New Year’s resolutions began with the ancient Babylonians 4,000 years ago. Seriously. This is a tradition that is not just rooted in our culture, but in much of the recorded history of the human condition. Granted, in Babylonian times and Roman times, making these promises was more about pleasing pagan gods and earning their favor than it was about dropping four inches off your waistline, but the basic pattern remained the same: For at least 4,000 years, we’ve wanted do-overs.
Yes, do-overs. It’s not really about the resolve, it’s about a fresh start. The chance to begin with a clean slate. Write on it with different words. Skinnier ones. Cleaner ones. Debt-freer ones. Sober-er ones. We want the opportunity to jump the tracks and get our lives on a new trajectory toward … whatever it is we think we should head toward, Athena’s blessings on the hunt or squeezing your butt into a boutique size 6.
These are not bad thoughts. Nor are they impossible thoughts.
Just because the vast majority of New Year’s resolutions fail doesn’t mean that they have to.
But a do-over is big. It’s monumental. It is meant to change a whole life trajectory, and if you succeed, it probably will affect even more than you realize. That means it isn’t something you pick up in your free time or adjust overnight. You cannot do this in a vacuum. You need to make time, real time, to work on your change. And you need to make space in your life around that time. So what does that look like?
Most people know they need to make time to accomplish their New Year’s resolutions, but they generally think about it like this: “Instead of watching television for an hour after dinner, I am going to run two miles and plank for five minutes.”
Maybe the first night you get your butt off the couch. The second night, too. But the third night, the kids forgot their backpacks at school, and you had to run all the way home in rush hour traffic to get them, and then your boss, who told you that was okay to do at the time, held it over your head all day long and moved your presentation up to the following morning. So that night, you cozied up and watched crime shows till you passed out. And then the next night, well, you had to do that presentation, and you deserve to relax. Again. And the next night you decide you’ll split the difference and plank while the show is on. But eventually it’s February, and there’s a new season of Outlander on Netflix, so …
In general, we structure our days around our priorities: work, kid schedules, obligations, etc., get top billing. We then fill in the spaces around those: clean the house, shop, cook, hang out, watch television, work out, and so on. But how and when we fill those spaces has a rhyme, reason and rhythm, and every part of you will want to keep that rhythm and rhyme. Making time, then, has to be a smart trade, a smooth transition.
You are not going to work out when you normally sit on the couch, exhausted from your day.
So then ask yourself, “What time of day do I feel like I have the most energy to burn?” and structure your plan around that. Maybe it’s just after lunch time. Maybe you eat a quick working lunch in the office two days a week and then steal a low-sweat class like Pilates afterward and do your cardio on the weekends when you can get sweatier. Maybe you can take a work-from-home day as well, and a little lunch sweat won’t matter that day. Maybe all you do fitness-wise to begin with is park your car farther away from doors than you normally do to get extra steps. Maybe you get a standing desk.
The point is, you need to be realistic about integrating this change in a way you can sustain, because you are only going to pick the ball back up so many times before you let it roll away. Half of the battle is being smart about how you trade your time. The other half is making space in your life for that time.
You cannot really talk about making time without touching upon making space in your life for that time, but as noted above, most people think about time just as hours in the day to be filled, not as the structure in which we live our daily lives. When we talk about taking a work-from-home day once a week to get sweaty, that is making space. When we talk about getting a standing desk, that is making space. The idea is that while you are planning your time, you are simultaneously making space in your routine to fill it the way you mean to.
If your New Year’s resolution is “I’m going to eat better,” there is so much there to consider. Does that mean you will cook at home more? Do you have time? Where can you work that in? Should you meal prep? If you meal prep, you need to buy containers. Is that in the budget this month? Do you know which containers freeze single servings? When are you going to research that? Do you have time to make that grocery shopping list? Is there maybe somewhere online that makes lists for you? Could you do a meal service a few times a week? Would that make sense? Do you know some restaurants by the office that have healthy food for the days you forget to bring something? Do you need to change your budget? Healthy food is usually more expensive. Maybe you need to offset it somewhere else?
Making a change almost always means making a plan first. And a good plan requires you to consider not only the issue in front of you, but also all the peripheral issues it will affect. If you want to quit smoking, you probably need a low-stakes week during which it won’t matter that you have zero patience or powers of concentration. If you want to clean out your garage but are drowning in your day-to-day chores, you probably need to hire a cleaning service and a lawn service for one round to free up your weekend chore time.
This is a process. It requires trial and error. You more or less have to make space … to make space.
Making the Most of Your New Year
It might sound like a tall order to put all this space-time stuff together and think it through, but remember: you have a whole year to make your change. The whole year. You make the resolution on New Year’s. You work toward it as you make time over that year. You can make almost no lasting change in an eight-day push in January. It takes an average of 66 days to form a habit. Just over two months.
There are 12 months in a year, which means you can start any time before Oct. 27 and have enough time to fulfill that resolution. You might be thinking, “Yeah, but that’s not going to happen without all the New Year’s momentum. By then I have written all over the slate again. It’s over until the next January.”
No, it isn’t. Look at the Babylonians. That “New Year” is about pledging. Not doing, pledging. Which means all you need to do with that momentum is make a plan.