A few days after Christmas, I was lingering with my family at the kitchen table after breakfast when the conversation turned to New Year’s Resolutions. I love this transition week between the holidays, when we’re still munching on cookies but also talking about getting in shape.
The Danish probably have a specific word for this particular irony. It’s like “hygge,” their untranslatable word for coziness and contentment – complete with wool socks and stews and fireplaces and hugs – but then with side-eye glances to see if everyone else is still into it.
I think some of us need that “I’m over it!” momentum to set a new course.
I’ve been asking people in my life about their New Year’s Resolutions because I actually love talking about goals and dreams. I love that in our culture, we have a calendar marker to collectively look at the lives we’re leading, and the lives we want to create.
Here’s some resolutions I gathered from my ambitious friends and family — and my dad, who contributed the last one.
“Make more art.”
“Buy an investment property.”
“Redecorate my home – make it feel like a home.”
“Create a landscape plan for my backyard.”
“Finish my screenplay.”
“I haven’t thought about it.”
In the first week of January, my sister does an activity with her high school English students in which they each take a sheet of plain paper and fold it into a grid of 32 squares. Next, they write a goal in each square, and then assign them a meta-category, like health, spiritual growth, education, family, etc.
I don’t know what the students do with their goals. My sister posts hers at her desk as a visual reminder of what she wants for that year. She’s pretty good at accomplishing them, too. (Or she’s good at accomplishing the goals I know about. But who can say? Maybe she erases some of them in early December and fills in the squares with things she did actually achieve. That’s how some of my “to do” lists look: “I didn’t clean the bathroom today, but I did read this magazine, so I’ll write that down and then cross it off.”)
Here’s the rub with New Year’s Resolutions: They often get created in a moment, in this week of transition and pent-up ambition. It’s like we’re crouched at the year’s starting line, eager for the shotgun so we can sprint toward success.
But sprints aren’t sustainable over the long haul, like, say, 12 months.
So what do we do? Back up from the end goal, and instead focus on the plan. That’s the lesser fun aspect of resolutions, right? It’s the homework part. It’s the “how” part, and it’s not easy.
The big question to ask yourself is this: What will it take to get what I want?
In my experience, successful planning starts with your environment, or environments, and how we can shape them to become our allies. I believe this: We are not stronger than our surroundings. We can withstand them for a while, but ultimately, we are little in comparison to the bigger picture.
Think of environments like weather. All the willpower in the world will not prevent one from getting a sunburn or frostbite if the sun is strong or the wind bitter cold. We need sunscreen and wool hats for that. My point is that all environments require some tools and tricks to navigate.
Here’s a story from my life about how changing my environment has helped improve the way I eat. But first, I want to acknowledge up front that this example can be overwhelming for some people and I get it: I am not prescribing anyone share my goal, and I’m not promoting a body ideal, either.
In this last year, I made my home a “sugar free zone.” I want it to be a safe place where I don’t have to resist the urge to eat dessert or snacks because I will eat them if they’re around.
For years, I thought the higher, more noble goal was to learn to indulge in sweet stuff with complete detachment. It’s almost as if I would buy a pint of ice cream in order to train myself to have a small scoop each night. Well, guess what? It didn’t work. I will never be the person who can simply forget about the Sees candy in the cupboard only to throw it out the following June.
I haven’t banned dessert from my life. I still love it. But I don’t have to expend the energy to live with it in my own home.
Do I lament this decision at 8:42 p.m. on the nights when I’m trying to finish extra work and burning out? Yes. Every time. But do I change out of my PJs and venture to Luv-It for a caramel sundae? Nope. I can if I want to – that’s part of the deal – but I don’t.
So, there you go. I just made your exciting resolutions seem a lot more like work. (Sorry for that.) Focus on the plan first, and then let the results flow. And consider ways you can turn your environment into your ally.
UP NEXT: How Brad Pitt factors into my own goals. Really. He’s a thing.