Do you have a New Year's resolution? As the last seconds of the year tick away, we often become introspective and think about ways that we can improve our lives. Some of the most common promises we make to ourselves each January 1st involve spending more time with friends and family, taking better care of our bodies, and sticking to a budget.
This year my New Year's resolution is to stop making New Year's resolutions. Don't get me wrong. It is a good thing to want to change our lives for the better on January 1st. But we must not forget that it is also a good thing to want to improve our lives on February 1st, May 12th, December 30th, or any other day. My point is that each moment is a time for positive change, not just the beginning of the year. So maybe I do, in fact, have a New Year's resolution --- to make each and every day an opportunity for growth.
Unfortunately, many promises we make to ourselves are broken fairly shortly after they are set. When I was struggling with an eating disorder, I used to make promises to myself daily only to break them by nightfall. I had great ideas about how to recover, but I did not make a solid commitment to follow through with any of these concepts. So the concepts remained just that: concepts. Making real change in my life required a new kind of commitment. It required action.
Whether we make a commitment on January 1st or another day, we must learn to describe our goals in specific terms. I used to promise myself, "I will never again engage in eating disordered behaviors."
After failing over and over again with the "never again" part, I realized that my goal was too broad. I needed to start smaller and to be more specific. So I made a commitment to eat lunch everyday for a month without restricting. I could make this happen. But making it happen required a plan.
When it comes to goals, we need plans. In my life, I have discovered that setting a goal without formulating a plan ends in the same result as if I had never set the goal in the first place. Without a plan, ideas remain ideas; concepts stay concepts. We need clear steps that can be put into action. For instance, when I became interested in exploring my spirituality, it helped for me to set aside a specific time each day to read spiritual literature, meditate, and pray.
Within our plans for progress, it is often beneficial to include accountability to others. When I made the commitment to eat lunch everyday, I was accountable to Nikki, a woman in my eating disorders support group. I made a promise to call Nikki everyday at noon and tell her my lunch plans. Regarding my work in spirituality, I became accountable to my sponsor in a Twelve-step group. Other people cannot only help with monitoring our progress, but they can also offer encouragement and provide a new perspective. A support team of friends, family members, health care professionals, and others is invaluable.
My support team encouraged me to write down my commitments to my recovery and myself in a journal. I have since realized that writing is a helpful step in accomplishing goals.
When we write down our goals, we must remain flexible. Just because a goal is written in some notebook does not mean that it cannot be changed. Life is all about change and being flexible. We must give our goals room to breathe and to thrive.
And we must acknowledge our successes --- big and small. While celebrating small successes, we keep our eyes set on the big change. At one point in my recovery from my eating disorder, my therapist said that the same small steps I had been making for years were just not going to cut it anymore.
I was not making progress, so I needed to concentrate on drastic change. Any drastic change I have ever accomplished in my life was the result of persistence and hard work. Nothing ever happened just because I woke up one morning and decided to change. No, things happened when I decided to change, took real action, and never gave up. Each morning, each moment is an opportunity for a new life.
I am not saying that we should never make a New Year's resolution. I am saying that we should not limit ourselves to change at only one time of the year. The best time to change is not always January 1st. And the best time to change is not tomorrow.
It is today.