time when we erroneously imagine that the arrival of a new year will somehow magically provide us the wherewithal to reinvent ourselves. It won’t. It takes work. But don’t attempt to change your entire life or lifestyle in one fell swoop. Sometimes we set ourselves up for failure by making huge resolutions that are so unreal, they are bound to fail, throwing us into a tailspin and causing us to just give up before ever seeing them realized.
Philip Galanes, who writes the “Social Q’s” advice column for The New York Times, and is the author of the new book, Social Q’s: How to Survive the Quirks, Quandaries, and Quagmires of Today, perfectly sums up how we all feel about New Year’s resolutions: “I’ve been giving up bread for approximately 15 years now—along with processed white sugar, dairy and red meat (other than liver, which would eliminate pâté and, as a result, would be unimaginable),” he tells me “And these are just the dietary components of my annual New Year’s resolutions. There are also work resolutions and relationship resolutions, and of course, the most common and popular resolution of all: the resolve to exercise more frequently and rigorously, thereby leading to the loss of thousands of pounds of collective body weight. It goes without saying that I haven’t kept any of these resolutions for longer than a month. (And even that’s probably an exaggeration.)
But this year, Philip’s vows—like the ones we all promise ourselves — will be different: “Because this year,” he empathically states, “I am going to make just one resolution. That’s right: one. And I am going to hawk-eye that poor little thing from the stroke of 12 on New Year’s Eve for the rest of my miserable life. And by concentrating on it with laserlike precision, I am going to make that resolution stick.”
But can he? Can any of us? I took this query to Dean Karlan, professor of economics at Yale University and author of More Than Good Intentions. “What makes goals tough to accomplish is, well, life. It has a bad habit of always getting in the way,” he says. “We get busy, we get distracted, we follow temptation. While you can’t change the challenges that life presents you, you can change your perspective.”
According to Karlan, money and reputation are powerful motivators, so he advises turning your goal into what he refers to as a Commitment Contract. “A Commitment Contract,” he explains, “allows you to choose how much money you want to put on the line—if any—a friend to keep you honest and supporters who find out if you succeed or fail.” Then, he says, keep the stakeholders informed of your progress regularly. “Regular reporting breaks your goal down into manageable and quantifiable steps to make measuring progress easy,” Karlan says. “Reporting also ensures a constant interaction with your goal, so that no matter how busy life gets, there is always a point each week when you stop to think about the goal you set for yourself. Both of these elements ultimately lead to positive habit formation in the short and long term.”
So this New Year, resolve to start fresh and finally get things right by utilizing every tool given to you. Know that you have the power to thrive, succeed, and become the individual you desire in 2012—without ever having to totally give up Moon Pies. Here are 12 more tools to make your New Year Better Than Before:
Think small, be flexible. “We don’t need a behavioral scientist to tell us that lasting change doesn’t happen overnight,” says Dr. Adrianne Brennan, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at the LSU Health Sciences Center’s School of Medicine. “Lasting change results from many small changes over time. And it is just as important to reward yourself when you take these small steps as well as when you take the big ones.” Anticipate that life will throw you curveballs and be flexible enough not to let them knock you out of th game, Brennan says. “Remove the ‘shoulds,’ ‘musts,’ and ‘have tos’ from your vocabulary–they do nothing but add pressure,” she says.
Be realistic—and specific. “Instead of telling yourself, I am going to lose weight and be healthy next year, it is better to say, I will lose five pounds by February 15 by walking for 20 minutes three days a week and no longer drinking soda,” says Dr. Richard Shadick, director of the Counseling Center and adjunct associate professor of psychology at Pace University. The more specific, measurable, and attainable a goal is, the more likely it can be reached.
Eat your vegetables. “Your body is programmed to be very smart. All you have to do is give it what it needs to succeed,” notes KC Craichy, founder & CEO of Living Fuel and author of the best-selling Super Health: Living the Seven Golden Keys to Lifelong Vitality. “Indeed, your body can accomplish amazing feats of good health when it receives real food.” He suggests eating more salads, bright-colored, aboveground vegetables (broccoli, spinach, kale, asparagus, green beans, peppers, cucumbers, squash, avocado, eggplant, and barley greens), organic, free-range eggs, super berries (cranberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries), organic chicken, turkey, and grass-fed beef and lamb. Limit fried food, pork, shellfish, farm-raised fish, hydrogenated oil found in commercially prepared baked goods, margarines, snacks, and processed foods, soft drinks, sports drinks, fruit juices, chips, sweet drinks, snacks and desserts.
Walk don’t run. Unfortunately, some of the biggest failures in our New Year’s resolutions are found in the fitness department. We all vow to join a gym, take a Kettle Bell or Spin class at lunch, swim laps, go for a long run with the dog, or hop on the at-home bike. It’s admirable to want to do all of the above, but it’s best to keep it simple: Just resolve to include one physical activity you love in your day to get your blood flowing and exercise your muscles, heart and lungs. This can be as easy as briskly walking around the block or the mall. As you progress and you’re successful with the first change, you can make another one after a month or so. Increase your fitness level by walking a little farther or alternate your walk by jogging short bursts in between. If you do decide to go to a gym, have a one-hour consultation with an on-staff trainer who will assess your fitness level and work out a personalized exercise program. Promising to get in shape by not making unreasonable fitness goals will be one resolution that is very possible to keep.
Glisten up. While you are making your resolutions, think about the beauty aspects in your life as well — both inner and outer. Setting realistic beauty goals are as important as those for your health. In other words, don’t resolve to be Gisele Bundchen’s clone. I asked makeup artist Gail Sagel, president and CEO of Faces Beautiful, what we all should strive to attain for beauty’s sake. “Fill yourself up with warmth and share that glow with others,” she says. “Gaze into the morning sun, and let the rays shine into your eyes. That sunshine will help you look and act radiant. Even when you don’t feel particularly pretty that day, put yourself together so you look pretty. And soon you’ll start feeling pretty, too. Have a manicure; it’s always uplifting to get compliments on how soft your hands are or how nice your nails look. Have your hair colored and styled; dark roots are depressing. When you leave your house, even just putting on lipstick will make you feel more beautiful.”
Envision success. “When you paint a crystal-clear mental picture of how you would like your life to be, you have taken the first step toward getting there,” advises Sally Kravich, holistic nutritionist and author of Vibrant Living: Creating Radiant Health and Longevity. Kravich recommends setting aside 10 minutes of quiet time per day to think about your health and life. “Write out your goals in a loving way that reframes them into present time, such as, ‘I love my slim, supple body that supports me in every way.’ Or ‘every cell in my body is radiating good health,’” she says.
Multitask. “Don’t try to make changes in your life alone,” says Barbara White, a success coach and motivational speaker in Vancouver, Canada. “Gather supportive people around you, such as family and friends. We all need motivation and encouragement when the going gets tough and we feel like giving up. Break your New Year’s resolution down into small achievable steps and go for one step at a time. Share your goals with your support network and make the journey together. You will find the strength you need to keep going when you feel discouraged and enjoy celebrating your successes and build closer relationships on the way.”
Forgive and forget. “In reviewing your spirituality, or lack thereof, in 2012, “you may also want to think about who in your life hurt you physically, emotionally, financially or spiritually and decide what you want to do about the residual feelings,” says Dr Andy McCabe, author of The Gifted One: The Journey Begins, a guide for personal and world transformation. “Have you been able to forgive these people or do you ruminate on your feelings of betrayal, anger, hurt or loss? When we hate someone, they own us because every day our energy is depleted by this negative emotion.”
Do the write thing. “Daily journaling to write down your objectives, whatever they may be, is a great way to reduce stress and help you stick to your goals,” says Sarah Gilbert, director of Lulu.com, which provides anyone with the ability to publish books, e-Books, minibooks, photo books and calendars. “Just be sure to set aside some time each day to do so. It needs to be a priority that is met regularly since people often ignore their resolutions simply because they get so caught up in day-to-day life that stress takes over.” Sarah feels that this creative activity will help take your mind off that stress, especially if you keep a “gratitude” journal to keep track of all the things you are thankful for in you life. “Another great way to alleviate stress,” she suggests, “is to become completely involved in an art project. For example, have your children create a book for their grandparents out of their artwork. This would be using art as therapy in a very productive way.”
Go with the flow. “The power of Feng Shui, the ancient Chinese art of improving your life by creating harmonious environments which foster the best possible health, wealth and relationships, can transform not only your home but also can lead to a more balanced, functional and energetic you for the New Year,” says Marie Burgos, a leading international interior designer and Feng Shui expert. She suggests that to help your dreams and wishes come true in 2012, start by de-cluttering and reorganizing your home and office. “By emptying your closets and cabinets, you will enable fresh new energy and opportunities to flow to you,” she says. “Then, ensure your refrigerator, pantry, canisters, and shakers are all full, as this represents abundance for the year ahead. Respect the money in your wallet — and your wallet itself. Make sure it is not worn out or tattered. Keeping it full symbolizes having enough money all year long.”
Accentuate the positive. I have found that small rewards with each milestone encourage me to keep going. That doesn’t mean that if you lost five pounds the first week that you should indulge yourself with a large slab of red velvet cake. Instead, treat yourself to something nonfood related, like a long nap, a trip to the movies or a hot rock massage at a day spa. Later you can change the rewards to monthly and then at the end of the year, you can pick an anniversary reward, something that you’ll truly look forward to. Perhaps a trip to a destination spa. You will have deserved it, and you will have earned it.
It’s easy being green. “This New Year, resolve to help the planet,” says John Cronin, senior fellow for Environmental Affairs at Pace Academy for Applied Environmental Studies. “There are two questions I am asked most often: ‘Can one person really make a difference?’ and ‘How?’ The answer to the first is easy: Yes! It is the story of human history — but those who never try to make a difference never do.” Cronin poses a creative challenge: “Look to your own life to find that something special you can make happen. For example, one mechanic adds a dollar to the bill of each of his car repair customers as a donation to the Riverkeeper organization. Over the past 20 years he has directed thousands of dollars to the group, and his customers are delighted. Help your child’s school find environmental experts to speak to classes. Here’s a simple one: Share a fascinating fact, and your friends will spread the information too —how much of the water on our planet is available for drinking? (Answer: Less than 1%). I promise they will be amazed, educated and eager to tell someone else. The point is that in addition to the how-to’s of proper individual behavior, which after 42 Earth Days should be common knowledge by now, there are creative acts you can perform, invent and organize that will change the world right in your own backyard if you are bold enough to try. Jump right in. The planet is waiting.”