How to set resolutions

So you’ve designed your ideal day, and now you’re staring down the gap between where you are and where you want to be. What to do?

(If you haven’t already designed your ideal day, find my how-to guide here.)

Step 1: Break it down.

Suppose your ideal day includes an outdoor run in the morning, gardening and healthy cooking in the afternoon, and time to draw and paint in the evening.

Whoa there! That’s a lot to add into your daily life all at once — especially if you have a full-time job or other obligations that take up a significant portion of your day.

I recommend breaking down your ideal day and handling one “block” at a time. For my own Ideal Day Project, I’m breaking down my day into morning, afternoon, and evening.

First, I’ll devise ways to incorporate some aspects of my ideal morning into my current routine. (The trick is to figure out how to get started now, even if that means taking very small steps. It’s tempting to defer making changes until some imaginary less-busy or more-convenient time in the future, but all too often that time never comes.)

Only once I’ve made my morning-inspired changes will I tackle the afternoon, and I’ll save the evening for last. 

Step 2: Identify themes.

beautiful day

Do a close reading of the block you’ve chosen to tackle first. What themes do you notice? What values or priorities do the details of your day support

For example:

  • That outdoor run might indicate that physical health, access to nature, and stress relief are important themes for you.
  • A desire to paint could show that you value creativity, self-expression, and (don’t forget this one!) alone time.
  • If your ideal house is serene and sparsely decorated, with white walls and nearly empty cupboards, you might identify simplicity and non-consumerism as takeaway themes.

Step 3: Set resolutions.

Take each of the themes you identified in Step 2 and decide on one thing you can do as part of your daily routine to honor that theme.

For example, if you value simplicity but your apartment is clutter heaven, with lipsticks falling out of the medicine cabinet every time you open it,* you might resolve to spend 15 minutes each day going through a shelf, cupboard, or closet. Work on one area at a time, weeding out things you don’t need, and when the kitchen timer goes off, you can quit for the day with a clean conscience.

If you want to spend more time outdoors but haven’t taken a hike for five years, resolve to drink your first cup of coffee on your porch or at a window. Just five or ten minutes in the morning, if you spend them the way you really want to spend them, can reset the tone of your day. And maybe this Saturday afternoon you’ll find yourself wanting to head out for a walk instead of watching five episodes of Veronica Mars on Netflix.*

Parting advice.

rose

Choose resolutions that are so unbelievably manageable that they can be done daily.

If I resolve to run five miles three days a week, I end up procrastinating on Monday and Tuesday, thinking up something better to do on Wednesday, coming up with excuses on Thursday and Friday, and giving up by the time the weekend rolls around. And then, maybe because I associate it with failure, I sure as heck don’t feel like running the next week.

But if I resolve to do some kind of exercise — walking, pilates videos on YouTube, dancing in public to embarrass my long-suffering boyfriend — for fifteen minutes every single day, I can’t procrastinate and I don’t have to muster a lot of willpower or make excuses.

Even better: meeting my goal on Monday gives me the momentum to do it on Tuesday, and meeting my goal on Tuesday gives me the momentum to do it on Wednesday. By the time I get to Thursday, I don’t want to break my three-day streak, and I find I feel like exercising for half an hour or full hour anyway.

Streaks are important. And if you’re going to celebrate them, you need to record them. Make a spreadsheet. Get an app (My Wonderful Goals is a popular one). But if you keep track of your resolutions and whether you meet them each day in a way that you can review at a glance, you’ll feel motivated to break bad streaks and maintain good ones.

True story: I started playing the violin at age 5. I liked the idea of playing the violin, but I hated to practice. Yes, hide-under-my-sister’s-bed-where-my-parents-couldn’t-reach-me hate.

One day, my parents brought me a notebook with a big grid pattern printed on the pages. Every day I practiced, they explained, I could put a sticker in one of the boxes, and once I had put 70 stickers in a row, I could drag my parents (also long-suffering) to the store and pick out a Polly Pocket. But if I missed a day, my streak would be broken, and I would have to start—no!—back at square zero.

Well, friends, it worked: I practiced every day, and I still have the Polly Pockets to prove it. So get yourself a sticker book, and start building a bridge between your average day and your ideal one.

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In my next post, I’ll share my ideal morning and tell you how I’ve followed the steps above to identify themes and set resolutions. But in the meantime, I’d love to hear about your progress and the changes you’re making!

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* Yes, I’ve been there.