My favorite thing in Winter is making a New Year’s resolution. It helps you look forward to the year ahead, when everything is lush again. This past year, I adhered to the themes of optimism and simplicity, which pushed me to think about a lot of things in new ways. It wasn't easy, but I feel transformed. Themes of years past have included “be bold”, “listen more”, and “mind your manners”. As a New Year’s pro, I have a short, simple list to making a goal and sticking to it.
1. Pick a theme instead of an idea
When I think about what I want from the future, it often requires some dramatic changes to how I approach problems, rather than solving the problems themselves. For example, over this past year, as I have come to roadblocks, I ask myself, how can I simplify this? In what ways can I change my attitude to be more optimistic about the problem and its outcomes? This way, the whole year becomes a learning experience to be more mindful.
Themes can be as simple as “be happy” or “don't over think”. If you want to stop checking your phone so often, a good theme would be to focus on one task at a time, rather than “multi-tasking”, which allows you to extend your theme of “focus on one task” to other areas of your life.
2. Goals should be practice, not unaccountable acts
A goal can be “lose weight” or “get a fulfilling job”. An unaccountable act would be “I will go to the gym”. A practice is “I will try yoga once a week” or “run every Sunday morning”. One is an abstract concept, not tied to any real motivation, the other is an actual plan to incorporate into your everyday life and perhaps something you already enjoy doing. Instead of saying I will go to the gym once a week, a habit or practice is cultivated through exploration. One week you can try the treadmill and the next you might see if crossfit is right for you. The key is going beyond a theme and incorporating desirable behavior into practice to achieve an overarching goal.
For me, simplicity means making your own food and exercise that requires minimal accouterments. An apple a day, many bowls of quinoa, and a half marathon later, I look better than I did in high school. If you want to lose weight, change your attitude about your body and make a new plan. Mine went from losing pounds to feeling good. I only step on a scale at the doctor's office. It isn't about going the gym and doing things you hate, but picking up habits that you like doing that contribute to your overall goal and feeling positive about yourself.
3. New Year’s resolutions are cumulative
Just because I was bold in 2010, doesn’t mean I’ve stopped. Make sure your lessons follow you into the next years and drop the ones that hold you back. Set up all those desk/closet/office/bathroom organizers you bought from the Container Store two years ago.
4. Have fun
It is easy to over-think a resolution. Making definitive statements that “this year, I’ll find a job” or “this year, I’m learning Arabic” can be limiting. While they are good goals, perhaps making goals like volunteering once a month or traveling to a new country can open your thinking to what you want out of a career and a new cultural experience.
Resolutions doesn't always need to be about self-improvement. I have one friend who used a new disposable camera every month all year and got all the film developed on January 1st of the following year. He got to see how he and his friends changed and grew month by month. I once tried something new every month for 30 (or 31 or 28) days until I found certain things I was good at or I especially liked. I learned that I love yoga and that I am no good at bike repair.
The most important thing to consider when coming up with a resolution for the new year is where you are, where you’ve been, and where you want to be this time next year. Reflecting back to 2012, I can say that I have grown since then. While my themes were simplicity and optimism, my goals were to constantly change myself and my attitude if something wasn’t how I wanted it to be.
As we enter some of the bluest months of the year, December, January, and February, it's easy to forget that Summer comes back like a phoenix every year. With goals and themes to guide you through the tough months ahead, it’s better to look at the short, digestible elements of the year, instead of worrying if you will have lost 10 pounds by December 31st. As for me? 2014 will be the year of ambition and humility.