I am among the 48 percent of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions. This year, I resolve to be among the 8 percent who keep them. Last year, not only did I fail to keep my resolutions, I don’t even remember them.
So I’ve been giving my 2015 resolutions some serious thought. I even asked those close to me for suggestions.
“Resolve to have a longer attention span,” said a friend of three decades.
(Never underestimate the power to see yourself as others see you.)
“Resolve to eliminate the word ‘anyway’ from your vocabulary,” said another.
(“Anyway…” is the word I use when I have nothing to say.)
At that point I stopped soliciting advice. I consulted a higher authority — Google.
Did you know there is a USA.gov site (usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/New-Years-Resolutions.shtml) for most popular New Year’s resolutions? You know them already. You probably made them yourself: lose weight, get fit, save money, eat healthy, manage stress, reduce debt.
But if only 8 percent of Americans keep their resolutions, there must be a better way to ring in a new year. I mean, if we weren’t so into self-improvement, Barnes & Noble could eliminate an entire category of bestsellers.
But even after government assistance, I am no closer to a successful approach. The next step after Google? I consulted a therapist.
Parker Sternbergh, of Tulane University’s School of Social Work, offered a different view.
“Resolve to do self-improvements if you must,” Sternbergh said, “but if you can, get underneath the simple habits that make these improvements easier.”
You mean if I remove the obstacles to my resolutions, the resolutions will fall into place?
“The resolution can be to create more peace in your life,” said Sternbergh, who explained that less chaos and less stress create greater odds for achieving goals. She has a personal stake in this mindset.
“Last year at the age of 54, I have finally decided that it is ridiculous that I have to look for my keys before starting my day. Every morning the same thing. Putting them in the same place so I knew where they were was just about a more peaceful, organized morning so that my kids and I were not starting the morning with stress,” she said.
I’m familiar with that domino effect, having locked myself into the daily where’s-waldo-key-search.
The time I lose looking for my keys I try to make up in traffic. I white-knuckle the steering wheel and lose patience with drivers who don’t seem to be in a hurry. When I arrive at my destination, I am already impatient. And the day turns into a game of catch-up, all because I never took the suggestion of my now ex-husband.
“Sweetie, have you ever thought of always putting your keys in the same place?”
It seems that the key theory unlocks the mystery to why we cannot keep our resolutions.
As Sternbergh advised, we should get rid of the barriers that keep us from our resolutions.
If we are late and stressed and start the morning in chaos, we are less likely to exercise, eat healthy and make all those other improvements we desire.
Let’s say my resolution is to become more organized. Sternbergh suggested I get to the root of the problem with a more focused task. I should resolve to be able to see the actual surface of my desk. If I did not spend so much time trying to find things under the clutter, I would be well on my way to becoming more organized.
“On Fridays,” Sternbergh suggested, “put away the papers that have accumulated and organize your desk. Then you can start Monday actually working rather than swimming through the treacherous waters of a messy desk. It probably takes only half-an-hour.”
Since I have three or more technical devices designed to cut down on the paper on my desk, I should be well on my way. But don’t mistake technology as a time-saving device if you don’t use it as one.
“How many of us stay up too late texting and being on the Internet rather than getting eight hours of sleep. With the proper amount of sleep, your mood will be better, your diet will be better,” said Sternbergh. “People who get the right amount of sleep are more likely to maintain a healthy weight. Your skin and your overall health will be better.”
The same goes for maintaining a healthy diet.
“How can you resolve to eat healthy food if you have not thought ahead and put healthy foods in your kitchen?” she said. My resolution will not be to eat healthy foods; instead I will resolve to make sure they are in the cupboard. The eating of it cannot happen without the presence of it.
“Instead of fighting the uphill battle for major resolutions, start by changing a few small things about your life,” said Sternbergh. “It takes three weeks to get comfortable with a change. Prepare for some irritation and some discomfort in the process.”
I hereby resolve to put my keys in the same place each time I enter the door of my house, to clear my desk on Fridays, to not let technology interfere with a good night’s sleep and to replace the bag of Oreos with a small bar of dark chocolate.
As far as promising to lengthen my attention span in 2015, it can’t be that difficult. At the stroke of midnight after singing Auld Lang Syne, I resolve to … what was I talking about?