Like so many thoroughbreds exploding onto the track at Churchill Downs, the gates have burst wide and the race to resolutions has begun. “Here we go again!” was first out but is already off the pace. “This Time It’ll Be Different” is fading quickly, but, the across the board favorite “Throw in the Towel” is once again moving up rapidly on the inside.
Alas, ‘tis January, and we have entered the silly season.
Barely two weeks ago, it was difficult to find a parking space at the mall — but no longer. Rather, it’s simpler than locating one at the health club. TV ads no longer tempt with sugary visions of chocolaty treats, opting to substitute video of hard-bodied men and bikini-clad women sweating to the latest exercise DVD available for three easy payments of $19.95. Interviews with specialists pontificating on the best value in gym memberships have supplanted chefs who provided recipes for holiday goodies. Store windows are now chock-a-block bloated with displays of diet pills, quick smoking solutions, and self-help books.
If you, like me, grow weary at this annual festival of advice; fret not, as it’ll be as long gone as last year’s chocolate Hanukkah gelt come Valentine’s Day. My question is, since it never works, “Why do we keep doing it?”
Oh sure, we’re a pretty self-critical bunch; never totally content with our lot in life. Lose a few pounds, get fit, spend more time with the family, work less, earn more, tuck this, grow that… it’s a never-ending catalog of imperfections. Yet, we can work on those any time. Why don’t we? Instead, every January, on the heels of two months of hedonistic over-indulgence, we stop for a moment to take self-inventory. After getting past the depression that follows such an unhappy assessment, we courageously commit to change every single solitary individual behavior that makes us feel sad or look bad. Within weeks — sometimes merely days — we’re exhausted by too much change in too short of a time, gorge on Valentine’s candy, and give up, proclaiming, “There’s always next year.”
Ready to break the cycle? It’s much simpler than expected.
As a New Year’s public service, I present a four-step-plan to a happier you.
- Now is the time, whenever “now” is. When the spirit moves you, don’t wait; not until next Monday, next month, or even until tomorrow. When the desire to change hits is when we’re most inspired — and it might not last. Don’t waste that opportunity.
- The larger the commitment (call it a “resolution” if you absolutely must), the more support necessary. Not only are you altering your own behaviors — but you’re forcing those around you to change how they interact with you. Recognize that, as well as their feelings in this process. Tell them what you want to do – and build support. Oh yeah, it’s also good to remind yourself that if you could do it on your own, you already would have.
- The simpler the change, the more likely its success. For example, if your goal is to exercise more, it makes more sense to promise you’ll walk a block every day — and really do it — then it does to swear you’re going to run a mile, but never get around to it.
- Setbacks are not failures. The process of change is a few steps forward interspersed with several stumbles. Like anything else you’ve mastered (career, relationships, skills), it’s not linear upward growth. You’ll fall down; count on it. Ask yourself what tripped you up, and then repeat steps one to three as necessary with overcoming that as your next goal.