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Keeping Those New Year’s Resolutions

January 5, 2012

As a new year begins, we hear much talk of resolutions, ways to improve one’s life in the coming year. These might have to do with weight loss, increased fitness, decreased indulgence in sweets, alcohol or tobacco, controlling one’s temper, and better budgeting of money. As a regular participant in fitness classes, I notice every January a sudden increase in attendance by new people I’ve heard called "resolutioners." These folks start out with the best of intentions, but unfortunately do not continue; within a month they are mostly gone.

The desire people have for personal improvement is something we as practical peacemakers want to encourage. Progress on any of the goals listed above leads to a more harmonious personal and family life, and thus a more peaceful society. However, the urge to make improvements that require discipline is fragile; it is no easy thing to change long-standing habits. In fact, it seems that the making of resolutions is considered a sort of joke: "yeah, sure, you’re going to quit smoking--how long is that going to last?" "You say you’re going to get up earlier in order to exercise--right."

How can we turn around this expectation of failure and make the keeping of resolutions more likely? I have three ideas.

The first is probably obvious: set goals modest enough to keep. Instead of expecting yourself to exercise five mornings a week, start out with two. Whatever amount of weight you want to lose, set the goal at half that. This way you can feel good when you complete your personal challenge, and go on for more.

The second is not to consider the project over the first time you fail. For example, you resolve to avoid cookies or chips and before long, in a weak moment, you eat some anyway. Instead of beating yourself up, just start over, and keep starting over as often as it takes.

The third way would be to pay as much attention at the end of the year about resolutions completed, as we do at the beginning about resolutions proposed. If people expected to be taking a hard look at year’s end about how well they’d been able to keep their resolutions, they might set more realistic goals and keep on despite setbacks. The Jazzercise Center I attend keeps track of how many classes each person attends, and recognizes with prizes and a round of applause those who achieve certain goals. This is reinforcement that works.

For most of us, however, no one is going to recognize and applaud us for keeping our resolutions. Only you know how many pounds you’ve lost, or how many times you’ve chosen to save money instead of buying something frivolous. So we must keep track ourselves. I suggest writing on your calendar each time you’ve kept your resolutions. Then you’ll have monthly totals, and at the end of the year you can review your resolutions and say, "I got up X number of days to exercise," or "There were Y times I could have gotten angry but didn’t." The times you failed don’t even register. This is how we’re going to succeed at the resolution game.