With one full week of 2016 under our belts, it’s more timely than ever to address those pesky resolutions. There’s nothing quite like January 1, a day that, for many, promises a clean slate, opportunity for growth and an almost otherworldly sense of hope that major life transformation and change can occur. And, if you’re anything like me, the promise of a tighter waistband and bank account balance I’d rather ignore! Prime blueprint for setting ambitious new goals. Problem is, that impenetrable resolve and blind faith we experience early this month has an expiration date. It will always fade, especially when it collides with our day-to-day life. We start with the best of intentions, but as February approaches and the “new year-new you-ness” of January fades, we find ourselves rescheduling workouts, ordering late-night Seamless, and giving up altogether on our pledge that this is the year we will learn Spanish.
On a recent visit to my hometown, I scoured through my childhood room. Tattered photos, yearbooks, too many scrunchies to count, my Jonathan Taylor Thomas poster and dresses I wore as a toddler preserved by my mother. Much of what you’d expect. Until I came upon something I’d forgotten about altogether: stacks and stacks of notepads, calendars, journals and checklists. I’ve been an habitual list maker from a very young age—not recounting the details of my day, but rather declaring outrageous goals (particularly for a 13-year-old) and dreams that my fellow classmates in small town Idaho would scoff if they’d seen. Calendars with color-coded stickers representing specific tasks that I’d completed during the day along with lots and lots of big X’s to denote a day I’d been “good” and accomplished everything I’d set forth to do. My system worked and carried me through high school and into college.
The innocence and fervor with which I tackled obstacles years prior was now challenged significantly. I didn’t give up on New York, but I sure as hell gave up on resolutions.
Suffice to say, I was prime material to become a lifelong “resolutioner,” tackling obstacles with a concrete plan, daily actionable steps and with support system in place to help me execute. But, somewhere along the way, life crept in. Real life. The load of responsibilities heightened, my father was no longer pulling my teenage bratty self out of bed at 6 a.m., and navigating life in Manhattan had me ready to cry on a curb near 14th Street before noon (yes, that was me). The innocence and fervor with which I tackled obstacles years prior was now challenged significantly. I didn’t give up on New York, but I sure as hell gave up on resolutions.
Several years passed as I aimlessly worked my way through the process that is learning to love this city. It was painful, and the rejection was sobering. The dreams I had written inside my beloved Lisa Frank folder seemed a lifetime removed.
Along with my cross-country relocation I’d managed to gain 25 pounds in the process. Bars open until 4 a.m.? Pizza by the slice and cupcakes on every corner? How could I resist? Not to say I hadn’t fluctuated in weight all along, but NYC brought out the beast in me. I was a chronic yo-yo dieter, a self-loathing, carb-restricting, juice cleansing, over-exercising binge-eater. Until…
January 15, 2012. The day that, out of utter desperation, I refused to live another year without the hope I’d had as a little girl in Idaho. I walked several miles through Brooklyn to the only Staples in the borough and stocked up. Colorful markers, posterboard to create my calendar and, of course, “star” stickers. It began. I walked around the McCarren Park track every morning until the spark behind my eyes returned; until the day I happily hopped out of bed actually wanting to. And then, I continued. I overhauled my eating with the pace of a monk, never omitting foods, but eating less of them and, eventually, ridding a few of them altogether because I didn’t like the way my body responded to them. Little by little, as I placed each gold star on my handmade, window-sized calendar, the accumulation of color looking back at me gave me a great sense of pride. Sure, there were days I missed a planned workout or decided “just this once!” to eat ice cream under the covers before bed. But I never stopped. The voice that once cruelly admonished me for my “failure” to do it on my own was still present, but grew quieter as I refused to listen. I learned to act “as if” I was already transformed, to move through the day even when every fiber of my being wanted to curl up and hide on the couch instead of brave the winter elements to go for a walk.
I lost 30 pounds. Not without a lot of struggle and sacrifice, and by no means quickly, but I did it. Three years later, I’ve kept it off using the same, simple strategies I employed as an adolescent. My father calls them “the fundamentals” and reminds me that not everything has to be so bloody complicated. No diets, no extreme bootcamps, no rules. Just a few tried and true tools to help along the way.
Take Inventory. This is the part that, if you’re honest, isn’t glamorous. “I’ve never seen any life transformation that didn’t begin with the person in question finally getting tired of their own shit.” You can thank Liz Gilbert for that gem! Time to take stock of what’s going on in your life and be truthful with all of it—the good, bad and in-between. Forget about impressing someone else, doing something for someone else, or being someone else. What are your priorities? Only you can make that call. Because listening to yourself is how you are able to fuel motivation and to sustain any commitment. It has to be what you really want in order for it to happen, at least long-term.
Baby Steps. It’s decidedly unsexy to think that we must have patience in all matters of changing habit. We’re New Yorkers! We want it now, now, now. We live in a society of instant gratification: instant coffee, instant breakfast, instant money from the ATM, Instagram… it never ends! Hate to tell you this, but slow and steady wins the race. Those hourly, daily, weekly choices add up to giant leaps over time. Making small adjustments can lead to big differences over the course of months.
Let it Go. Your effort does not have to be perfect or flawless. You don’t need to do or fix everything, especially all at once. It has to become part of your everyday life, part of your everyday you and of the way you think, act and breathe, if the change is going to last.
#sorrynotsorry Sticking with a resolution isn’t necessarily going to be easy or fun. It can require serious sacrifice, and not just passing up a few goodies here and there. Depending on your goal, it can mean creating a very different lifestyle for yourself—getting up at the crack of dawn, which means going to bed hours earlier, missing out on people and events who live by a different time table. It can mean staying away from certain people and certain places, if those are inconsistent with your goals. It can be downright painful, depending on who and what you will have to give up to become the person you want to be.
Squad up. Significant life goals and changes are only sustainable if you have help from other people. Your friends—the community of those around you who care about you, your well-being, your future, your satisfaction with life. This connectivity reinforces the message that you are not alone in the pursuit of what you want; that there are people on your team who are there to help, or at least to stand by; and that the successes you have are so much sweeter when they can be shared.