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JLAP: The trap of setting New Year’s resolutions

“New Year’s Day is now a great time to make your usual annual good resolutions. Next week you can start paving hell with them as usual. -Mark Twain.

I hate new year’s resolutions. It’s true, I said what I said.

Depending on the research you use, between 80% and 92% of New Year’s resolutions fail, and US News & World Report says most lose their resolve in mid-February. If you’re still reading, I’m going to take a risk and assume I’m not the only one finding myself in mid-February with an unused gym membership and a crisper full of withered veggies. I don’t claim to have the solution, but if you are interested in exploring alternatives, I would love to have some company along the way.

Alternative n ° 1: every day is an opportunity to start over

There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to make changes or being better at something, and there is nothing magical about January 1 either. January. In fact, winter is when nature closes and rests. I can only speak for myself, but this might not be the most accessible time to start an ambitious new agenda. The truth is, change is available every day of the year. If I eat a donut (or two) on January 2, I haven’t missed the chance to be healthy, and if I don’t practice yoga for a week, I can always roll out my mat the following week. .

Alternative # 2: let the goal be your bouncer

I can bring myself to lose 25 pounds and set goals for that goal (and I did), but the first time I weigh and the scale goes up instead of down it’s a slippery slope that come down for me. What if I rephrased this as an identity or the purpose of being a healthy person? This identity or this purpose then becomes a filter through which I pass all my decision-making. “The Art of Gathering” author Priya Parker urges, “Let the goal be your bouncer.” While Parker makes this statement about planning gatherings, it also applies to our lives. In my example, what decisions does a healthy person make? Do I take the elevator or the stairs? Do I eat the donut or the oatmeal? If I combine this with Alternative # 1, then even when I make a decision that is not in line with my goal, I can always start over with the next decision.

Alternative # 3: something is better than nothing

A New Year’s resolution for me might be something like, “I’m going to practice yoga for an hour every day.” It might work for a few days, but what happens when my schedule gets in my way or I just don’t feel it that day? Past experience tells me that I might be hard on myself about this or get discouraged. But if I let go of my all or nothing thinking, maybe what I’m going to do is stand or sit on my yoga mat every day. It might not seem like much, but it’s probably something I can do most of the time. I set myself up for consistency, and once I get used to sitting down on my mat, I can start building on it. Author Robert Collier wrote: “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day after day. What if, instead of setting big goals, we celebrate our small efforts?

Alternative # 4: Plan for roadblocks

According to “Atomic Habits” author James Clear, you shouldn’t expect to fail, but you should plan for failure. What does it mean? As lawyers, we have some experience in planning for worst-case scenarios, so let’s use that wisely. Take the time to think about what might be preventing the desired behavior or choice from happening. What could get in your way or cause you to deviate from your path? How can you plan to get around these obstacles or get back on track when they arise? I can predict that my stress response is wanting to eat sweets, or that after a long day at work, I might not feel like driving to the yoga studio or even logging into a class. Zoom. I can plan for these obstacles by having healthier sugary foods available or by giving myself permission to eat a piece of chocolate and really enjoy it. I could keep my yoga mat unrolled in my office and stop in the middle of the day to sit and breathe for a minute or two. When I took the time to think about what might bother and how I would react, I not only increased the likelihood of me doing something instead of nothing, but also decreased the likelihood of doing something. get discouraged.

Alternative # 5: Practice Self-Compassion

(Needle scratching on the record.) What? No, self-compassion is not an oxymoron and it is not just a way out. If you’re like me, you may have been brought up believing that criticism is your way to motivate you, or that being compassionate to yourself is self-indulgence. Author and mindfulness expert Kristin Neff says, “Instead of judging and mercilessly criticizing yourself for various shortcomings or shortcomings, compassion for yourself means that you are kind and understanding when faced with challenges. personal failures. It is the practice of treating yourself with the same kindness when you are going through a difficult time or notice something you don’t like about yourself and would extend to a friend or loved one. Self-compassion allows us to be honest when we encounter these roadblocks, to do something instead of nothing, to remind ourselves of our purpose and to start over. Every resolution I have ever broken was accompanied by a serious dose of self-criticism and shame, and they did nothing to help me succeed. Self-compassion has opened up a world of possibilities, and I’m ready to see where they lead. I hope you will join me as we move towards 2022. •

Loretta Oleksy is a deeply curious lawyer / social worker / yoga practitioner who lives in Indianapolis with her husband and their three dogs. She is Associate Director of the Indiana Judge and Lawyer Assistance Program and provides conscious life and work coaching through her collaboration with Thought Kitchen. The opinions expressed are those of the author.