Ah, New Year’s resolutions. Delightful and infuriating at the same time, no? On the one hand, you have a perfect chance to write on a blank slate. Create yourself anew. And leap into the future. On the other hand, setting one gives you yet another chance to fail by February 1.
I can think of exactly twice in my life that I made — and subsequently successfully kept — my own New Year’s resolutions. The first time was a few decades ago, when I made a resolution to start flossing my teeth every morning. I’d finally had enough of the dentist’s harsh words and painful visits, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. I started then, haven’t quit, and never looked back.
The second time I’ve successfully kept a resolution was this past year. My resolution was this: to do some yoga and stretching every single day. With the benefit of a year under my belt, I decided to take a look back and see what made my resolution-keeping efforts successful.
Here are the five things that did the trick for me:
1. Pain was an excellent motivator.
There were two types of pain motivating me to stick with a daily stretching practice. Physical pain (hip bursitis) inspired me to go see an orthopedist, who literally wrote me a prescription for “yoga + Alleve,” daily. When I did hip stretches, my hip didn’t hurt. When I didn’t stretch, it hurt. Emotional pain also motivated me. My favorite local yoga studio had closed more than a year earlier. I grew annoyed with my own complaining that because the studio had closed, I simply couldn’t do yoga. It was finally time to call myself out on my own bologna.
2. I kept the resolution simple.
I picked one thing to work on. Not a list of 10. I made “stretch” my word of the year, which I used to mean both that I would do yoga stretches every day and also stretch myself in my work life and in my business. Sitting on the mat each morning, increasing my flexibility, was a great reminder of my intent to stretch in other areas of my life, too. (My big non-yoga stretch — and proud accomplishment — was publishing a book last year!)
3. I paid money to get help.
Yes, there are a million and one ways to get free help in this world. And I could have read a book on yoga or watched a million YouTube videos. But there is something about spending some amount of your own money to put you on the hook. If you invest in yourself, you are much more likely to take that investment seriously. The money I spent was $100 on a one-on-one session with a yoga instructor, who taught me how to have a home yoga practice. I walked away both inspired to start my own practice and confident that I could do it.
4. Yoga got a spot in the daily lineup of my day.
The order of events in a day really matters for consistency. And as a working mom of two little boys, I don’t have many moments to spare. I discovered that if I did my yoga session at the same exact time of day every day, it simply became part of the daily lineup, rather than something I had to remember to do or squeeze into my day. The habit I created was to stretch for 10 minutes before breakfast. Every morning when I came downstairs, I rolled my mat out next to the dining room table, turned on my music, and dug in.
5. I found a way to keep myself honest.
There’s that saying about how you can’t improve something if you don’t measure it, and I found that to be true in the resolution-keeping department. I needed to find a way to track whether I’d kept my resolution or not, and Insight Timer proved to be the perfect tool to do this. Every day, I’d select music from the “I have 5-10 minutes” category on the app, and stretch to that music. Insight Timer has stats, so you can see how many consecutive days you’ve used the app, how many minutes per day, etc. It’s been an excellent tool for keeping me honest.
I am definitely more flexible going into 2018 than I was at the start of 2017. My hip pain is gone. And most importantly, my mornings start off on a calmer, more intentional foot. Keeping a resolution once also inspires me to try again with something else this year. Success does, after all, beget success.
Lori K. Mihalich-Levin, JD, is the founder of Mindful Return, author of Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave, and creator of the Mindful Return E-Course. A partner in the health care practice of a global law firm, she also is mama to two beautiful red-headed boys. Lori holds a law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center and completed her undergraduate studies at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.