New Year's Resolutions

Beyond IF, Toward CAN

Many of us want things to be different this year.

To feel different, to look different, to extract from our time something more than last year. From the outset, I try to remember that the one gift we are given that we can simply cannot make more of is time — it spends itself at the same rate and rhythm no matter how we fill it.

Fill your time with things that restore you.

I recognize that this is easier said than done, but it can be done by choosing to make time for things you want or miss or need. I encourage folks to think about one or two things they want to add or improve upon and then allocate five minutes to it every single day. No matter what.

Go with others beside you.

There are many paths you can go down to reach the same goal, and many goals reached from that one path. The point for me, as a person and a professional, is to pick a path and to ask others to walk with us on it. It can be difficult to predict whether this path will send us forward, backward, sideways, or in a different direction. It can be even harder to trust that others will be willing to walk with us when darkness falls on the path we have set out upon.

Always forward.*

As the first few weeks give way to February, I imagine that many of us will start wondering if we have what it takes to hold fast to our resolutions. My advice is to shake the snow globe by looking for a fresh perspective on your habits and then rebooting by taking action with others.

It can often feel impossible to move beyond IF and SHOULD, but I think joy and hope are found in things we WILL and CAN do this year. The IFs are mostly unanswerable, and the SHOULDs are usually unbearable. But there are so many things we CAN do if we break things down, start small, look to others when we reach setbacks, and trust the process WILL continue to unfold.

*Yes this mantra is borrowed from Marvel Comics.

*Yes this mantra is borrowed from Marvel Comics.

With the Help of Thy Grace


On the 4th floor of The Cardinal Gibbons School, our teacher always asked us to stand at the start of each 10th grade English class.  We had a lot of characters for teachers, and Mr. Foy was definitely one of them. Equal parts Bilbo Baggins and Robin Williams as played in Dead Poets Society, Mr. Foy began each English class by asking us to stand and say in unison the following 4 prayers: Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and traditional Act of Contrition.

Each line in this last prayer always resonated with me, and through the passage of time and the taking up of my profession as a psychologist, the one that rings most clearly still is:

I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace

As we have just started a New Year, I imagine many of us (myself included) have acts and thoughts we want to resolve. The origin of the word resolve comes from the Latin and has come to take on a few different meanings: to loosen; to find a solution; solve; to put right.

Many of us will make resolutions to eat better, sleep more, work out, read books, and be nicer. After the newness of the year wears off, the resolve many of us felt at the threshold weakens. This then is when I believe that grace, either from within or above, comes in awfully handy. By grace then I mean being able to maintain your poise in reaching and striving for these goals.

I think there are things we can do to maintain our resolve toward establishing these habits:

  1. Set Goals you can readily achieve and make them Observable and Measurable. Vague goals are unlikely to be met even for those with the firmest resolve.
  2. Create an Accountability Mechanism for tracking the goal. This can be an Excel spreadsheet, daily posting of your runs to Facebook, automating reminder to report your progress to your best friend.
  3. Find a Cue that for you signals the new routine. Maybe it's a song, a sound, an image -- whatever it takes, try to find something you cannot tune out and make it something that reminds you of something you are working toward.
  4. Make Space and Time for the new routine. If you want to start running tomorrow, go to bed in your running outfit and put your running shoes by the door. Have the coffee set to go off 15 minutes after you come home so that it's ready to drink after you shower. If you haven't run in 2 years, focus on walking three days a week or even stretching for a few minutes each morning as your coffee brews. Start today.
  5. Establish a clear Reward for following the new routine. In order to drink the coffee, you have to (stretch, walk, run). In order to watch football on Sunday, resolve to (attend church, mow the lawn, volunteer, reach out to family). Making things at least somewhat contingent will help move the habit forward, at least initially. It will be important, though, to establish an internal reward or reason for the goal you have set. Reminding yourself of the "why" you're trying to do something different is also important.
  6. Find a Buddy or Build a Team to share the new routine. This could range from finding a friend to run with, joining a running team or an on-line support community that can offer encouragement and accountability while working toward the goal.

One of my absolute favorite on-line communities that I stumbled across a few years ago is Nerd Fitness. I like how it incorporates an interest in gaming with social connectedness.

Good luck with your New Year's Goals in 2017!