Tag Archives: goals

Eight Ways to Make New Year’s Resolutions Stick


This week marks the end of 2013, the beginning of 2014, and my 42nd birthday. (Yes, as of Thursday my age is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.)

What with the convergence of New Year’s and my birthday, I’ve always been a fan of taking stock, looking forward, and making resolutions. Sometimes I make specific goals. (I’ve even kept one or two!) Other times I have vague resolution-ish thoughts but nothing concrete, and that’s OK too.

Resolutions get a bad rap. There’s a lot of guilt in play, as people feel like they should make them. Other people make them and quickly break them: more guilt. Still other folks genuinely want to follow through but don’t know how.

Here are some tips that have worked for me and other people I know when making plans and hopes for the New Year:

  1. Set an intention instead. Resolutions have always felt too brittle for me. (After all, when we don’t follow through, we say we broke them.) Intentions are more flexible. Listen to the difference between “I resolve” and “I set the intent.” The former feels like one of Harry Potter’s Unbreakable Vows; the latter points you in a worthwhile direction. Maybe you need the force of the former, but I like the latter because it can bend as our lives shift. And we can set intentions again and again. There’s a reason people in 12 step programs take things one day at a time.
  2. Make it a story. Most resolutions are vague goals that lack context. Donald Miller suggests we come up with stories instead. Stories are compelling, and they take us somewhere. According to Miller’s definition, a story involves a character who wants something and overcomes obstacles to get it. What could be a better framework for a New Year’s improvement project? “Lose weight” is a worthy goal, but without a concrete story to hang it on, it’s too easy to give up. So instead of getting in shape, a story-based resolution might be to complete a road race or do a big hike with friends.
  3. Explore the 5 W’s. In ninth grade journalism class I learned the basics of a news story: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. (Also How.) If you want your resolutions to stick, you need to spend some time with these questions. So you want to cook at home more instead of eating out. Who will support you in this effort, and whom will be impacted by this lifestyle change? What will you do to make this happen? When will you plan, shop and cook? Where will this happen—do you need to de-clutter the kitchen? stock the pantry? And most importantly, Why is it important that you do this? [Update: another way to look at this is to focus not on making goals, but on refining your systems.]
  4. Take things monthly. Gretchen Rubin is a pioneer of this approach. Her book The Happiness Project chronicles a year-long self-improvement project with a different emphasis each month (money, home, family, etc.). Why not pick something modest to work on in January? Then on January 31 you get to celebrate your success (or shrug off your failure) and move on to something new in February.
  5. Pick a word. My friend Ruth Everhart chooses a word or phrase to guide her for the year. And many of my pastor friends hand out stars with words on them to their congregations on Epiphany Sunday—I’ve done it myself. These words become a prayer or meditation focus. For folks who find self-reflection tedious, there’s something serendipitous about being given a word to live with for a whole year. (My 2013 word was breathe.)
  6. Let the resolution grow out of a deeper reflection. Ideally, a resolution, intention, or story will grow out of a period of reflecting on the year to come. In other words, don’t go for the same knee-jerk resolution you pick every year—it may not fit your life right now. If you’re about to move across country or get a promotion at work, it’s probably not the right time to take on a new hobby or join that CrossFit class. Or because of those changes, it may be the perfect time to take care of yoursef. But the point is, your resolution needs to grow out of a realistic assessment of the year to come. I’ve been using this tool to say goodbye to 2013 and hello to 2014, but there are tons of tools like this on the Internet.
  7. Build in some No with your Yes. I’m convinced that a lot of resolutions fail because people add on habits or practices without taking other things away. So you want to spend 20 minutes each morning in prayer or meditation. OK… but what are you willing to give up in order to make that happen? (Additional sleep? that bleary-eyed early morning Facebook session?)
  8. Tell people. Every December my Writing Revs get together for a Christmas luncheon, and we always go around the table and share our writing goals for the coming year. Stating our goals aloud in the company of trusted friends is powerful. We are communal creatures—only the most disciplined among us can make a major life change without any support, encouragement or accountability from friends and family. If you’re one of those rocks or islands that Simon and Garfunkel sang about, congratulations. If you’re like the rest of us, tweet or Facebook your goals. Blog about them. Tell a friend. Heck, tell me in the comments—I will cheer you on!


One of my resolutions in 2014 is to make better use of my email list—sign up here to receive a free preview of my next book before it is released, information about a Lent online retreat, and other goodies.


photo credit: Kanko* via photopin cc . I’m told the image says “I wish you a Happy New Year”. And I do.

Here Be Dragons


As this post goes live, I will be in the midst of this week’s long run: 14 miles. I have never run this far.

I remember that feeling during the half marathon in March. I’d never run more than 10 miles before the race, and when I reached mile 10 that day I thought OK, from this point on it’s all new.

But it really wasn’t. Because at mile 10, I needed to go 3.1 more miles. That’s a 5K, and I’d run 5K before. That’s how I got started, in fact, with the Couch to 5K program.

I know runners who hack their brains during races by setting goals, meeting them, then keeping on:

Just gotta make it to that tree, that’s all. I can make it to the tree.

And at the tree: Just gotta get to the mailbox, no big deal.

It’s all funny math and mind games, this marathon training.

Legend has it that mapmakers used to mark unexplored territories with HC SVNT DRACONES: here be dragons. Fourteen miles feels a little like that. But for a brainy type like me, whose major sport in school was Academic Decathlon, it also feels like this:


Go find some magic this weekend, friends.

And for those of you running the MCM—you have my great admiration. Go Roy. Go Sean. And Go Shelly.



So I’m registered for my first marathon—the Walt Disney World in January—and am starting to freak out about it.

I’m also very excited. Disney is supposed to be a great beginners’ marathon. The course is flat, the weather is usually mild, and it’s Disney, which means it will be well-run and entertaining. You have to finish in under 7 hours, which is very doable. My brother will run with me, and our whole family will be there for the biennial Florida sibling reunion, which will be great.

But it’s going to be hard.

It’s going to be hard physically. I did a half marathon in March and finished fine, but there’s quite a leap from 13.1 to 26.2. The half marathon was hard, but while I was doing it I never had the sense that I might not make it. By contrast, I remember seeing the course split around mile 12 and thinking, Oh heck no.

I’m also getting antsy. The training program I’m using doesn’t start until fall, so my goal for the summer is simply not to lose too much ground. But I don’t love the treadmill, and it’s hot outside. And I get headaches after I run in hot weather. (Which frankly is a potential problem on race day. It’s Florida.)

It’s going to be hard emotionally. I have many decades of self-talk to overcome about being the brainy one, not the athlete. My inner harpy tells me I’m slow and should’ve stayed with shorter distances. I remember the time I did the Turkey Trot with my mother while I was in junior high and came in last. Last.

Part of the emotional baggage is having a friend who was my age who dropped dead while on a run. I think about him often while I’m running. By all outward appearances, he was in excellent physical condition, not to mention naturally athletic (which I am not, and please don’t argue that point with me).

And there’s also Dad, who died suddenly of cardiac arrest. Unlike me, he did not exercise regularly, but still—I have half his genetics. (And yes, in terms of physical maladies, I’m much more likely to blow out a knee than to keel over. But hey, if you’re gonna catastrophize, do it RIGHT.)

2013-wdw-marathonAnd it’s going to be a logistical challenge. Honestly, carving out the time to train will be the biggest issue. Remember when I ran the half, my favorite sign along the course was “trust your training.” Well, you have to do the training in order to trust the training. By the time January 12 rolls around, if I follow the program, I will have run 500 miles.

Remember “factorial” in math class? It’s represented with an exclamation point and involves multiplying the number by all the other whole numbers less than it. So 5 “factorial” is:

5! = 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 120.

Well, Marathon! = 500.

That’s some intimidating math right there.

But that’s the math of life, isn’t it? Whether it’s changing careers, sticking with your marriage, raising kids, finishing grad school, relocating to a new city, the worthwhile stuff is hard. The worthwhile stuff is a grand mashup of physical endurance, emotional labor, logistics, and dumb luck… or grace if you prefer to call it that, and I do.

And of course there’s this:


So off I go.

Would love to hear your own stories of Life, factorial!

P.S. That Turkey Trot in which I came in last? I was the only one in my age group, so I got a blue ribbon. Importance of showing up? OK, universe, I get it.

Find the Kenyan Within

Starting line!

Starting line!

That was just one of the signs I saw while running the DC Rock and Roll Half Marathon, my first race of this length. There were also variations on that theme: “Run like the Kenyans, then drink like the Irish.” (Hey, it was St. Patrick’s Day weekend.)

Along those lines, saw several signs that said, “Worst Parade Ever.”

The signs really do help pass the time. I noticed they got more PG-13 when we got to Adams Morgan. Lots of “That’s What She Said.”

Then there were signs riffing on a meme:


And then the two signs together: “You can do this!” right next to:


Biggest wow, yikes moment: running across the Memorial Bridge and seeing the metal teeth between the segments bouncing up and down. Power to the people!

Biggest OMG: the guy who was juggling beanbags while he ran. Even bigger OMG: passing him and seeing that he was wearing the blue bib, not the red. Yep, 26.2 miles of juggling.

Let me be an encouragement for anyone who would like to try this crazy sport. I am thankful for Facebook timeline because I can report that exactly two years ago, I started Couch to 5K, having never run before. Never. I was the nerdy kid in school, remember? So if I can do it, you can (assuming you don’t have a condition that rules it out, of course). It’s a cheap, convenient mode of exercise.

I get emotional sometimes during races. I don’t sob when I cross the finish line or anything, but certain scenes or images will choke me up. It doesn’t take much: the guy handing out Jolly Ranchers, or the other one giving out “free high fives.” But the one that got me was the sign that said:

Trust Your Training.

Yes. Yes.

I had a short moment of doubt before the race started, then remembered that I’d already done the hard part: all those weekday and weekend runs to build up strength, endurance and awareness.

That said, I also like that there was some mystery to it. I’d never run more than 10 miles before Saturday. There was a surge of excitement when I got to that mile marker and still had a 5K to go. Beyond this place there be dragons.

If you struggle with the demons of competitiveness, as I do, races are a great way to exorcise them. There really is no way to measure oneself against anyone else. And no point. To whom would I compare myself? The woman with the T-shirt that said, “I just finished chemo 5 days ago”? Or the guy running with the knee brace? Or the person who’s run since she was in high school? Or the person twice my age? Such calculations don’t even make sense.

I did my best, and I had fun. Next stop: who knows?

Friday Link Love

How much is too much?

Three Christmas Gifts — Faith and Leadership

I dug this up from the Friday Link Love archives, since I’ve started thinking about the kids’ Christmas gifts:

At a retreat on Christian life, I heard Susan V. Vogt describe a wonderful tradition suggested in her book “Raising Kids Who Will Make a Difference: Helping Your Family Live with Integrity, Value, Simplicity, and Care for Others.” A parent of four kids herself and a counselor and family life educator, she had tried her own experiments with gift giving, eventually settling on a simple yet elegant plan: she and her husband give each of their children only three gifts for Christmas — a “heart’s desire,” a piece of clothing and “something to grow on.”

I liked her idea immediately. Giving these gifts would ensure that the needs and wants of each child would be met, that each would receive an equal number of gifts, and that we would have a structure to help us resist the cultural message to run out and buy.

My friend Sherry gives her kids three gifts because “It was good enough for Jesus.” We’ve been doing that for some time, but I think we’ll try this approach too and see what happens.

Stay tuned: I think Caroline’s heart’s desire is a guinea pig.


An Animated Open Letter to President Obama on the State of Physics Education — Brain Pickings

Apparently we’re not teaching modern physics in high school (like, anything after 1865). Is that true? Yeesh:


Why You’re Never Failing as a Mother — Pregnant Chicken

This is making the rounds, and rightfully so:

As for the past generations that like to tell you that they raised six kids on their own and did it without a washing machine? Well, sort of. Keep in mind child rearing was viewed pretty differently not that long ago and you could stick a toddler on the front lawn with just the dog watching and nobody would bat an eye at it – I used to walk to the store in my bare feet to buy my father’s cigarettes when I was a kid. As a mother, you cooked, you cleaned, but nobody expected you to do anything much more than keep your kids fed and tidy.

So much more awesomeness at the link.


Mark Kelly Speaks to Jared Loughner — Huffington Post

Loughner was sentenced to seven life terms plus 140 years in prison for shooting Gabby Giffords and killing several others. Her husband Mark spoke to him, and to us as well:

Mr. Loughner, by making death and producing tragedy, you sought to extinguish the beauty of life. To diminish potential. To strain love. And to cancel ideas. You tried to create for all of us a world as dark
 and evil as your own.

 But know this, and remember it always: You failed.

Your decision to commit cold-blooded mass murder also begs of us to look in the mirror. This horrific act warns us to hold our leaders and ourselves responsible for coming up short when we do, for not having the courage to act when it’s hard, even for possessing the wrong values.

We are a people who can watch a young man like you spiral into murderous rampage without choosing to intervene before it is too late.

We have a political class that is afraid to do something as simple as have a meaningful debate about our gun laws and how they are being enforced. We have representatives who look at gun violence,
 not as a problem to solve, but as the white elephant in the room to ignore. As a nation we have repeatedly passed up the opportunity to address this issue. After Columbine; after Virginia Tech; after Tucson and after Aurora we have done nothing.


How to Use If-Then Planning to Achieve Any Goal — 99U

One study looked at people who had the goal of becoming regular exercisers. Half the participants were asked to plan where and when they would exercise each week (e.g., “If it is Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, then I will hit the gym for an hour before work.”) The results were dramatic: months later, 91% of if-then planners were still exercising regularly, compared to only 39% of non-planners!

Why are [if/then] plans so effective? Because they are written in the language of your brain – the language of contingencies. Human beings are particularly good at encoding and remembering information in “If X, then Y” terms, and using these contingencies to guide our behavior, often below our awareness.


Motoi Yamamoto’s Saltscapes — Colossal

Japanese artist Motoi Yamamoto travels to the salt flats of Utah to discuss life, death, rebirth, and his labyrinthine poured salt installations. These are stunning:

Motoi Yamamoto – Saltscapes from The Avant/Garde Diaries on Vimeo.

He began this process to help process the grief of losing his sister. Salt as an element in healing? That’ll preach.