Making resolutions that last all year
“The gym is so crowded! What’s the deal?,” my son and I asked each other as we noticed all the new people working out. Then we remembered; it’s January. It’s like this every year for a couple of months and tapers off by March.
Silently, we applauded the newcomers for their commitment and hoped that they would stick it out, even if it meant that we had to maneuver around more people than before.
As the new year offers a clean slate of possibilities, it’s a time when we vow to make changes big and small. According to University of Scranton psychology professor John C. Norcross in a CNN post called “How To Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions,” 40% of adults make New Year’s resolutions, and 40-44% of people will be successful in maintaining their resolve after six months. Alas, we start with the best of intentions; then our old habits and routines creep back in and defeat us.
So, how do we as grown ups make goals that are meaningful and achievable for ourselves and as parents help our children to do the same? Author James Clear in “Atomic Habits” offers some suggestions to give us a better chance for success. For example, our goals should be specific and possible. It’s not enough to say, “I want to eat better;” we should commit to eating an apple or an orange instead of a cookie for dessert. Similarly, if you’re not a runner, aiming for the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Antonio Marathon right out of the gate is probably not a good idea; however, creating a schedule to work out on the treadmill or taking a walk in the park with a friend may be doable. The important thing is to find something that works for you, and is a stretch but is also within reach. Hetter cautions us that we may fail, so we need to forgive, rather than punish, ourselves and recommit to our goal.
As we create resolutions, it behooves our children and us to remember the ancient Greek aphorism-”know thyself.” Want to stop looking at the phone before you go to bed-leave it in the kitchen instead of on the nightstand. As Hetter recommends, visualize the person you wish to be, create the daily habits that will get you there, and celebrate the small victories along the way. Telling others our goals, she suggests, will also ensure a better chance of success; this is the healthy kind of peer pressure where we don’t want to look bad so we work harder than if we had kept the resolution private.
Noted psychologist and author Lisa D’Amour encourages parents to model for children how to adhere to a new regimen rather than telling them what to do. When we share our resolutions and they see us struggling to achieve our goals, children are more willing to take on new challenges. Families can discuss their aspirations for the upcoming year and plan together how to meet them. Over the past couple of years, I have been impressed with the way Keystone parents model healthy mindsets like risk-taking. For example, last year I attended students’ mid-year piano recitals and to my surprise a parent performed a short piece of music; when I commended her courage, she said that if she was going to ask her children to take on something new, she should be willing to do the same. Another parent recently told me that she and her family have committed to eating healthier by including more fruits and vegetables in their diet; the crucial element is that they’re doing it with each other rather than to each other.
Finally, Hetter advises that we consider changing things regularly. A year is a long time for anyone; it’s even longer for children. Maybe consider an overall challenge theme for the year and each month or two find a new way to meet it. Perhaps it’s along the lines of: “This year, our theme is taking better care of ourselves. In the winter months when it’s cold and dark, we will eat fruit instead of sweets; in the spring when daylight lasts longer, we will go for a short evening walk a couple of days a week.” Doing a series of small goals also allows for new habits to be ingrained one at a time rather than overwhelm us by trying to do too much and then giving up.
In one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes, Jerry expresses dismay with a car rental salesperson who explains that yes, he took the reservation but no, he didn’t hold the reservation. We can help our children by teaching them that making a New Year’s resolution is a good first step, but it’s only that; the trick is keeping it. If we are able to keep our own resolutions and help our children with theirs, then we are on the path to making this a great year.