I used to be the most resolute resolution-maker. Even as a child, I was always goal-oriented and loved the feeling of accomplishing things, and every January 1st, I would dutifully sit down and write out my resolutions for the upcoming year. And what resolutions they were! I always picked big goals, like: In the new year, I will lose 50 pounds! And run a marathon! And have a picture-perfect home! And study scripture every day! Oh, and be the best parent ever who never yelled at my children!
The problem? I never accomplished those resolutions. I’d start out strong, but by February or March, I’d be out of willpower and I’d slide quietly back into my old habits. Every winter, I’d feel guilty and ashamed, looking back at all of the amazing things…I didn’t do. (Sound familiar? That’s why experts recommend never making these 19 popular New Year’s resolutions.)
Then I got cancer…twice…at the same time
Two years ago, I started experiencing severe stomach pain. The doctors weren’t sure what was causing it, and they finally scheduled a surgery to go in and figure it out. But before I could have the surgery, I found a lump and was diagnosed with breast cancer. I started treatment for the breast cancer only to discover that the stomach pain was from appendix cancer. That’s right: two different cancers, with two different treatment plans, at the same time, in the same body. It was a lot to deal with, and I won’t lie—the next year was incredibly difficult.
Everything felt different
One good thing I can say about cancer is that it completely changed my perspective on my life—especially about what I consider “success” and “failure.” Before, I always felt like I was failing somewhere, but now simply being alive and with my family felt like a huge success. That was when I decided I was done with New Year’s resolutions.
What’s so special about January 1st?
I understand the appeal of having a new beginning or a fresh start, but I learned from my illnesses that you can take the opportunity to start over at any time. In fact, you can start fresh every day if you want to! January 1st is just a day, and it’s not special. (Although if you’re looking for things to do on New Year’s Day, try these 20 things to start off 2020 right.) You can make the day you decide to be a better person a special day, regardless of what the calendar says.
Big goals can mean big failures
Looking back, I think one of my biggest problems with New Year’s resolutions was wanting to “dream big” but not having the skills and capacity to do those things. I was setting myself up for failure every year and then being surprised when—gasp—I failed!
Now I take the opposite approach: I’m all about the little goals. First, little goals are easy to set. Instead of saying I’m going to run a marathon, I’ve decided I’m going to run 20 minutes three days a week. Oh, and I can go as slow as I feel like! Second, little goals are easier to accomplish. Every time I check one of my mini goals off my list, I feel a burst of pride and accomplishment. It’s a great feeling, and I don’t have to wait until the end of the year to experience it!
Building on small goals leads to success
The other great thing about making small goals instead of resolutions is that you can build small goals on top of each other, adding the achievements together. For instance, recently I decided to make sure I ate five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. After a few months, this became a solid habit, so I switched my little goal to drinking more water and less soda, adding that to the healthier eating habits I’d already established.
Small goals allow for more experimentation
Have you ever seen the rowing machines at the gym? They look like torture devices—even super-fit people will be gasping for air on them. In the past, I’d always assumed they were too hard, but a few months ago, I decided my next little goal would be to try something new at the gym. It turns out that I absolutely love the rowing machine! I can now do it for 30 minutes at a time. But if I hadn’t liked it, it would have been simple enough to try something else. It’s not like breaking a resolution; it’s just shifting your focus. (Not a fan of rowing? Try one of these workout trends.)
My one New Year’s resolution for 2019
OK, so I did make one resolution last year. Come January 1st, our insurance deductibles reset, and when you have as many doctors’ appointments, medications, and treatments as I do, deductibles are a really big deal. So I jokingly told my husband that my resolution for 2019 was to stay healthy enough to not meet our deductible for the year. And, hey, I did it! I think part of it was the healthy habits I’d been able to slowly build throughout the year.
Cancer forces you to live in the moment
The thing about almost losing your life is that it really makes you realize how fragile and precious life is—and I decided I don’t want to waste a minute of it feeling bad or guilty. Cancer gave me a sense of purpose and motivated me to find a better way to feel successful. I haven’t given up on becoming a better person. I don’t like being too comfortable! But I’ve learned that there are much better ways to improve and grow than through New Year’s resolutions.
Next, find out the 8 daily habits of naturally productive people.