Of course, this is the time of year when everyone makes resolutions to make changes in their lives. Most of the time, these changes fall along the lines of losing weight, saving money, getting fit, quitting smoking, etc. However, as we well know, most of us do not keep those resolutions – why not? Maybe we think changes are impossible. Maybe we just aren’t ready for change. I know it’s a cliche, but the only constant in life is change – so I want to think more about how to embrace it.
Dr. Art Markman, professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, says we don’t keep our resolutions because many of us who make resolutions fail to make a realistic plan to achieve our goals. Perhaps we believe too much in the magical power of January 1st, as if putting up a new calendar on the wall wipes the slate totally clean.
Dr. Markman recently wrote an article for Time wherein he laid out a few pieces of practical advice for keeping those resolutions. In summary, here they are:
- Prepare before New Year’s Eve. Oops – too late for us on that one because the new year is already here. But perhaps the point is to make a decision to start something and not worry about what the calendar says. As the saying goes, “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.”
- The only way to really change is to change our habits. Our lives are governed by routine. If you want to jumpstart your career, you can’t just binge on Netflix every day – you have to change some behaviors. You won’t get healthy by ordering pizza every week – you’re going to have to shop and cook.
- Focus first on positive goals rather than negative goals – a positive goal is something you want to do whereas a negative goal is something you want to stop. This is perhaps my favorite bit of Dr. Markman’s advice. It is much easier to gain some momentum toward things you want to do – such as taking more walks. I love the idea of creating some success that will give me confidence in tackling some of the more difficult behaviors to change.
- Be specific about your plans. This is also important. It’s why we have schedules and calendars. If you want to read more, choose a night that is the night you plan to read and schedule it. This is how something becomes a routine.
- Change your environment to accommodate new habits. The idea is to make it easy to do desirable things and hard to do undesirable things. So if your goal is to eat better, don’t buy junk snacks for the house – instead buy, say, apples and carrots. That way, when you want a snack, the desirable behavior will be easy.
- Finally, Dr. Markman advises that you should not be too hard on yourself. Change is difficult for everyone, so odds are even if you plan well you won’t end up keeping all of those resolutions. But maybe you achieve one or two of them. It’s best to celebrate the ways in which we are successful rather than beat ourselves up for the times we fall short.
The fact is, whether we resolve it or not, change is going to come in some form to all of us in the coming year. Some of it will be good and some won’t be. In looking back over the past year, there were some definite high points and some definite low points, but life is definitely not the same as it was one year ago today. I was not always ready for change to happen, but we can’t always control things in our lives – change happens whether we like it or not. All we can control is how we react. And when circumstances do change in ways we don’t like, we have the power to decide what we are willing to accept and what we won’t stand for.
I normally don’t really make New Year’s Resolutions because I think they are destined to fail, but this year I do have some changes I’d like to make. I’d like to return to health. This time last year I was training for a half-marathon and running up to six miles at a time. After the half-marathon
in March, I backed off running to give myself some recovery time, and then I had a freak encounter with a stair that left me with a torn meniscus in my knee. I have not been able to exercise for months and I don’t feel terribly healthy. So I’d like to be able to exercise again. I never thought I’d miss running, but I really do. I don’t think I’ll ever run a half-marathon again, but I would love to do some more 5ks this year, and I’ve always wanted to do the Warrior Dash. If I can keep recovering from the knee injury, I would love to do that this year. I think the Maryland Warrior Dash is in May. That’s a specific goal I can challenge myself with. To get there, I have to focus on things other than running for the immediate future so I can start to regain some strength. Nothing is going to happen overnight, but I have to have some specific plans in order for anything to happen at all.
The other change I want to make this year is to be open to change. A lot of us have had that feeling in life of being in a rut or staying in a pattern because it’s easy or comfortable. I don’t want to do that this year. I want to be more Zen about what has been and let go of regrets and things that disappoint me. This year, I want to be open to the possibility of new things, even if the new things seem scary. Everything changes eventually: jobs, people, locations, dreams. As Hamlet said, “the readiness is all.” This year, I want to be ready.
© Ryna May 2016
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Here it comes a bit late: Happy New Year. Jim and Mary Lou
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