How to Really Start the Year Right


From Health magazine
I started keeping a diary when I was 10 years old and continued to do so until I was 25. Every year, on either New Years Day or my February birthday, I would write down a list of goals for the upcoming year.

Looking through my decades worth of resolutions, I wonder, Could now be the perfect time to call a do-over and fulfill past promises? Or is it, Once a failure, always a failure? Several of the resolutions—especially those made between the ages of 10 and 13—seemed silly on the surface but addressed fundamental personal shortcomings that Im now ready to face and fix.

1983: Take better care of my Cabbage Patch Kids.
2009 update: Take better care of my car, computer, clothing, etc., so I dont have to blow the budget on replacements.

1985: Stop talking about Michael Jackson so much.
2009 update: Stop talking so much, in general, and be a better listener.

1986: Get the right haircut so it looks good every single day.
2009 update: Get the right haircut so it looks good every single day without the benefit of a $50 salon blowout. (Im 35 years old, for goodness sake, and should know by now how to do my own hair.)

Its been a decade since Ive made an official list, perhaps because Ive come to see self-improvement as an ongoing process, not something that needs to be kick-started every year. When I brought up the subject of drafting these lists with my friends, I was met by a chorus of groans and Im-so-over-its. They, too, have stopped putting goals in writing because such lists often end up as taunting exercises in futility. “Instead, I make and break resolutions on a daily basis,” said Genevieve, summing up the consensus. “I say, ‘Ill be kinder, ‘I wont yell at my kids, ‘Ill exercise every day … I could go on.”

Opting out of grand annual resolutions doesnt mean were copping out, though. Rather, were taking a more day-to-day approach to self-improvement, continually evolving the goal (moving the goalpost, even), and celebrating the small victories along the way. When I make good on microgoals like Genevieves (hitting the gym, throwing together a hot-and-healthy meal), right away I feel happier, healthier, better organized, more connected with my family. Instant gratification! Whats more, because my daily targets arent made “official,” I dont feel as guilty when I slip up. So when Im having an off day and catch myself shrieking at my son, skipping the gym, and ordering take-out, I dont feel debilitated by defeat. I simply accept these lapses as part of being human, and move on—theres always opportunity to make a fresh start the next day.

And that means Im finally making good on a promise I made to myself year after year until I turned 25: a call for self-kindness. Its certainly a worthy ambition for anyone, at any age. But now, rather than writing it on a list of resolutions, Im inscribing this message in my mind and heart, and trusting myself to follow it. And if I dont, well, theres always tomorrow.