Year-end resolutions: Why wait until January to start living better?

But first: Give yourself a break

Published on: November 07, 2022 6:00 AM EST

Last January, I had but one resolution for the new year: to finish my novel. Now it’s November, with more months of the year behind me than to come — and that thing is still not done.

So is it OK to just call it a loss and binge “Murder, She Wrote” episodes until Dec. 31 and then start over? Or at least pretend I’m going to?

“We don’t have to wait until the New Year,” said Larisa Harrington of Strong By Nature, a New Market, Maryland-based coaching business that counsels clients and organizations on mindfulness, emotional intelligence, burnout, recovery and more.

I have 58 days left this year to reach my goal.

Harrington and Tekemia Dorsey, of Middle River, whose company, DTD Enterprises, specializes in training, both have advice for helping me, and anyone else, make the last days of the year count. These tips aren’t to stress you out, or make you feel bad, but more of a gentle redirection.

Ask if January’s goals are still November’s: “Are these things that at the time felt important, but they aren’t now?” Harrington asks. “And if you can say, OK, this is still a goal, but it wasn’t successful, reflect on why you didn’t make time for it?”

Bite your goal off in small chunks: Sometimes we drop that January goal because we tried to tackle it all at once. Dorsey, a triathlete who until recently was on the board of USA Triathlon, advises breaking seemingly insurmountable goals down. “You could say ‘Hey, I can’t float,’ and then you learn to float. And then you say, ‘I can’t swim to the side,’ until you get there and say, ‘Hey, I made it to the corner of the pool!’” This is about coming back to your goals, and building on them, at your own pace.

This resonated with me. I’m taking part in an annual writing challenge called NaNoWriMo that asks writers to make a goal of a word count they’ll reach for the month of November by breaking it down every day. I can do that.

Ask why you made this resolution in the first place: Harrington thinks that before we try to tackle a goal, we need to figure out whether it’s the right one. “For instance, you say you want to lose 30 pounds. Ask, ‘Do I really need to? Or is it that I want more energy?’”

Run in, instead of running away: It’s so easy to hide from the things you didn’t do because you just don’t want to face what seems like a failure. Dorsey, like me and a lot of other people, gained weight during the pandemic. But to address that, she had to get on the scale to gauge of how much weight she had to lose to get back to where she had been. “When we face the truth, it allows us to do a deeper dive into the reality of what is.”

Was the original goal yours or J.Lo’s?: Harrington says that one of the reasons people haven’t tackled resolutions until now is that they weren’t realistic. I used to read articles with headlines like “The Five Things Beyoncé Eats Every Day” or “Do The Workout Jennifer Garner Did When She Played A Sexy Secret Agent Ninja On ‘Alias!’” It is very unlikely I would have been able to get through the first 10 minutes of that routine, even at my peak fitness, because I am not an already-fit millionaire with a stable of diet gurus and trainers. We have to adjust our goals to fit the non-sexy ninjas among us.

Give yourself a break: Stop believing that missing a deadline defines you. “You can’t say, ‘I’m a failure,’” Harrington said. “Say, ‘My goal is important. I am important. I deserve to feel good and to be happy and healthy.’”

Don’t freak out about stuff you can’t control: There’s a chance you haven’t met those resolutions yet because "life happens,” Dorsey said. “It’s like the Serenity Prayer. You can only be in control of what you can be.” Which means that if family illness, or job loss, or a global pandemic disrupt your plans, you have to let yourself off the hook and focus on things within your grasp.

Figure out what makes you hold yourself accountable and then do that thing: Maybe you haven’t accomplished your goal until now because it’s been too easy not to. “I can’t tell you how important that piece is,” Harrington said. “Don’t just say you’re going to the gym. Say, ‘I have hired and paid in full for a trainer and a nutritionist.’”

It’s OK if you fail today. There’s always tomorrow. Or an hour from now: “If you fall off one day, how determined are you to get back to it?” Dorsey asked. “It’s not the end of the day yet.”

Or the end of the year. I’m more than halfway through my novel now, and I think I can get this done by Dec. 31. I want to finish it, not just because it’s a resolution I haven’t fulfilled yet, but but because I really like this book and I want to finish it. Dorsey and Harrington’s advice is keeping me going because it’s inspired me to ask me why it’s important, and reminds me that I’m not a failure if I don’t.

But I’m going to. I’ve got a plan. And now accountability, because I just wrote an entire column about it.

We can do this. Let’s go.

Because I have another book I’ve started that looks good for completion in 2023.