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New year, new life? Maybe not … and that’s OK January 1st, 2010
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New year, new life? Maybe not … and that’s OK By Leila Kalmbach
It’s the new year: a time for change and renewal. Now is the time to bring our best intentions out of hiding, brush the dust off of them and set them on their feet to scurry off into the future. This is the year that it’s really going to happen — you’ll stress less, spend more time with your family, work out on a regular basis and eat a healthy diet. Except … you know that’s not true. Every year, millions of people around the world resolve to change their lives starting January 1. By February, most of them have reverted to their old ways. Self-improvement is always a great goal, but there’s obviously something about New Year’s resolutions that makes them hard to keep. What is it that makes them so difficult to stick to? And how can we take this idea of getting a fresh start and turn it into something we can actually stick with throughout the year? One problem with New Year’s resolutions is that the new year is an arbitrary point on the calendar. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything to us as individuals. So many of us resolve to make changes in our lives simply because we feel like we’re expected to, and obligation is never an enduring form of motivation. If you do something that really changes your life, chances are it won’t be because the calendar told you you should. Another reason it’s so hard to keep New Year’s resolutions is that many people try to do too much. So often we believe that if we aim to improve ourselves in five different ways, then even if we fail on four counts we’ll still have accomplished one important thing. In fact, what often happens is that once we slip up in one area, it’s much easier to make excuses for all the others, and we wind up back where we started — but with even less confidence in our ability to improve ourselves. It’s easiest to lie to ourselves when we think we’re not really lying. In terms of New Year’s resolutions, this means that if we can make excuses to ourselves about why we didn’t keep up with our resolutions — or, worse yet, fool ourselves into thinking we are keeping up with them — then we’ll feel better about failing to make the changes we’re trying to make. Armed with the knowledge of why so many resolutions fail, there are a few things we can resolve to do differently this year.
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1. Resolutions don’t have to correspond to the start of the year. If you feel like something in your life needs to change, anytime can be a starting point. The best time to resolve to do something differently is when you feel pressure from the inside to make changes, not pressure from the outside, such as at the start of a new calendar year. 2. Make small changes. Don’t try to improve everything in your life all at once, because attempting to do so is setting yourself up for failure. Change little things about your daily routine that make you feel better, make you healthier or improve your relationship with the world. Then build from there. 3. Set specific goals. If you decide that you need to exercise more, don’t just resolve to exercise more. Decide what “more” means to you. Set a specific amount of time per day you’ll spend exercising, or a specific number of times per week you’ll go to a yoga class. The more specific you are with your goal, the less easily you’ll be able to make excuses and the more you’ll have to hold yourself accountable if you mess up. No matter what you do differently tomorrow from what you’ve done today, you will still be you. Rather than try to completely overhaul yourself and get rid of all your flaws, know that you’re a good person who just needs to make some simple adjustments. Humans are creatures of habit. If you can incorporate small changes into your life one at a time and practice these new behaviors over and over, soon they will become second nature. You won’t become a new person overnight, but in the midst of our quick-fix, Band-Aid-solution world, you may be one of the few who make enduring improvements. Remember the old joke: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. About the author: Leila Kalmbach is an Austin-based freelance writer and editor who is currently spending the year in Australia. Leila grew up in Austin and graduated from Reed College in Portland, Oregon. In her free time, she enjoys reading, writing, hiking and spending time around the water. Contact her by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.eyeforink.com for more information.
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