New Years Resolutions – not just for the first two weeks of January anymore!

The other day, after talking about some heavy topics, I had a client deflect and tell me that he was very excited for the New Year. As this particular client was not ready to talk about some of these topics at the time, I went with his deflection and asked what made him excited about the start of 2014. “New Years resolutions! I’m gonna quit smoking and stop cursing!” The next day, I had a client ask me about my own New Years resolutions, and told me that he was going to quit smoking and start exercising more.

Many of us see January 1st as a magical date that will allow us to renew, refresh, and resolve. On this day, we’ll quit smoking. Lose 10 pounds. Stop eating sugar entirely. Be more organized. Start that brilliant business idea that will make you millions of dollars and bring you infinite happiness. But come February, gyms become significantly less crowded. Desks become cluttered and tasks get lost. One cigarette drag turns back into that pack-a-day addiction. Sugar is consumed and that brilliant business idea gets thrown to the wayside until next January.

Fact is, New Years resolutions rarely work. We put pressure on ourselves to make these vast sweeping changes in our lives and get frustrated when we don’t see these immediate results. I don’t have to tell you that all of these changes (quitting smoking, starting a business, losing weight, eating healthier, etc) take time and effort. But we’re too busy for time and effort. So instead of actually working to accomplish these goals, we get annoyed and quit, pretending we never made these resolutions in the first place and wait until the next “good time” to start working on bettering ourselves.

Fact is, sweeping generalizations that you’re going to lose 10 pounds in two weeks don’t work and don’t stick. I’ve come up with some more realistic resolutions that can maybe last past the month of February. Take one of them, take all of them, take none of them. Do what works for you. I encourage everyone to meet whatever goals they set out to do, but having something that can easily be done year-round is going to last longer and probably make your life better than a vast declaration that’s designed to make your life miserable.

Don’t run if you hate running. Everyone knows that exercise is an important aspect of a healthy, balanced lifestyle. But if you have tried running 100 times and want to punch the ultra-marathoner two treadmills down from you in the face after you run half a mile, maybe running isn’t for you. Do something you like, and you’ll have an easier time sticking with it. Walk. Dance. Cardio jam blast. Whatever. Move in a way that makes you feel good in mind and in body.

Do something decent for the world, or at least for someone. As a therapist, doing good things for other people is literally in my job description. But I get paid (minimally, but paid nonetheless), and it’s not the same as doing something for someone else without necessarily getting something in return. Doing nice things for other people will help you take your mind off of your own selfish wants and help you to be a better person. You don’t have to give a million dollars to charity. Do a task for someone that they don’t want to do without expecting anything in return. Give something to someone that needs it. Write sticky notes on cars to tell a stranger that they’re great. It will make you feel better, and yay, endorphins!

Just eat the damn cookie. I get it, you’re on an organic raw gluten-free vegan diet that lets you eat nothing but kale. Great! Eat stuff that’s good for you. But you deprive yourself of anything you enjoy for too long and your self control is going to go out the window.  There’s enough body hate and disordered eating habits out there, and 2014 doesn’t need more of it. You want a cookie? Stop looking for reasons to justify your caloric intake and enjoy the hell out of that cookie. You’ve been eating raw kale for a month. You can give yourself a beak every once in a while.

Back away from the computer screen. Or TV screen. Or phone. Or anything with a screen. For 15 minutes. I recognize the hypocrisy of telling people to stop looking at screens all the time as I type this on my laptop, but alas, blogging is the way to alert the masses in 2014. Many of you probably have jobs where you have to look at computer screens for at least part of the day. Go read a book. Play an actual board game. Go for a walk. Spend time with people you care about in person. It will give your brain some time to relax and regroup, and maybe you’ll be able to accomplish that “stop being so stressed out” resolution you give yourself every year.

Do things when you’re ready to do them. Go ahead, quit smoking. Stop buying things you don’t need. Start eating green things and taking care of yourself. But you’re the only one that can hold yourself accountable for accomplishing these goals, because at the end of the day, January 1st is just another day on the calendar. Fresh starts are generally good things. But it’s even better when you do it because you want to and are ready to, not because there’s a mass expectation that by this date and this time, you have to have something accomplished. Make your New Years resolution the same as your February 17th or May 25th resolution and work towards becoming the person you always wanted to be.

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