I stopped making New Year’s Resolutions a few years ago when I finally realized that making a list – without more – wasn’t going to magic my perfect life into existence. At about the same time, I cancelled my monthly gym membership when the same harsh reality dawned – you do have to go to the gym to see some results.
I’ve always been stronger on the planning side than the doing side. Better at dreaming than sweating the details. I always blamed my inability to fulfill any of my resolutions on lack of willpower, being a procrastinator or a perfectionist.
The fact is that the way we traditionally make resolutions sets us up to fail and, the more we fail, the worse we feel about ourselves and the more resolutions we have to make and so it goes on. If you’re really ready to make some changes, here’s Stand Up, Mama’s three-step plan for making New Year’s resolutions that simply refuse to be ignored.
Step 1 – Passion
Passion is something that was always missing in my resolutions. My list looked like an updated version of the “Ten Commandments” – “Thou shalt not eat foods thou enjoyest, thou shalt not spend money on things that bringest thou joy, thou shalt force thyself into a torturous exercise regime, blah blah blah.” At this point, my true self put its fingers in its ears and started shouting “lalalalalalalala” to ensure it didn’t hear a word of any such nonsense.
Now, how about, rephrasing a little and considering eating only foods I love and nothing else (you’ll be surprised how sensible your body is when left to its own devices), cutting my debt and saving a little so that I can take my daughters to Disneyland or myself to Rome, going rollerblading with my friends each weekend or taking salsa classes to get my metabolism kick-started. Now my true self has pulled up a chair and is looking interested.
There has to be some damned good reason for a resolution to be on your list. Stop depriving yourself and start living a little. I’m talking about kick-off-your-slingbacks, belly-laughing, toe-curling pleasure. The more passion you feel for something, the greater your chances of actually getting out there and doing something about it.
The first time I felt physically fit (and discovered muscles I didn’t know I had) was when I first moved to New York and started latin dance lessons. Walking into the dance studio was nerve-wracking but with a frisson of excitement rather than the heavy feeling of dread I would feel when walking into a gym. There was a passion and excitement attached to taking dance lessons that made it an absolute joy to go.
If you write a resolution and you are not passionate about the thing itself or the impact of what doing that thing will do (for example, the freedom you will feel once you’re out of debt) then delete it and go back to the drawing board. For some passion tips, look back on a time in your life when you were gloriously, deliriously happy. OK, if that’s a stretch, go for the happiest memory your mind can muster.
What were you doing? Who was in your life? Where were you living? Take a passion inventory and reintroduce as many of those things/people/places as are possible and/or ethical.
Step 2 – Turtle Steps
This is a phrase used by the marvelous Martha Beck. This simple idea has transformed my life. In her book “Finding Your Own North Star – claiming the life you were meant to live”, Martha Beck defines a “turtle step” as her “label for the largest possible task that your essential self can do easily. The last word – easily – is very, very important. … Even on a bad day, when you contemplate your turtle steps, your immediate, genuine gut reaction should be, “Oh, yeah, sure. I can do that.”
For example, I’ve been talking a big game about starting yoga classes. For months. OK, years. So what was stopping me?
Good question. Before I could take a yoga class, there were a couple of small, yet vitally important turtle steps I needed to take …
(1) Buy some clothes suitable for an exercise class, and
(2) Find a yoga class.
(1) Now this is not an empty “I don’t have a thing to wear” claim. I threw out all my exercise clothes a couple of years ago when the realist in me figured that if I hadn’t worn them in over five years, chances were pretty good that they weren’t going to see the light of day for the foreseeable future. Also, to be frank, had I kept them and worn them, people would have assumed I was auditioning for a sequel to “Fame”.
Quick fashion tip here – be discriminating in your use of legwarmers.
(2) You need to know where you’re headed if you’re going to have any chance of getting there. The chances of me walking out of my apartment and stumbling across a yoga class are pretty slim. Although these steps may sound trivial, unless I take them, the lotus position is going to continue to elude me.
So when you’ve got your passion list together, go back over it and break down every item on the list into turtle steps. By that I mean every step you need to take to make that thing happen. For me, a first turtle step of browsing the Internet for local yoga classes was something I could accomplish easily. As a result, my fingers have become really quite flexible.
Step 3 – Accountability
When I used to beat myself up about lack of willpower, procrastination etc, I may as well have added “breathing” to the list. If you have any doubt about the universality of procrastination, make a point to watch Ellen DeGeneres’ fabulous comedy routine on the subject.
You need a support network to hold you accountable because you simply aren’t qualified to do it yourself. Don’t beat yourself up about it or think that you can because you can’t. It’s called “Loving What Is”.
So, choose a valued friend or join a local group who are pursuing the same goals or hire yourself a life coach. When choosing a friend or life coach, make sure you choose someone with that special combination of cheerleader and bs detector who will call it like it is. You don’t want someone who thinks that it’s kinder to sugarcoat it rather than – God forbid – blow your excuses wide open and keep you on track.
So, if you’re really ready to claim the life you were meant to live in all its multicolor glory, start with Passion, take some Turtle Steps and make sure you have someone around to hold you Accountable.
Chances are you won’t recognize yourself next New Year’s Eve!