How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolution

Lisa writes: As a kid I thought New Year’s Resolutions were magical, like wishes made while blowing out birthday candles. On this one special night of the year, I could hope and dream for something to be different and a year hence, it would be. As I got older I made resolutions, often failed to keep them and was disillusioned only a few months into every year. Still later I stopped making resolutions, believing that magical thinking was for kids, and that the hard work of changing ourselves, was just that, hard work and need not be tied to any particular night.

new york city, train station clock, Grand Central

But there is something special about a New Year. Every year we are offered a new beginning and that just might be magical.

So, is a New Year’s Resolution of any value? Why do we keep them or break them? And most importantly what can we do to make it to year-end still in position of our resolve?

Do New Year’s Resolutions work?

We hear so much about the failure of resolutions but that is only a partial truth. A group of psychologist studied resolvers and non-resolvers in the six months after the New Year. What they found was that just over half of those who had made resolutions had failed in their resolve. However the 46% who had made the desired change compared very favorably with the control group, who had the same goals but made no resolution and were successful only 4% of the time.

“Contrary to widespread public opinion, a considerable proportion of New Year resolvers do succeed,” explains Dr. Norcross, one of the study’s authors. “You are 10 times more likely to change by making a New Year’s resolution compared to non-resolvers with the identical goals and comparable motivation to change.”

What does success look like?

Sue Harmon, a third grade teacher and breast cancer survivor/advocate, set herself the very challenging task on 1/1/13 of exercising every day of the year. With her eldest child a freshman in college and youngest in 10th grade,  she had a soon-to-be empty nest and new-found resolve. On the first day of 2014, she celebrated her accomplishment, 365 straight workouts. “I wanted to set a resolution that I thought I could accomplish, “Sue explained. “With each day behind me, the easier it got because I didn’t want to let myself down. Then at some point, my body expected the workout. Each day/workout was different, but I was committed to sweating each day.”

She has gone one further and asked her third graders to set their own goals and when they return from winter break she will encourage them to share their goals with their classmates. “I’m going to have the children revisit their journal entry throughout the year and see how they feel they are doing. Taking ownership is so important, for all of us,” Sue says.

Sue’s experience highlights some of what the experts tell us about sticking to a New Year’s Resolution. She picked one big goal, a daily workout, and didn’t muddy the waters by throwing in diet or other big resolutions. She felt from the start that this was a challenge that she could manage. Sue had someone she did not want to let down, in this case herself. She told others, her immediate family, so that her commitment was not just in her own head. And for 2014, to make sure she stays on track she has made her goal very public, bought some technology to keep track of her accomplishment and now has friends joining her in this challenge

What makes resolutions work?

Goals need to be specific. “Lose weight,” “work harder” or “write a book” are too amorphous to find success, yet year after year we set these goals and wonder why we fail. New Year’s resolutions need milestones, ways to measure success over the 12 months. Experts say our goals should have clear defined targets (lose a pound a week or write 500 words every day) so that we can see progress toward the target.

Psychologists who have studied success have long since come to the conclusion that our focus needs to be on process, not outcome. We can control our actions, how many words we write or how we market those page, but we cannot control if that book then becomes a bestseller.

One resolution at a time

Bad habits are hard to break—and they’re impossible to break if we try to break them all at once. A New Year’s Resolutions requires willpower and that is not something we have in endless supply. When we pile saving money on top of losing weight and doing more work for charity, we quickly deplete our own supply of resolve and condemn ourselves to failure. One big resolution is enough to start with, after all there is nothing stopping us from declaring success in July and making a new resolution in August.

Psychologist tell us to reward ourselves

Sticking to something that involves the strained resources of will power becomes somewhat easier when there is a reward in sight. Losing weight? Give yourself a weekend away. Stopped procrastinating? A big slice of cake. Exercised four times a week? Tickets to a great event. We learn early in life to work for rewards and here is a way to make that work of us.

Friends and family are here to help

Publicly committing to our New Year’s Resolution is one way to improve our determination but friends and family can help by steering us back on track when we appear wayward. Meeting a friend at the gym might just be what it takes to get there. The people who know us the best might just be the ones who can save us from ourselves.

We are our own enemy and can be outsmarted

Most of us know why we don’t exercise enough or manage our stress well. Even before January 1 we can predict what will derail us. WIth that sort of inside information about the enemy, ourselves, we should be able to win the fight. Experts suggest that we “precommit” by making sure the junk food isn’t in our house or arranging a direct funds transfer from checking account to savings account. There are sites like that let you put your money or your reputation on the line in committing to your goal. We know ourselves and our weaknesses and should use this knowledge to succeed.

Technology is here to help

If our success depends on letting others know about our commitment, measuring our progress and putting something at stake, technology has a way to help us. From wearable technology to social media, committing to our resolution with these modern aids is a step. “The more you precommit, the better you do, according to stickK’s analysis of 125,000 contracts over the past three years. The success rate for people who don’t name a referee or set financial stakes is only 29 percent, but it rises to 59 percent when there’s a referee and to 71.5 percent when there’s money at stake. And when a contract includes a referee and financial stakes, the success rate is nearly 80 percent,” explained a New York Times article.

Remember that success is born of failure

It is sometimes hard to remember that almost no success was achieved without failures along the way. A New Year’s Resolution need not be abandoned because it is “broken.” If Sue had worked out only 362 times last year would her resolutions have been a failure? A lapse can be viewed as a minor setback or a failure, the choice is ours.

The notion of beginning the New Year with new resolve is a very old one

The Romans made promises of Janus (the namesake of January) and in medieval times at year-end knights reaffirmed their commitment to the code of chivalry. A New Year’s Resolution is timeless as its speaks to our self-belief, our aspirations and, above all, our hope for the future.

Happy New Year from Grown and Flown. Wishing you health, happiness and renewed resolve.

A Hotel Room of My Own at BlogHer14

I feel like I should preface this with telling you how much I love my husband and kids but am going to skip straight over that and tell you how much I love staying in a hotel room without them.  I can’t wait to check into the Fairmont where I’m not having a roommate at BlogHer14.  A hotel room of one’s own is a little lick of luxury that does not happen very often. But when it does, I savor every minute.

hotel room, BlogHer14, Fairmont

What’s so great?

There are no distractions, none.

I cannot empty the dishwasher, listen to someone’s problem or wonder why there is no OJ left when I remembered putting it in the cart…thirsty teens, left it at the checkout?  I can’t throw in a load of laundry or worry if the dog was limping like that last week.  I can just think…just me, my thoughts, it is like a spa for the soul.

I love waking up in a strange room.

I love a strange bed, different linens and an unfamiliar view out the window.  I moved constantly throughout my life until my kids were in middle school. Since then life has been geographically stable, so I love this taste of earlier days and the novelty that goes along with it.

I love the spotless bathrooms

and exploring new toiletries…I know they come with the cost of the room, but it always feels like small personal gifts to me even when I know I can buy the same things at CVS. If they are good, I swipe them.

A bathroom to myself.

I shared bathrooms with brothers, roommates and then, a husband, and while I am not complaining, a bathroom to myself, even for a single night or two, is certainly one of life’s little luxuries.

I love watching TV in bed.

In our home we only have one TV, in a valiant effort to control my children’s watching habits and to encourage all of us to read in bed (yes, I know this was pre-internet.)  TV in bed feels like a guilty pleasure. During  BlogHer ’13, I will wield the remote control, never having to share it with child or roommate.

Room service.

Need I say more.  Not sure why I can’t get this at home?

Almost every morning for eighteen years I have awakened one or more of my kids and my husband for school, jobs, sports…whatever.  I love setting my alarm and then walking into my sons’ room and softly calling their names to begin our day.  But in my hotel room I have only myself to worry about and for a night, that sounds just about right.

blogging, BlogHer14

blogging, BlogHer14

blogging, BlogHer14

blogging, BlogHer14

blogging, BlogHer14

blogging, BlogHer14

blogging, BlogHer14

blogging, BlogHer14

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The Day Women Took Over Harvard Business School

Harvard Business School, women grad students

Dear Harvard Business School,

Celebrating 50 years of women MBA graduates is a major milestone and please accept my sincere thanks for inviting me to the big bash.

Here is what I loved about last week’s “W50 Summit:”

*I spent time with 800 women, 99% of whom I had never met before. We struck up conversations at every opportunity and discovered the varied paths each of us has taken since graduation. Women in their 20s, their 70s, married, single, gay, straight, SAHM, moms who have worked every day since they graduated –  all in.  There was no judgement, no mommy battles, just deep curiosity and respect.

Harvard Business School, women's summit, standing ovation

* We listened to Drew Gilpin Faust, the first female President of Harvard University, welcome us and speak of how educating girls around the world is “fair, smart and transformative.” The standing ovation we gave her was the first of many.

* I met women from the first class (‘65) and imagined what it was like to be one of the eight who  studied beside 676 men.  Unlike the men who resided in dorms on campus, they lived across the Charles River. Barred from the campus dining room, they brought their lunches and used makeshift ladies rooms still equipped with urinals.

* We listened to Sheryl Sandberg (‘95, COO, Facebook) remind the SRO crowd, “to believe in ourselves, to keep raising our hands, to take a seat at the table.”  And, if anyone describes a little girl as “bossy,” correct them, saying that she has “early leadership potential.”  These were words every one of us could have used when we were still in your classrooms.

[Read more…]

The Tragedy Behind my Class Reunion

Class reunion, memoria

Mary Dell writes: There are reunion people and non-reunion people and I am one of the former. The invitation arrives and, almost immediately, I add my name to the list of attendees. I returned for my 30th class reunion last weekend, like I have done every five years, not only to see my former classmates, but also to revisit the painful and tragic memory of one friend, in particular. She is the reason I think I will never miss a gathering. For her, in memoriam, I can only offer tears.

We were members of a post-graduate program that was large, 750-people large, and far away from our hometowns. It took us southerners just about one week to find each other. We created a social island, several dozen strong, where it felt like home – Atlanta or Austin – instead of the banks of the Charles River.

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Thank you, Mrs. Ainslie, for being in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Mary Dell writes: Airplane trips offer few comforts – no food, uncomfortable seats, dreary in-flight entertainment. Last week, however, on a flight with my family, American Airlines offered a movie I wanted to see. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was well worth it. One of the main characters, Mrs. Ainslie, was a disagreeable woman who nagged her husband, complained about everything, and feared leaving the hotel to which they had traveled.

Thank you, Mrs. Ainslie, for being the type of woman I never want to be.

Perhaps you have already seen the movie? Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, and Maggie Smith headline the outstanding cast of vintage English actors. Mrs. Ainslie is played by Penelope Wilton, familiar to fans of Downton Abbey as Isobel Crawley, the somewhat pushy but kindly mother of heir-in-the-making, Matthew. While she is a sympathetic character in that miniseries, in this film she is a royal pain in the arse.


My reason for thanking her now?  We are on a family vacation and my husband is a terrible sitter.  I am an excellent sitter and that creates a tiny conflict as he picks adventure and I am content with a stack of magazines and books.  However, in watching the less than rosy outcome for Mr. and Mrs. Ainslie at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, I have been inspired me to get off my own arse and join in the family adventures.

Yesterday the three of us headed to the beach.  The relaxing chairs on the sand called to me, but I resisted as the explicit goal was to try paddle boarding. Perhaps you have seen pictures of bikini clad women standing upright regally gliding through water with a paddle gently dipping into the surf.  This was not me. But, with Mrs. Ainslie’s shrewish barks in my ear, I pushed myself to try it and, to my great surprise, I stayed upright and actually did passably well for a non-athletic person with mediocre balance.

The moral of the movie’s story for me was this – don’t self declare that you are past peak, unable to learn, explore and evolve.  Your spouse, partner or friends want your companionship. Your children most definitely prefer to see you active and Lord only knows that any future grandchildren will simply want you to get on the floor and play.

Mrs. Ainslie is my guide.