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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The non-resolution

What are your resolutions for the new year, is the question I like to annoy my friends with as January 1st approaches.

Most of the time, my friends are rather interesting people, but when it comes to resolutions, they get very boring (sorry guys! hahaha!): "Oh, I'm not taking any resolution", "I don't like resolutions" and "I never respect them anyways" are common answers I receive.

Why? I wonder. First of all, isn't reaching a goal you've set for yourself, especially when it involves some hard work, one of the best feelings of all? What satisfaction do we get from statu quo? Not much. Plus, common wisdom says that we always end up regretting the things we didn't do much more than the things we did do. To me, that's good enough reason to kick myself in the rear-end!

Isn't the beginning of a new year the perfect moment to make fresh new changes to your life? I know it's perfectly arbitrary, but the switch to a new calendar seems to me like a great psychological transition to a new period in one's life. A five-year plan seems too blurry, and a shorter time span would put too much pressure. Twelve months seem ideal to implement a change. When the year comes to an end, I like to reflect on the past 12 months, and by the same token, plan for the next 12. Sometimes, what I'll do is set one goal, and whenever I feel it is achieved or mastered, I'll add a second one. For example, on January 1 you could start meditating/jogging/writing/reading every day for 20 minutes. Then, a few weeks/months later, once it's become a habit, you could add another goal that suits you.

The main problem with resolutions (or goal-setting) is that they need a few characteristics to work out. Think of the acronym SMART. A goal has to be

Specific
Measurable
Achievable
Realistic
Time-targeted

Omit one of those factors, and you have very little chance of reaching the goal. This is why goals such as "I will eat better", "I will exercise more" and "I will be more careful with my finances" sound great, but lead nowhere. Take a piece of paper, write down the general goal, and then add the details for each letter of the SMART acronym. Be precise. Be imaginative. Use anything that could help. For example, I have a picture of a runner on my fridge. I see it every time I pass by. Her incredible abs and quads are a reminder that I, too, want to be top shape!

Please don't forget to be gentle and indulgent with yourself. It is very hard to change. There are gonna be setbacks and difficulties. Do you know about the physical law of inertia? This is the tendency for objects to resist any change in their motion. It might explain why it's so hard to become active when you've been sedentary. I consider myself physically active, yet I still find it hard to get my b*** off the couch sometimes!

I truly believe in psychological inertia as well. After all, one of the best predictors of future behavior is past behavior. If you've gotten used to eating junk (or any other unhealthy habit), making the first step is gonna be hard. In fact, it's probably gonna be painful as well. They say that when you become member of a gym, for example, the first weeks/months are critical: during that period, exercising is not pleasant yet, and you dread it. If you keep it up in spite on the unpleasantness, you'll eventually feel great and discover exercising actually gives you energy. You'll even crave going to the gym... but only after your body and mind have gotten used to it.

As a perfectionist, I used to drop a goal as soon as I experienced one little setback. I know better now. Skipping a workout or eating junk once in a while is no big deal. "Forget about it, get back on track, and look forward" is my new motto. Humans are imperfect by nature; life itself is imperfect! Better go with the flow than try to fight it.

Another factor we too often overlook when we set goals is the WHY. Why do I want to reach that goal? Is it really something I want, or am I just trying to please/impress someone else? Is this an end or the means? Is the goal actually just a way to get to something else? And why do I want that something else? Answering those questions is crucial. I used to work at helping people who are trying to quit smoking, and the first thing they'll tell you is that you have to do it for yourself. Not for anybody else.

A goal does not need to be totally unpleasant either. Quite the contrary, in fact. If it is too unpleasant, you won't make it. From what I've heard, to quit smoking is very hard, but if you give yourself rewards, it helps. Treat yourself like a child, and give yourself something when you do good: a bubble bath, new clothes, a book, music, a movie... find your carrot, put it at the end of a stick, and hold it in front of you. Many ex-smokers collect all the money they would have spent on cigarettes to pay themselves a trip to a warm and sunny destination.

The goal itself can be a treat. My friend A, who recently became a mom, decided to take a bath once a week (we sure hope she's going to shower the other days!), just because. Because she enjoys taking baths, and because she wants to do it more often. Simple as that. Talk about a cool goal! I bet you she will have a more balanced life as a consequence anyways, since bath = relaxed state = healthier life choices. Like my yoga instructor, L, likes to say, you don't need to plan to improve your whole life at the same time. Make just one change (begin to exercise, to do yoga, to meditate), and oftentimes, the rest will just follow naturally. You will find yourself slacking on junk food, alcohol and other things that are not so good for you. (Be careful, though, as to not replacing one "vice" with another: last year, my resolution was "less sugar, more wine". Didn't work out so well. hahaha!)

A much better resolution I took many many years ago (when I was in grade 8) was to get rid of my shyness. Anyone who's experienced severe shyness knows how much a pain in the "/$%?&* it can be. I wouldn't hesitate to call it a handicap. And by age 14, I was getting very tired of it. Tired of avoiding social situations just because they generated so much anxiety. Tired of not being able to speak for myself. Tired of the physical symptoms (tied knot in the stomach, wet palms, fast heartbeat). My plan: to do one thing that I dreaded every single day. Just one. The rest of the day I could resort to avoidance. But at least once I had to step on my shyness and go forward: make that phone call, wave ostentatiously to my friends at the other end of the cafeteria, raise my hand and ask a question, etc. At first, it was very stressful. Then it became kind of a game. And six months later, I had conquered 95% of my shyness. In grade 9, I presented a poem (that I had written) in front of about 500 people. The year after, I was in the school theater troupe. I also sang on stage (same size of audience) twice during high school. I have never considered myself shy since then. In fact, I am perfectly comfortable speaking in front of a crowd. That plan to eradicate shyness in myself was one of the best resolutions I ever took! I was so happy about it that a year or so after I began the "No more shyness project", I wrote an article about the process, and it was published in a teens magazine. That, for a 15-year old girl, was a great boost to self-esteem. And I sure hope other kids benefited from my modest input.

I still regularly thank my teenage self for making that life-changing decision!

(By the way, resolutions and goals do not only apply to physical and psychological health. Financial health, marital health, family relations, social circle, intellectual life, spiritual life, are all areas that could use some improvement - even if very small - for most of us!)

The one last thing I'd like to say is, don't overdo it. Embrace change and go for it, but remember that finding balance is probably the best goal of all. Here is a little video entitled "How healthy living nearly killed me", by a man who decided to live healthy by following all of the experts' advice for a year. The results? You'll see in this video!

http://www.ted.com/talks/aj_jacobs_how_healthy_living_nearly_killed_me.html

2 comments:

  1. You, shy? Would have never known. I got to know you in 9th grade and always admired your intelligence and self confidence. Also never knew you published in a teen magazine! Ah, the things we learn from reading a blog! :) Loving your blog by the way :)
    Nat

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  2. Ah! Nat, you're too sweet! :-) I keep very good memories of the of physics classes we took together, and that's mostly thanks to you! Remember the vectors? ;-)

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