When winter rolls around, I generally think of two things: 1) the fact that another year is coming to a close; and 2) the fact that I haven’t gotten nearly as much accomplished as I’d planned.
November is about when I start looking back over my list of resolutions from the previous January and going “HA! That was a good one!”
This always leads me to a third thought: damage control. True, my most ambitious, large-scale resolutions may be taking on water and sinking fast but, I think to myself, there must be a little life raft and some oars I can grab onto somewhere around here. I’m not one to admit defeat easily, nor am I one to jump ship on commitments I’ve made to myself, but the way I see it, there’s absolutely no reason to go down singing “Nearer My God to Thee” when you could be paddling happily toward a sweet little island off in the not-too-far distance.
In my view, the start of winter is a time of practical reckoning: You got a lot done. You lived some amazing moments. Maybe you didn’t nail every last New Year’s resolution, but you probably made some progress, and learned a lot about what to do and not do differently next year.
But why wait until next year? You’ve still got at least a few weeks to put some of what you’ve learned to good use. More importantly, you’ve got the opportunity to get some important stuff done – and set yourself up for greater success in 2004!
The key to coming through the last couple months of any year in which you haven’t slam-dunked all your big goals is to set a few realistic goals you can. This is far more fun than trying to mash a six-month project into a six-week timeline, and far more inspiring than moping about what you didn’t achieve.
In this article, we present a collection of “last-chance victories.” They’re creative suggestions designed to help you make strides in the spirit of your bigger resolutions, to give you a taste of what victory feels like, and to put you in a positive, “I can do it!” frame of mind for the coming year.
You’ll note that none of these ideas are short cuts, stop-gap measures or quick fixes. That’s because superimposing a long-term goal into a teeny-tiny amount of time only sets you up for feeling like a failure. The idea here is not to court disappointment. It’s to prime your subconscious with the loud-and-clear message that you are intent on making constructive changes and choices. It’s to grease the wheels of success &mdash and to increase your own awareness of how empowering even small changes can be.
All About Action
Some of these things you can do in an evening or weekend, others might take you the better part of a month. You can pick one big item to carry you through, or pick three or four smaller things to accomplish before the year is out.
You might choose something related to your original New Year’s resolutions, or you might decide that an accomplishment or task you never previously considered would serve you better. You can also make up your own last-chance-victory ideas, of course. Just don’t take on more than you know (for certain) you can do. Remember, this is all about creating successes. The last thing you need is a bunch of unwieldy baggage slowing you down or popping holes in the life raft you’re paddling!
Whatever goals you choose, choose them in the spirit of success and celebration, not duty. But take them seriously – as a way of proving you can be on-task and stay on track. Keep records (write down your goals and required steps in a journal and keep written tabs on your progress). Also be sure to schedule the necessary time to accomplish them (commit actual times and dates in your calendar). Then get out your big red pen, and get ready to make some serious check marks!
Health and Fitness
Without a strong, healthy body on your side, not only is it much harder to get any kind of goal accomplished, it’s tough to summon the energy and focus required to even consider change. That’s why, even though weight loss is the single-most popular New Year’s resolution, most of us would be far better off tackling basic health concerns first.
Whether you are looking for more energy, a sleeker physique, or simply trying to improve your overall health, the following suggestions are designed to help you build your health awareness and establish a clear dialogue with your body about its needs – so you can go into the new year with your priorities and purpose clarified.
- Give yourself a head-to-toe health inventory, noting all the weird symptoms and complaints you can think of. Major areas to evaluate include: digestion, elimination, breathing, musculoskeletal problems (areas that are weak, tight, or “go out” a lot), headaches, body pain, numbness, tingling, tension, skin conditions, mucus membranes, etc. Once you have a list of issues assembled, consider bringing it to an integrated-health professional who can advise you about which of your concerns may be connected and how their core causes can be best remedied (vs. just covering up symptoms).
- Do an inventory of your prescription and over-the-counter drug use. Arrange a consultation with a natural-health-oriented physician in order to evaluate whether some or all of your medications could be eliminated through better health habits, or replaced with more natural remedies.
- Keep a food log for a week (or even better, for the rest of the year), noting every meal, snack and beverage you consume, at what time of day, and in what circumstances (restaurant, home, on the run, in front of the TV). Use your log to evaluate your eating patterns and to determine if you are getting too much or too little protein, carbs and fats or whether you are eating enough fresh produce, drinking too much, etc. You can also use your food log to analyze which foods or food combinations give you diminished energy, gastric distress or other common food-sensitivity reactions.
- Reset your destructive eating patterns. Are you a night-snacker? An emotional eater? A fast-food junkie? A soda-holic? A chocolate fiend? For at least one week, make a concerted effort to track and adjust your pattern, raising your consciousness of it by journaling about the causal and resultant mental, physical and emotional experiences that arise each time you indulge (or are tempted to).
- Instill a new pro-health habit: For the next three weeks, start each day with fresh fruit, some green tea and a brief yoga or meditation session. (See “21 Days to Freedom” sidebar below.)
- Give up sugar and white flour for a week. While you’re at it, try a week-long detox (see our “Fresh Start” article from the March/April 2003 issue). Once you experience how your body runs on clean fuel, you’ll probably be inspired to make some more lasting changes.
- Overhaul your kitchen: Clear out the worst junk currently occupying your pantry/fridge (the stuff that is full of preservatives, sugars, artificial sweeteners, hydrogenated oils, saturated fats, refined grains and artificial colors), then replace with better, healthier, more wholesome choices.
- Change your market/shopping habits. For your next few trips to the store, avoid the packaged-food-junk aisles entirely and hit only the healthy parts of the produce, meat and dairy sections. Also try out a new organic grocer or co-op, and look into becoming a member of a CSA (community-supported agriculture group) for the coming growing season.
- Make four shopping lists – one each for winter, spring, summer and fall – composed of your favorite in-season produce. Display the lists on your fridge in turn, rotating them for each respective season.
- Learn some basic cooking skills and apply them by cooking a few new dishes (how about one per week for the rest of the year?). Attend a class or learn from a book (see this issue’s Edibles article for suggestions).
- Overhaul your sleep habits. Consider both the quantity and quality of the sleep you are getting, and for a week, strive for an ideal sleep mix. Take note of how getting enough sleep – even for a week – affects the rest of your daily life.
- Track your activity patterns. Wear a pedometer all day long every day for a week or two. If you’re getting fewer than 10,000 steps per day, you’re probably not moving nearly enough.
- Get up a half hour early for one week, and get outside for a walk or run before work (try peaceful, uplifting music, or skip the headphones and just listen to birds and notice the seasonal changes taking place).
- Do a visioning session about your ideal body and write down all the details. Then, for the rest of the year, reread your visioning statement each night, holding the image of that ideal body in motion while you fall asleep. You’ll be amazed at the impact.
- Schedule some workouts and active times for the remaining weeks of the year. You might also book some sessions with a trainer or workout buddy. Then get a fitness assessment, develop some basic workout skills and hammer out a program you can stick to in 2004. By Jan. 1, you’ll be miles ahead of most folks!
- Incorporate some body-positive fitness reading into your life. Subscribe to a magazine such as Outside, Silent Sports, Dandelion or Running, whose focus is more on athletic experience, less on vanity.
The quality of your space powerfully influences many aspects of your health and happiness. The stuff you have in your home can either inspire or oppress you. So while you are busy dreaming up all you want to accomplish out in the big wide world, don’t overlook the impact of other variables that hit you, quite literally, where you live. These are all good places to start:
- Declutter and decompress your home to create enough space for new, pleasant experiences in the year to come. Each day, for nine days, find nine things you can remove. Or pick the worst dumping ground in the house and figure out why clutter is accumulating there. Another approach: Enter your house by the front door and take notice of the very first discouraging, dark or clutter-ridden area you encounter. Clean, clear or fix the offending problem. Then exit the house and come back in again, repeating the same exercise as often (and over as long a period) as required in order to render your whole home a welcoming, life-affirming place.
- Instead of focusing on furnishings you want to accumulate, try to locate the ugliest and most inconvenient things in your home, and get rid of them – even if you can’t replace them right away. While you manifest the item(s) you really want, you can just let the space be, or rearrange to advantage. The benefit: You’ll get a better feel for how the new thing should look and perform, and you may also find that you can quite happily do without many of the things you thought you had to have.
- Rethink your wardrobe: Go through closets and discard stuff that doesn’t fit, flatter, or that just isn’t “you.” Also get rid of anything that is too “you,” but doesn’t represent the best self you’re intent on becoming. By wearing only things that make you happy and proud, you’ll crystallize your vision for yourself and help others see you more clearly, too.
- Clear out any harsh, toxic cleaning chemicals in your bathroom, kitchen and laundry. There are lots of healthier, equally effective (and often cheaper!) alternatives out there, and using them will make your housekeeping jobs more pleasant and rewarding.
- Take stock of the water and air quality in your home and your community. Most urban homes, and many rural ones, could stand to benefit from using drinking-water filters, shower-water filters and air- cleaning systems. Installing these simple pieces of equipment can have a surprisingly large impact on your quality of life, and provide a daily reminder of your commitment to your own health.
- Create an ideal sleeping environment (dark, quiet, serene, no TV, great bedding). If you can’t completely avoid light and noise in your home, consider investing in some window shades with light-blocking liners, an eye mask and/or soft-foam earplugs. Remove from your bedroom any electronic equipment, clutter or disturbing artwork that could interfere with the restive quality of the space.
- Start a shoes-off policy in your home. Get a basket of slippers to keep by the door and put up a “kindly remove your shoes” sign. By taking this Eastern approach, you’ll keep dirt and toxins out of your home while also sending the subtle message to yourself and others that your home is a temple. You may be surprised at how many ways this can translate into an entirely different kind of home experience.
It’s tempting to ride through the last couple months of the year (particularly the holidays) spending money like water and swearing you’ll start on an austerity budget next year. Taking some small baby steps now can have a much more positive and lasting impact.
- Sit down with three months worth of credit card bills, bank statements and your check register to see where your money is going. Add up what you are paying in finance charges, etc. Pay special attention to the money you are spending on things that contribute to poor health or fitness, things that you spend money on to please or impress other people, and expenses that are out of proportion to the amount of pleasure they give you. Once you have a clearer sense of your spending habits, imagine how reallocating your funds could pay off (see “Mirrors of Your Checkbook” from the Sept./Oct 2002 issue of Experience Life).
- Cut up all but one credit card, then organize a pay-off plan: Make minimum payments on all but your highest rate card. Put maximum funds against that card until it’s paid off, then repeat with the next highest card and so on, until you are debt free!
- Arrange for an automatic deposit from your checking to a savings or investment account.
- Go through your basement, attic, garage and find things you can sell online or at a consignment store, then put that money against debt or into savings.
- Consider tithing or making regular contributions to a charitable organization you believe in. Doing something meaningful with your money can often help you become more conscious of the ways you spend it unwisely.
If you’ve had some trouble getting around to making your goals happen this year, consider the extent to which overscheduling, fatigue and emotional stress have played a part. When you aren’t feeling happy and hopeful, everything you do feels like a chore – even the things you are most motivated to achieve. Here are some anti-stress strategies that can help you reclaim the energy you’re leaking.
- Go over your calendar for the past six months and identify things you disliked, resented or dreaded doing. Find ways to eliminate or recast them so you don’t have to suffer through them any more. That includes people who stress you out or with whom you don’t want to spend time.
- Go over your calendar again looking for stress-relieving slots. Don’t have any? Schedule three weekly decompression sessions for each of the next four weeks (they should be at least 30 minutes of meditation, yoga, non-work-related reading, or other fun, easygoing activities). Build up to including stress-relievers in each day.
- Do a forgiveness exercise: Identify a person or institution you’ve been holding resentment or blame against. Consider how much energy it is taking for you to maintain, then use some type of forgiveness or expression exercise to resolve (or at least evolve) your feelings. Remember, you are doing this for you.
- Do a gratitude exercise (see the Web Extras section for more information on gratitude exercises). Fully expressing your appreciation to someone who has helped you or meant a lot to you can be a wonderful way to refocus your energy on positive things, and to get perspective about what in life is of lasting importance. Excellent for those crappy days when everything seems to be going wrong and out of control.
- Make an exchange with a good friend: You agree to help her with some big onerous project she’s been putting off, and she helps you with one. Put on great music, get a supply of healthy snacks and drinks to fuel your effort, then turn on all the lights and make it fun.
21 Days to Freedom
According to behavioral-change experts, breaking a habit (such as night snacking or soda drinking) takes approximately 21 days. Instilling a new, good habit (such as taking your vitamins or getting out for morning exercise) requires about the same amount of time. That’s why, if you’re serious about re-patterning some aspect of your behavior, it makes sense to highlight a three-week chunk in your calendar and treat it as a special period.
During your 21-day rehabituation attempt, keep lots of little reminders and words of encouragement posted around your home, car and office. Share your “habit dates” with friends and family and ask them for extra support during that time. Plan daily and weekly check-ins, and schedule some kind of celebration day at the end.
Giving your habit-making or -breaking efforts this sort of concrete structure helps your subconscious mind acknowledge them as real commitments (vs. vague, wispy wishes). Having set “in” and “out” dates also allows you to harness your attention for a specific period of time and to note gradual changes along the way (by Day 14, you’ll probably notice that things are getting easier). All of this makes it much more likely you’ll carry your habit plans through instead of getting carried off-course by piddly distractions.
Get Hip Quick
Winter is a high-tide time for quick-fix diet hoaxes, fitness-equipment gimmicks, and supplement swindles. Don’t get sucked in! The truth: No miracle product is going to make you lose weight or get in shape faster than eating sensibly, exercising regularly and treating your body with care and respect. So work on those things first.
If you start now, you’re going to be looking and feeling appreciably better in a few weeks anyway, and by then, your interest in miracle cures will have waned. The best part: You can take all the money you saved on diet gimmicks and put it toward a snappy new outfit, haircut or winter vacation (all of which give you a lot more bang for your buck).
Much as we would all like to find instant-turnaround cures for our weight and fitness woes, the fact is, the vast majority of stubborn problems in these areas are the result of embedded lifestyle and attitude issues, not the result of one missing supplement or widget, and not something a two-week miracle diet is going to solve.
Before you take the leap into any sort of quick-and-dirty solution, remember this: When it comes to the human body, it’s what you are doing regularly and long term (not occasionally and short term) that counts. And that includes getting suckered by “quick fixes.” Being a regular consumer of them, like being a regular consumer of donuts, can only lead to trouble. If what you want is to look and feel great, be prepared to lead that kind of life. Impatient? No problem. You can start right now.