I loathe New Year’s Resolutions.
I don’t know exactly when this loathing developed, but suspected it was shortly after I discovered that I don’t actually need to change in order to suit anyone else. Change for the sake of change — or to satisfy some unacknowledged sense of “I’m not good enough” — just stopped making sense to me.
There’s also the danger of failing to keep a resolution, usually within a couple of weeks, and then the subsequent self-flagellation. It’s no secret that gym memberships and Weight Watchers meetings swell in January and then by March are back to their normal traffic.
And yet, every few months, the Write or Consequences team gets together to say, “I resolve to complete a goal,” and then attempts to meet that goal.
But when it comes to traditional New Year’s Resolutions, we usually aren’t looking to achieve a goal, per se, but rather to make a life change. We want to eat in a more healthy way, or be more active, or stop multi-tasking so much. Even if we want to write more, or write more consistently, this is a life change, these are very different goals than “finish the first draft” or “self-publish the series.”
Life changes are what we’re after every time we read a self-help book: How can I get more done? Be more successful? Win more friends? Manage my time better? Stop making bad decisions?
I’ve learned a tip or two from choosing bad New Year’s resolutions:
- Do resolve to do something that’s a variation on what I’m already doing. Personally, I’ve found it super-difficult to introduce a new habit from out of nowhere, but what I can do is choose to do something different whenever I’m already going to do the thing I don’t want to do.
For instance, I really like a snack around 3 in the afternoon. My normal habit is to go grab some corn chips and salsa. The change I made was to grab some carrots and sunflower kernels instead. I still have the snack (cue = I’m a bit peckish), and the routine (grab a snack), and the reward is the same (I’m not hungry anymore) — but I’ve made a healthier choice.
- Don’t try to change more than one thing at a time. One of my favorite (read: most self-defeating) resolutions was to get up an hour early to hit the gym. You can see immediately that this lazy night owl was not going to be successful at all, but I mistakenly thought that going at the problem with plenty of willpower would make the difference.
These days I at least recognize that I need to change 1 thing rather than 2 things at the same time, and that I need to work with my body schedule as well as my already-successful daily schedule. What worked better for me (until my daily schedule changed) was to stop off at the gym on the way home from the day job. The only thing that changed from my regular routine was that I pulled into the gym parking lot after work 3 times a week rather than driving straight past it. (Though I had to get mindful to remember to pull into the gym parking lot for a couple of weeks!)
- Do commit to a short-term micro-goal rather than a long-term macro goal. Like Lorinda talked about in When Pigs Fly, sometimes the “big goal” is overwhelming and I need to break it down into smaller chunks.
For example, I wanted to stop being the last person to finish a mile warm-up run during my exercise class. With that goal in mind, I’d start out at full speed, then quickly run out of steam and have to walk the last several dozen yards. So I decided that maybe “not last” was too ambitious. Maybe I needed to work toward an incremental goal of “keep running” instead of “walking for part of the mile.” This new goal enabled me to concentrate on the mechanics of “keep running” until “keep running” came more naturally as I got stronger. Then my micro-goal became “run a little faster for the first half-mile” while still holding onto “keep running.”
Success builds on success. I’m still last most of the time, but that has ceased being an important goal — it’s more useful to me to simply be a little faster this month than I was last month.
The question for me now is what resolution I’m going to come up with around my writing. Given the spirit of micro-goals, changing existing habits, and committing to only one thing, I’m going for:
- Write 300 words a day
- At lunch during the day job
- Throughout the month of January
How will it go? Ask me again in February…
Some good resources for changing habits:
How to Stick To Your New Year’s Resolution (NY Times article)
Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy (Amazon)
Sandra K. Moore has been writing one thing or another since she could scribble on a Big Chief tablet. A former Silhouette Bombshell author, Sandra has given up (temporarily) the kickass heroine and is now writing from her softer side for the self-published Promise House series. This novella quartet explores the journeys of four young women finding their way — and remaining true to themselves — through the social expectations and turmoil of 1950’s Houston.