January 20, 2014

2014 FTW

Happy New Year! I don't know about you guys, but I've had no problems transitioning from 2013 to 2014 when I write the date on something. 2013 turned out to be a not-so-great year for me in various ways, and I bid it Adieu (I said Good day, sir!) with naught a tear in my eye. I also tend to ease into the new year: I don't write my resolutions out a few days before, I really take some time to think about them and plan, and I don't feel a great desire to start working on my resolutions come BAM! January 1st. Which is why this post is about New Year's Resolutions, and it's already the third week of January. This is about the time a lot of people give up on their New Year's Resolutions, and I'm just getting started. I guess I'm taking Treebeard's advice of "Don't be hasty."

So. Do you make New Year's Resolutions? I used to make resolutions, but in a half-assed kind of way. I shied away from being completely committed and really making an effort. The idea of revamping my life seemed intimidating, and also kind of lame to feel like I "should" do it just because everyone else was, y'know? I guess it makes sense to start fresh on the day we silly humans have pretty much arbitrarily designated this day as the start of another year. You could start a new goal on any day you wish, of course (your birthday, the vernal equinox, the winter solstice, the perihelion, the day McDonald's brings back the McRib), but there is a certain amount of cultural momentum that goes along with the start of a New Year (as celebrated in the Western Gregorian calendar). Lame as it may be, there is something kind of comforting and encouraging to know a lot of people are also making an effort to improve themselves at the same time.

Therefore, I am going to make some goals for realsies. 2014 FTW! And because I'm the kind of person who often does a lot of research before embarking on a new venture, I wanted to make sure my resolutions would actually get accomplished. So, who's with me? Are you ready to Turn the Beat Around? Here are some ways to make sure your resolutions stick, compiled from books and websites I've studied. For some of you, this might be a real duh kind of list, but for those of us who have only ever made half-hearted resolutions, it may really help us reach our goals. No more half-assing things, y'all! It's time to go FULL ASS!

  1. Instead of thinking in terms of "resolutions," think of them as goals. And write them down. People who write down their goals are 33% more likely to accomplish them than people who don't. Write them down every day in your journal, or write them on index cards that you carry around with you, or tape your goals somewhere you'll see them every day (your bathroom mirror, your fridge, your FACE). Constantly reminding yourself of your goals will keep you more accountable than if you wrote them on the back of an envelope that gets tossed in the recycle bin in a week, or if you just made a mental note on January 1st to say, eat healthier. C'mon, you're gonna go to sleep and forget what was so gorram important about it. Write it down, get it in front of your eyeballs on a regular basis, and train your brain to start thinking the way you want it to.

  2. Make your goals specific, measurable, and realistic. State them in the present tense, as if they were already a reality. And state them in a positive way. For instance, instead of writing, "Exercise more and eat right," which is too vague, or even, "I will lose 15 lbs. by Dec. 1, 2014," which is specific but isn't in the present tense and doesn't sound very positive, write down, "I am maintaining a healthy weight at 135 lbs and can do 5 pull-ups. This, or something better, by Dec. 1, 2014." It's specific, measurable, realistic, and stated in the positive and present tense. On December 1, 2014, you'll be able to step on the scale and see if you've reached your goal or not.

  3. Give yourself smaller target goals and rewards. And focus on tactics. Breaking down your goals into smaller sub-goals can keep you from being overwhelmed. Focusing on tactics (small steps you do every day) is a great way to make your goals seem doable. Focusing on tactics will get you step-by-step to your goal, instead of making you feel defeated before you begin. And rewarding yourself just for accomplishing your tactics for the day or week will keep up your momentum and train your brain to desire the reward, and thus be willing to work on the day's steps. Continuing the example above, if you want to be able to do 5 pull-ups, you can research how to build your strength to do just one. And then give yourself a small reward if you've done your strength-building exercises every week. Reward yourself in some small way for doing the small tasks, even if it doesn't make you hit an actual goal. Once you hit a bigger goal (doing one pull up) you can give yourself a slightly different or bigger reward. Remember getting gold star stickers as a kid for doing well in school? It felt great to see a row of stars next to your name. And you had a visual reminder of how awesome you were. You can do the same thing as an adult. If you still love stickers, this method will still work. Your brain loves to be rewarded for accomplishing something, so until accomplishing the goal becomes its own reward, trick your brain by giving it a tangible bit of pleasure for a job well done. Not gonna lie, seeing a smiley face sticker on my calendar for every day I practice yoga makes me feel good.

  4. If you have a set back, just get back up on your horse, cowgirl. Every day, every hour, is an opportunity to start over. It's not how many times you fall, it's how many times you get back up again. Be nice to yourself; don't waste time berating yourself with negative talk. The world is already full of unhappy people who want to make you unhappy too, by tearing you down and gloating over your failures. So, you shoved 4 donuts in your face at breakfast, or didn't work out today. No biggie. It's not an all-or-nothing, zero-sum game. Just take a deep breath, square your shoulders, and resolve that from this moment on, you're going to do better. Don't get in your own way or beat yourself up. In fact, say encouraging things to yourself. Always stay positive, just as if you were encouraging a child as they learn to read. This is really important. You have to be your biggest cheerleader. Whose team are you on, anyway? (Your team, you're on your team. So act like it).

  5. In that same vein, view your goals and tactics as being nice to yourself. You're working to improve yourself, whether it's eating healthier, exercising, getting organized, etc. This is not a torturous chore; it's something that will make you feel better in the long run. You are doing yourself a kindness when you strive toward your goals. You'll feel better that you've worked on your small steps for the day. Doing a little bit is better than doing nothing. Even if you don't quite hit your target weight, or can only do 4 pull-ups instead of five, you will still be in an improved state of being than you were when you started. And that is something to celebrate, rather than getting down on yourself about how you didn't quite reach it!

  6. If something isn't working, change your tactics to reach your goal. Rather than give up in defeat because your tactics haven't given you the results you want, brainstorm other possible things you could try. Maybe your diet is too restrictive, so you binge on the weekends. Maybe the filing system you're using to get organized is too complicated, so papers pile up on your desk instead. Maybe your personal trainer at the gym isn't a good fit. Maybe you're just not a morning person, so you can't drag your ass out of bed to write 300 words of your novel every day before work. There's more than one way to accomplish your goal, so don't give up. Try new tactics until you get a feel for what works for you.

  7. Share your goals. Or keep them secret. This is the one area where all the books and articles seemed to disagree. On the one hand, sharing your goals will make you accountable to more than just yourself, which in turn may make you more likely to accomplish them. But on the other hand, talking about your goals to others could trick your brain into feeling like you've already worked on them, which makes you work on them less in actuality. Yeah, brains are kind of dumb (well, the conscious part of your brain which you view as your "self," anyway). My advice is to maybe mention your tactics to the people in your life who will be a positive influence and support your endeavors, but keep your end goals to yourself. That way when you accomplish them, you can brag to your friends (your nice friends who will be happy for you, which are the only kind of friends you should have anyway), but if you don't quite reach your goal, no one will know and you won't feel like you owe anyone an explanation.

Some of my goals I actually started last year, but I still feel like I'm working on them until they become part of who I am. I still have to give myself stickers for working out. I still have to be conscious of incorporating more vegetables into my diet. I still have to practice being nice to myself and not beating myself up when I don't accomplish my daily tasks. I have a bunch of other goals and tactics I'm working on, but in the spirit of the last point on the list, I'm going to keep those to myself. But I will share this goal with you: I do sincerely want to be able to do 5 pull-ups by the end of this year. I'm not sure what my ultimate reward might be for that (other than being able to brag and feel all buff n' stuff) but when I accomplish my weekly strength training exercises toward that end, I get a Panda sticker. Woohoo, panda stickers!