Jews are lucky. We get two birthdays – our Hebrew date and our solar calendar date. We get upwards of 10 holidays throughout the year, separate from legal holidays. And we get to fail at our New Year’s Resolutions twice – once at January 1st, and again at the Jewish New Year in September!
How to beat the odds? In 8 steps, that’s how.
1. Choose what you’re good at.
Most folks invariably make doomsday mistake #1: they pick what they’re bad at. Fail continuously at dieting? Resolve to lose weight! Have an awful relationship with your in-laws? Resolve to be nice to them! Consistently lose your temper with your kids! Resolve to be more patient!
While these goals are lofty and admirable, they are bad choices for one reason: they will never work.
Choose something you’re already good at, but resolve to upgrade it in quality or quantity. Or, similarly, choose something you’ve been jonesing to do for awhile, want to do, and know you can do, but needed a poke in the ribs. This is it. New Year’s is your poke.
You have a good marriage, but have noticed yourself slipping in disparaging your spouse to others, all in a jokey way. You know you can reign this in, and really want to.
2. Pinpoint an action.
Saying, “I’m going to be more healthful” is super nice, but until you make it a specific VERB it won’t mean much in the real world. Try: I’m only going to spend $5 a week on junk food. Or: I’m going to join a produce food share. Or: I’m going to move my computer upstairs so I have to do the stairs several times a day. Those are actions!
In your marriage resolution, the action might be: I’m going to order a set of CD’s on marriage improvement and keep it in my car. Or: I’m going to use the words “sweetie” or “honey” more often. Or: I’m going to call relative x, who’s been happily married for 50 years, and ask her if I can come over to do an informal interview and get some nuggets of wisdom. Note the verbs: order, use, call. They are practical actions that you can visualize yourself doing today.
3. Make it specific.
Now that you have an action, make it more specific. You’re going to join a food share? When will you call? Whom will you call? Where will you store it? Get as nitty-gritty as you can – it will save you heartache later instead of having your resolution die a slow death of neglect and ambiguity. You’re going to move your computer upstairs? When? To where? Is there space? Think all the details through.
From whom will you order the CD’s? Do you need to do research on a good recommendation? Are you going to be more mushy in public, or just in private? Which relative will you call, and when? Do you have time for the interview, or is this just wishful thinking? You know you’ve accomplished this step when you have a plausible to-do item that is on your list or in your calendar.
4. Limit by time.
Don’t leave your resolution open-ended. How much time will you spend on this? If your resolution is to be more patient with a co-worker, give yourself a time-frame: from 9-10 am, you will work on your attitude. Or if your resolution is to call your mother-in-law once a week, pinpoint your time-frame: Friday mornings, for a maximum of 10 minutes.
Also set a deadline by which you will stop and re-assess if this resolution is the right one: ie, after a month, or six. The length of time is less important than that you are giving yourself a kosher endpoint to stop and take stock. At that point you may choose to scrap and start over – hopefully you’ll have learned something in the process. Or you may choose to upgrade again. Or even to continue exactly what you’re doing.
“I will listen to the CD’s for 10 minutes a day, when I’m on my way to my 3:30 carpool. Or, I will be especially kind on Sunday mornings, from 8-9 am (try it at a time that you’re awake for a greater challenge). I will try my program for two months.”
Now set a reminder on your iphone or Blackberry or whatever – both to remind yourself to do it, and to let yourself know when your endpoint approaches.
5. Limit by place.
Don’t expect yourself to abide by your resolution everywhere. We all have times that we’re away from home, not on our own schedules, and are otherwise not in control of life’s details. Build that right into your resolution so it doesn’t throw you.
Example: only going to spend $5 a week on junk food? What about when you’re away on vacation? Will you be exempt? Will you up your allowance to $10 a week? Make these decisions in advance. Going to call your mother-in-law every Friday? What about when you’re traveling for business?
It’s fine to limit your resolution to only apply when you’re home, when you’re eating at your own table, or in your car. It’s even better – both because you’re making your resolution that much more attainable, and because you’re planning for the unexpected - which will happen regularly. One year, I resolved not to make phone calls when I was driving a child to or from an appointment, but only if that child was the only other person in the car besides me. This would be my private time with that child. Had I resolved to not be on the phone when my kids were around, my resolution would’ve died eons ago. As it stands, I still am in full observance of that resolution, made a number of years ago – because it was so very specific and limited.
“I will work on my marriage in the car listening to the CD’s. If I’m driving someone else’s car to carpool, I will not hold myself responsible.”
Or, “I will be more cognizant of my language while at the breakfast table. Or, when we go out with friends to venue x, I will be especially aware to build my spouse with positive language, and not be denigrating.”
Specify the place where your resolution will happen.
6. Write it down.
No, not in your head. Not in your computer. Not even in your iphone. Take an index card or piece of PAPER, and a good ol’ fashioned PEN, and write it down. Next, TAPE it somewhere you will see it every morning: on your alarm clock, on the mirror in your bathroom, in your underwear drawer.
“I will use especially soft language to my spouse like ‘sweetie’ and ‘honey’ every morning as we are getting ready to leave the house, from 8:00 am-8:30 am. I have set myself a reminder in my phone. I will only do this when we are home. I will try it for one month, then reassess.”
Now tape it to your bathroom mirror.
7. Share it with someone who loves you.
Make a copy of your index card or paper and give it to someone who loves you. No need to shout it from the rooftops, and also not smart to share it with the butt of your resolution, but definitely make yourself externally accountable by sharing it with someone who really wants you to succeed: your spouse (unless you’re working on that relationship), a good, trustworthy and discreet friend, a sister.
Make a copy of your marriage resolution and share it with a close sibling or girlfriend who also has a good marriage and truly wants you to succeed – but won’t share it with others.
8. Set yourself a consequence.
When (not if) you slip, you will give yourself a consequence. Determine what that consequence will be now. It should be a proactive action – not a “refraining from” kind of thing.
Good: I will unplug the TV for ½ hour.
Bad: I won’t watch my favorite show.
Good: I will send a $10 donation to a cause I disagree with.
Bad: I will skip my favorite Starbucks drink.
Good: I will spend ½ hour folding laundry [insert your least favorite chore here]. This is actually very good, because your household benefits.
Bad: I will do my resolution for longer tomorrow (the time frame you chose is just right; if you couldn’t swing it today, don’t expect yourself to surpass your original expectations tomorrow).
If I flub up my half hour, I will spend an extra fifteen minutes prepping my spouse’s favorite salad/dessert/picking up something special for him that day.
Now you see what you can do
How to choose to see this through
Try the steps, one through eight,
See how soon you celebrate!
Let me know how it goes!