Practical Resolutions for the New Year

How many times have I conjured up grandiose New Year resolutions only to forget about them or just plain give up when February rolls around?  Let’s not count, shall we? Like in meditation, let the past be the past and focus instead on what we can do today and work toward tomorrow.

In recent years I’ve learned from my overly ambitious past and trimmed down my goals with the intention of making them more manageable and achievable. Inevitably, a lot of my resolutions focus on health concerns. While I can’t cure my rheumatoid arthritis (RA), I can cultivate good habits that will help me manage my condition.

I’ve come to believe that unrealistic goals aren’t necessarily helpful. For example, I can decide that I want to be able to walk a mile, but with my disease damage this just isn’t going to happen. So I have to turn the question around and think about: what can I do now, every day, and gradually build on to gain strength? What realistic goal can I set that will feel worthwhile to achieve?

Right now I’m still recovering from knee replacement surgery. I’m up to walking about 20 feet in one go without a break. For developing a resolution, it may be to walk this length five times a day, then gradually increase the distances and repetitions.

Same with arm exercises and stretches. How much can I do now? How much can I extend and challenge myself? If I find it’s too much, scale back for a couple days and then try again.

Last year my resolutions were pretty clear cut: work hard at my knee rehabilitation. I had an end goal of walking again and regaining my previous independence, but really had to keep things in perspective by breaking the process down into small bites. First, basic exercises. Later, practicing standing then walking. Every stage had mini-goals and exercises to reach them. Seemingly every stage involved setbacks and remembering to be persistent despite the seeming impossibility of what I ultimately wanted to achieve. With persistence the impossible turned out to be achievable after all.

In the long term, I’d like to be strong enough to walk more comfortably and confidently. I would enjoy being able to return to practicing yoga, especially some of the standing poses. Doing more swimming and water-therapy would also be great.

Here’s how I go about developing my resolutions for a New Year:

1. Pick a couple big goals—What do I want to be able to do more of or better? What is a bigger idea that is worth spending a long period of time working to achieve? Goal setting is important because they must be something you can achieve and are willing to work hard to reach without seeming impossible. Some of my examples:

  • Walking longer distances with more confidence.
  • Increasing my overall strength and endurance.
  • Maintaining and improving healthy eating habits.

2. What steps can I take to reach these goals?—This may include making some sub-goals or outlining activities that can be taken every day (or a few times a week) to reach. To continue my example:

  • Set a minimum walk distance for each day and gradually increase with practice.
  • Continue and add on additional exercise, such as swimming and exercises with weights.
  • Track my eating habits and be mindful of food choices.

3. If I should back track, how do I recover?—Everyone has setbacks. Sometimes I have injured myself with too much exercise or just needed some rest days for recovery. Also, when I have flare-ups or bad days with my RA, I need to be more forgiving of myself and take a break. As I am tracking my activity progress and reaching my goals, it’s OK if I need to reboot. I’ve learned that this is just part of the process and when reaching for a worthwhile goal it is important to acknowledge, accept and keep on working.

Do you set New Year’s resolutions? What works for you in developing and reaching them?

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