Near the end of every calendar year… or in the first few days of a new year… huge numbers of people make resolutions with the goal of improving their life. Some of those resolutions are very specific and equally unrealistic. For example, after someone has been a cigarette smoker for years (if not decades), they decide that starting January 1st of the New Year, they’re going to quit smoking… cold turkey. Now, they’ve decided to quit a dozen times before and they’ve stopped smoking for several days at a time, made themselves miserable, and then come up with a reason why they just HAVE to have a cigarette. My own father stopped smoking for a year after he had heart surgery and then someone offered him a cigarette at a bar and he thought, “One won’t hurt.” Another year later he had to go through the misery of quitting again.
My point is: How realistic are the resolutions people make that are drastic and with a very specific goal? How long does the resolution last and then, if someone fails to keep a resolution, how badly does that failure impact their commitment to any other resolutions they’ve made? Quitting or giving up can become a habit just like anything else. Above all else, if you fail at ONE resolution don’t let that inspire you to fail at others. Instead, let it increase your commitment to the others so you experience success rather than failure in relation to your resolutions. I’d also suggest maybe making some resolutions that are realistic and life enhancing. Here are a few I’ll be making this year.
Better health through a commitment to eating a little cleaner and being slightly more active.
I can’t tell you how many friends I have who commit to going on a diet starting the first of the year with the goal of losing X number of pounds. Some of them do well with a fad diet or drastic alterations to their intake but few make changes long term or with any permanence. Take a different approach. Resolve to eat a little healthier. We all know how to do this: include more vegetables, fewer sweets, maybe a few less processed carbs, and a little less fat. Alter ONE item per meal. Eat breakfast and have a piece of fruit with it. Substitute a salad for the Doritos at lunch. After dinner, make desert a sweet treat that isn’t just pure whipped sugar. Instead of ice cream, have a slice of apple pie. It doesn’t seem like it would make much difference but then we add in the “be slightly more active” part.
Go for a walk each day. Stretch every day. Stand up at work instead of always sitting in your office chair. DO something that makes you move your body. There is truth in the statement that objects in motion tend to stay in motion. The more active you become the more you will enjoy and crave it. If you have an hour for lunch, eat for a half hour and walk for a half hour. Make the walk someplace with decent sites and views (if you can). Get up fifteen minutes earlier each morning and stretch after you’ve showered. Typically your body/muscles are all warm and you can limber up before you get into your work day. Before or after dinner, go for another walk… or rake leaves… or sweep the deck… or anything else that gets you moving. Before you know it, committing to a half hour per day of activity is easy and you’re doing an hour or more. Do you have a television show you just have to watch and it’s an hour long? At every commercial, get up off the sofa and do some deep knee bends or toe touches or jumping jacks… or ANYTHING. Move your body. It feels good and is rewarding in the long term.
Travel more – meaning “just get away from work and enjoy living.”
All too often we get so caught up in working to pay our bills and have some money left for ourselves that we forget to go spend some of it. Whether your idea of a weekend getaway is camping in the mountains or napping on a beach, do it. There are a lot of people who plan an annual vacation. Think about that: they PLAN to take off away from work and home ONE time each year. Why? There are 52 weekends in every year. With the addition of some holidays thrown in, several of them are three or four days long. Yes… you should absolutely take that long annual vacation to somewhere you always wanted to go and completely escape the bonds of responsible life for that time, BUT there’s no reason not to take a bunch of shorter breaks through the rest of the year. Take one weekend a month, even if it’s just Friday evening through Sunday evening, and go do something somewhere out of your ordinary. Can’t afford the hotel rooms? Go camping. Too cold? Drive a little farther south (a couple hours can make a world of difference), spend a few dollars for a couple warmer sleeping bags, and zip them together so you can snuggle with your significant other on those chillier nights. During the days go hiking or shopping (even if it’s just window shopping) or sight-seeing or whatever. Just give yourselves the breaks from work a bit more frequently and increase the amount of your life that you’re LIVING rather than working and focusing on responsibilities.
Complete an improvement project in your home.
Every husband I know, and every single woman as well, has a “honey do” list. It’s that list of things that need done around the house, garage, barn or yard. Some husbands are pretty good about getting these things done, tackling them one or two at a time every weekend they have off. Some other husbands have the outlook of, “Okay, I said I’d do it. No need to nag me every six months about it.” The reality is that NOT getting anything done on that list of projects and seeing it continue to grow can be demoralizing… so don’t let it grow. First, regularly get something done on that honey do list. Second, pick a more major project around the house, plan it, schedule it, buy for it and DO IT. The cool part is that three or four years from getting it done you’ll remember doing it and smile about having gotten it done. And with most such projects, getting them done in some way improves or makes easier your day to day life. Stop putting off rewarding yourself with a better life.
Pick one bad habit and make an effort to minimize or erase it.
We ALL have some bad habits. Procrastinate? Yeah, I do that sometimes. Drink too much coffee? If there is such a thing, I probably do it. Curse too much? Yep. If there are no young ones around I can embarrass a drunk sailor. Bite my fingernails? If my stress levels get too high. We ALL have some bad habits. Is it reasonable to make a resolution to completely stop one? It’s a nice thought. But there’s a reason we call them habits – because we do them as part of our everyday behavior. A lot of that behavior is performed without ever even thinking about what we’re doing and THAT makes habits difficult to break. First we have to be consciously aware of them and THINK about not doing them any time we MIGHT be doing them (or start to).
So instead of trying to completely cut a bad habit out of your day, make an effort to reduce it. Yes, sometimes I sound like an idiot because I can’t form a complete sentence when I’m trying to avoid cursing, but I eventually get the words out and don’t sound like such a trash mouth. A little less coffee? I can do that some days. Stop biting my nails? I’ve been quite successful at that one. What is YOUR bad habit you’d like to reduce and eventually cut out? Identify it; commit to REDUCING it in your day; and eventually you can cut it out altogether.
Create something – painting, sculpting, carpentry, writing, landscaping…
Each and every one of us has a creative impulse that we should indulge. It doesn’t matter if you’re GOOD at it; practice and you’ll get better. Get some training, whatever. The point is that we all like to create something. We like to see or read something we’ve generated and think, “Yes… I did that.” There are 365 days in the year. That’s plenty of time to pick a little bit out of each day or week and work on whatever project you pick. Do you like wood working? How about landscaping? Do you want to write the next great novel? Start small and work big. Build that garage workbench… and then use it as a platform to work on more projects. Plan that garden in the unused and neglected corner of your yard and then make it happen. Learn from mistakes and what works or doesn’t and move on to the next part of your property that you’d like to see improved or looking different. Write a short story or a blog about how you feel. Find inspiration in feedback from others and move on to the next writing piece. End the year looking back at a few things you’ve crafted and commit to making something better in the next year.
Learn a new skill / talent / topic – to a level of reasonable competency.
All too often our skill sets, that we practice to a decent level of mastery, are work related. That’s awesome if you love your work. But if you don’t live just to get to work every day then there’s something else that increases your enjoyment of life or that could. Pick one of your skill sets and practice it in a focused fashion to improve your mastery level, OR… pick a new skill to learn and start practicing. How long do you practice? Well, this phrase comes to mind: “When you’re good at something you’ll tell others. When you’re great at something, they’ll tell you.”
Completely and thoroughly detail clean your vehicle – and then reward yourself with a road trip of at least a weekend’s length.
Every single one of us has gotten into our car or onto our motorcycle and thought, “Wow; this thing’s dirty. I need to clean it out.” And bear in mind that by “car” I mean whatever you drive day to day whether it’s a truck, Jeep, sedan, coupe, motorcycle or other unique vehicle. If you’re in and out of it every day, driving it to and from your place of work or even just the grocery store, it’s getting dirtier every day. At some point we all notice and it becomes bothersome. So… clean it thoroughly and reward yourself. Spend a morning cleaning, waxing, vacuuming, dusting, wiping, etc. Make it shine pretty and smell new. Then reward yourself for that hard work by driving it somewhere fun and enjoyable.
Give to charity either time or items – more than you did previously.
A lot of people say that Karma is a bitch. I disagree. I think Karma is nothing more than universal customer service. As such, “she” delivers what you order. If you create negativity, Karma visits negativity upon you. If you generate positive and good energy, Karma brings that back to you in some way. If YOU can believe that too, then it’s easy to see the obvious selfish and personal benefit of doing good for others. Volunteer some time. Donate some unused clothing or non-perishable food items. Write that check for an extra few dollars. Every single one of us has something we can give whether it’s time, goods or money. Give some. Give a bit of each. Feel good about yourself for what you do and enjoy the surprise when Karma brings some of it back to you.
Help someone – when the opportunity arises in whatever way your talent(s) fit.
Every single one of us needs help with something at some point. Every single one of us can give help that someone needs. Isn’t it cool how that works out? The challenge we face is when someone who needs our help is someone we really don’t want to offer it to. The only thing worse is when someone needs our help, we offer it and they reject it. There’s nothing we can do about that. Such situations require THEM to grow up a bit and learn to be more accepting. What WE can do is open our hearts a bit more and offer help even to those we don’t really want to. It makes the gift of assisting all the more valuable in that universal karma bank.
Commit to only worrying about events or circumstances you can change.
Above every other thing written above, please take this one to heart. Too many people suffer from stress and hypertension, high blood pressure and other health issues. Why? Because they constantly worry and think about things they have absolutely zero control over. What’s the stock exchange going to do? Is my boss going to give me more work I’m too busy to handle? How much is gas going to cost next week? Is my daughter’s husband treating her okay? Is my son doing okay in college?
Stress, worry, worry, stress. What can you change? None of it. Invest as wisely as you can. Do your job as best you can. Budget for reasonable gas cost. Listen if your daughter needs an ear. Assist if your son asks for it. But WORRYING about any of that does nothing but negatively impact your health. In fact, you shouldn’t worry about the things you CAN change either; you should simply plan and act to change them.
Nothing else written above has the ability to impact your day to day quality of life and health than this one simple practice: don’t worry about the things you can’t change. You just have to deal with them. That’s called life. If you CAN change something for the better, make your plan and take the appropriate action. Revel in the victories of successful change and learn from the not-as-successful attempts at change. You have not failed at anything unless you learn nothing from WHY you didn’t succeed.
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Go into the New Year with a commitment to yourself to improve your life in small ways that add up in big ways… and can help you enjoy many more New Years to come.
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If you enjoyed reading this article, please check out my two published books which are classified as “self help” and “motivational” –
Above Dirt (2nd Edition): For your Kindle or Paperback Edition