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Resolutions you can live with: 10 positive changes to make in your life for 2013

You gotta love the can-do American attitude behind New Year’s Resolutions, the stubborn, chimerical, try-try-again sentiment that besets the best of us around the time we start bagging the crumpled wrapping paper and sealing leftover pies in plastic wrap.

Never mind that statistics say more than half of us will give up on our resolutions sometime between now and July and the vast majority will have abandoned our most earnest aspirations by the end of the year. This year is going to be different. This year we’re going to lose the weight, kick the habit, conquer the junk pile, etc., etc.

The fact is, that sentiment isn’t entirely naïve. The statistics whispering in our ear that we’re going to fail are but one set of statistics: Another set assures us that writing down our goals will tremendously improve our chances of reaching them. (Maybe our first resolution this year should be to be wary of statistics.)

So how do you make sure you’ll stick with those resolutions when the going gets tough? A good first step is writing resolutions that set us up for success. Enough with the quit-smoking-lose-20-pounds-get-organized drudgery. It’s time for some resolutions that are fun, fulfilling and specific. Here are 10 positive changes you can make in your life this year that might just help you keep those other tired old resolutions without even knowing it.

∎  Sign up for something. Some of us already feel bogged down with commitments, while others of us are pretty committed to our recliners every evening between January and June. It’s quite possible, though, that people on both extremes suffer from the same sort of malaise. If your calendar is full of things that don’t inject any meaning or excitement into your life – running errands, taxiing kids here and there, slogging through that endless to-do list – (or if the pages are just glaringly white) it’s time to commit to having some fun.

If you’re a confirmed member of the NFL (No Fun League) resolving to have more fun this year is not likely to do the trick. Start by finding one specific activity that sounds fun to you – a Zumba class, a town committee, an amateur radio operators club (hey, we all define fun differently) – and sign up for it. If you’re not normally the joining type, find an activity you have to pay in advance for, for added motivation.

∎ Schedule some “we” time. Everybody talks about “me” time, and I’m not disputing the power of a good long bath. But it seems a lot of us would need less “me” time if we had better relationships with the people in our lives. Of course, the best way to build good relationships is to spend quality time together. Here again, it’s important to be specific. Resolve to schedule a date once a week – with a spouse, a friend, a son, a daughter or anyone else you care about. Set some rules about what constitutes a “date,” (sitting on the couch watching TV doesn’t count), and put it on your weekly calendar. No weasling out of it, even if your new friends in the ham radio operators club want to go out for drinks.

∎ Give a genuine compliment once a day. Here’s an easy way to improve relationships, focus on the positive and quite possibly earn some unexpected favors: Just be nice. How? Start by resolving simply to say something nice to at least one person every day. The only rules are it can’t be the same person more than once a week and you have to actually mean it. Yes, that may mean you have to get creative – and some days compliment random strangers – but hey, it’s surely not the hardest thing you’ve ever attempted.

∎ Put a charitable cause on automatic deduction. While you’re being all wholesome and good-hearted why not resolve to help those in need this year? An easy way to ensure you’ll keep this resolution is to have the donation automatically deducted from your bank account each month. The downside: you may not get the same satisfaction if you hardly notice the donation, so make sure to read those newsletters that come to your inbox, and hang a reminder – a picture of the kid you’re helping, an inspirational story – somewhere where you’ll see it often.

∎ Make it a triple. Saving money, losing weight and taking a vacation are among the top perennial resolutions. Here’s a fun (er, almost fun) way to combine all three. Figure out the average amount you spend on coffee runs, fast food, vending machines and the likes every week. Write it down and take that amount out of your checking account each week. This is the only money you can spend on junk food, and any that’s left over gets split between a vacation fund and a savings fund. Of course you can always add more to the funds, too, if you’re so inclined. The important thing here is to come up with a method that works for you. If you don’t often get to the bank or ATM, think of another method that’s logistically simple but difficult to back out of.

∎ Enact the sleep-on-it rule for spending. It’s the perfect color, fits like it was made for you and it’s on sale. Better grab it now because there aren’t many left. Ah, the impulse buy. It’s right up there with birthday cake for derailing our best intentions. Luckily there’s an easy way to thwart it: Just make a rule that you aren’t allowed to buy a non-necessity without sleeping on the decision. You may want to set a minimum dollar limit for the rule (then again, you may not) and write in exemptions that may apply: For instance, if you’re on an out-of-town shopping junket, you can set an impulse spending limit before you go.

∎ Color code your diet. Yeah, you didn’t really think you were going to get out of this New Year’s pep talk without a spiel on healthy eating, did you? But don’t worry: This one is relatively painless. Instead of focusing on what you can’t eat or trying to follow one of those control-freak diets, just get out your crayons. The healthiest eaters are those who eat a wide variety of colors, from lutein-loaded greens to lycopene-laden berries. So make a produce color chart – or print one from a website – to hang on your fridge and resolve to eat something from each color category every day. Piece of cake (okay, no more references to cake!)

∎ Become an expert. Sometimes it seems as if the whole world has ADD. Information has become so easily accessible and our senses are so overloaded, many of us flit from one thing to the next without really absorbing much of anything. Instead of vowing to cut back on electronics usage, try coming up with a topic that truly interests you – Asian culture, punk rock, exotic birds – and resolving to learn as much as you can about it this year.

∎ Give it away now. An entire empire seems to have been created around the idea of getting organized. How gorgeous those color-coded cubbies look on the pages of those glossy magazines – and yet, like the size 2 figures featured in the same checkout counter space – how unattainable! This year, instead of resolving to get organized (some of us might as well resolve to win the Nobel Peace prize while we’re at it) just resolve to give (or throw) something away every time you bring something new into the house. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, start the year off with a big purge, and then keep a bin or box in the car that you can toss donations in.

∎ Create a happy place. If you have enough time, enough determination and enough Rubbermaid containers you might be able to get your whole life organized this year. But most of us won’t manage such a feat, and those of us who do will have to quit our jobs to keep things that way. So along with resolving to get rid of some stuff, resolve to make one room – just one room – exactly how you want it this year. Clean out every drawer and closet, splurge on a few stylish accessories and fill (but don’t overfill) it with your favorite things.

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