Getting a Head Start on New Years Resolutions

I don’t really make New Year’s resolutions. Except for the calendar change, there isn’t anything that makes one year different from another. Seasons are cyclical, orbits are cyclical, life is cyclical — and by their very natures, cycles have no beginning or end. Still, a new year is a useful convention in the same way that a new day is a useful convention, giving us the feel of a new start, and so I am getting a head start on my resolutions.

Often during the year, I resolve to go back to a healthy diet and be more conscientious when it comes to an exercise program, but however disciplined I am, there comes a day when I simply do not care, and there ends the discipline. (This is, I think, a lingering effect of my grief over Jeff’s death, and seems to be a cycle that many of us left behind succumb to. On the one hand, we want to do what’s right. On the other hand, it makes no difference what we do — healthy or not, we all end up in the grave or the crematorium.)

I am going through one of my disciplined stages (or rather, my wanting-to-be-disciplined stage since this is only day two of this new cycle) in an effort to “youth” instead of “age.” Impossible, probably, to ratchet back the toll of the years, but it would take such a miraculous feat to enable me even to attempt my impossible dream of an iconic hike.

The only item on my disciplined to do list that I did not follow yesterday was perhaps the least important — the no eating after 6 o’clock rule. The others I did — stretched, lifted weights (very light weights considering my weak hand, wrist, and elbow), ate plenty of vegetables, and skipped the sugar, wheat, and milk products. Most importantly, I strapped on my backpack, added a bit of weight (the whole contraption weighed maybe eight pounds) and went for a two and a half mile trudge around the neighborhood.

Who would have thought so few pounds would make such a difference? I could walk but not with any bounce, speed, or glide to my step. And even though I used trekking poles and kept myself upright (too often you see people with backpacks bent over from the weight) my lower stomach muscles feel tight, and the inside of my thighs right above the knees are sore. (These must be muscles that my various dance classes don’t develop.) Those pains are in addition to an all-over body ache.

We’ll see what happens after a few days of this disciplined life. Before even the new year begins, I might have already broken my resolutions. But maybe not. There is that impossible dream — the unreachable star — to stretch toward.

Or trudge toward, as the case may be.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Beginning the New Year with a Clean Slate

This time of year, there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of posts giving hints on how to keep one’s New Years resolutions. Some of the advice is even good:

  • Make your resolutions public. While we might easily break what amounts to a promise to ourselves, if we tell others, we have at least a modicum of incentive to keep going.
  • Make small, realistic resolutions for change rather than large, sweeping resolves. Bad habits cannot be broken over night; if it were that easy to change, all of us would be perfect.
  • Be specific. Instead of resolving to lose weight, for example, make a pact with yourself to be at least a couple of pounds lighter by the end of the year. Plan how you will lose that weight.
  • Instead of making resolutions, set goals. Once a resolution is broken, it is broken, and it seems futile to continue, but with goals, if we fail one day, we can pick up our banner the next day and continue charging into the future.

Despite all this advice, by this second day of the new year, many of us have already abandoned our resolves, and by the end of the first week, most of us will have given up. Only 8% of us will keep those resolutions until the end of the year.

This sad statistic makes us seem wishy-washy at best and lazy at worst, but I wonder if there is something else at work here rather than a lack of . . . well, a lack of resolve.

In response to my New Year’s post, Coloring My New Year, writer Malcolm R. Campbell (whose first book The Sun Singer will soon be republished by Second Wind Publishing!!) commented: “January 1 does have a clean-slate kind of feeling to it. Perhaps it is that fresh new calendar. Maybe it’s our constant reminders to ourselves to start writing 2014 (on checks and documents) rather than 2013. For some, it’s a line in the sand between old habits and new dreams. We can use it, the new calendar, to motivate ourselves one way or another.”

And then I realized why it’s so hard to maintain our New Years goals or stick to our resolutions.

We don’t lose the resolve. We lose the clean-slateness. After only a few days, the sense of a new beginning dissipates. We’ve become used to writing “2014.” We’re back into the routine of our lives, probably more tired, more broke, and fatter than we were before the holidays. And somehow, in the comfort of our old lives, we forget the idealism we had when embracing a new year. We forget that for a moment we believed anything was possible, that we could become better, stronger, healthier, wiser, richer, more beloved if only we . . .

I abandoned the practice of making resolutions when still a child after I realized that by the end of that first week, I’d completely forgotten my resolution. (I only remembered when the next new year rolled around and I had to, once again, make that same undoable commitment.)

As an adult, I don’t make resolutions, though during the past couple of years I have tried to make each day special, to become a bit “more” by the end of they day than I was at the beginning, even if was only by a well-chosen word, the glow of a smile, a laugh shared, a moment of appreciation for the world around me.

The truth is, whether we feel it or not, each day does begin with a clean slate.

What are you going to do with your today?

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Willpower vs. Won’t Power

tugofwarI got spammed by a company that wants me to go to its site and take some sort of psych test to assess my willpower. The comment said their studies show that “when it comes to being disciplined and making healthy lifestyle changes, men tend to have a stronger resolve than women” and that “women may have a little more difficulty staying away from temptation and sticking to healthy habits this year.” Apparently, 46 percent of women rated their willpower as good compared to 61 percent of men.

Since the company has obviously made up its minds about my determination to stick to my resolve based on my gender, there doesn’t seem much point in following through. But besides that, the study seems dubious.

Their sweeping statements about men and women’s relative resolve was based on approximately 200 self-assessments, which isn’t exactly a “study” but more of a poll. Many things could skew the results. Perhaps men who didn’t have a strong resolve when it came to health resolutions didn’t want to go on record as having a weak resolve and so didn’t respond. Perhaps women are harder on themselves than men are, and see any infraction as a lack of resolution where men let it slough off. Perhaps men overrate themselves. Perhaps women have a better knowledge of themselves. Or perhaps men and women interpret their resolve differently. For example, if someone vows to eat healthier and passes on a second piece of cake when normally they would eat three pieces, that could be interpreted as sticking with their resolve and having willpower.

The poll revealed that “if pressured by a friend to “pig out” (after eating healthily for an entire week), 7% of women would totally give in, 46% would only share some of their friend’s junk food, and 47% would stay disciplined and eat healthy. For men, 8% would give in, 41% would share, and 51% would stay disciplined.” Not exactly a resounding indictment of women or a pat on the back for men. Assuming that the participants in the poll were equally divided between men and women, only four more men than women claimed they would stay disciplined. Which means that almost half of both sexes say they won’t. (The poll didn’t reveal if in fact more men would stay disciplined, only that they said they would.)

New Year’s resolutions are always difficult. By making a big yearly resolution, you’re setting yourself up to fail because it’s very difficult to make a major change all at once and stick with it. For one thing, habit is too strong. For another thing, you have to retrain your family and friends so they don’t pressure you back into your pre-resolve lifestyle. For still another thing, once you’ve broken the resolution, there seems less impetus to re-resolve.

Willpower in action seems more like “won’t power,” — “I won’t eat potato chips. I won’t go off my diet. I won’t sleep in instead of exercising.” For myself, I stay away from “won’t power.” The more I say I won’t do something, the more I want to do it. As for willpower, I think it’s highly overrated. I try to do the right thing for my health most of the time, and if I get side-tracked, I don’t beat myself up for it.

One thing for sure — I won’t go to the spammers site and rate my willpower. And I won’t even need any willpower to stick with that resolution!

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

New Year, New Beginning?

I’ve never put emphasis on the new year because it’s a relatively arbitrary date. The calendar numbers change, but that’s all. It’s not a universal new beginning. The Chinese New Year this year is on February 3, the Jewish New Year is on September 28, and various communities in the Hindu religion have different dates — January 15, March 22, April 14, April 15, August 17, October 27. January 1 is not even the beginning of a new seasonal cycle. Nor is there any personal demarcation — no black line separates the old from the new. You carry the old year with you because you have the same problems, sadnesses, hopes, fears. In other words, you are still you. 

There is a newness to January 1, though, and that is the newness of a new day.  Unlike the year, each day is a new beginning. You wake up, and for a second everything is untouched — like new fallen snow — and you almost believe you can be anyone you want to be, do anything you want to do. Then the truth hits you.

Still, there’s hope, so I make daily resolutions instead of yearly ones. I have a list of a dozen do’s and don’ts that I would follow in a perfect world. I’m lucky to do about half of them each day, but it varies. Two days ago I did only a couple. Yesterday I did all but two. Today, of course, I resolve to follow everything on my list. The list includes such things as weight lifting and stretching, walking, writing, blogging, promoting, eating a big salad, drinking lots of water, staying away from sugar and wheat. As I said, in a perfect world . . .

Despite that, I did toast this new year, more as a symbol of newness than the reality of it. I’ve learned that since nothing seems important any more, I have to make something important every day. And toasting the new year seemed as good as anything to importantize.  (Yeah, I know — there’s no such word as importantize, but just for today —  this new day — there is.)