New Year, New You!

Revive your New Year's resolutions

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We all made our public announcements on Dec. 31: “This year, it will be different.” This year I will get organized, lose weight, save money, be a better version of whatever it is I already am. Setting goals is part of the fun of a New Year. However, to make it happen, we can’t just generate a wish list of what we would do if we had unlimited discipline, ambition, resources, and time, because goals only become reality if we figure out how to act in the absence of unlimited energy, opportunity, and will.

Most New Year’s resolutions flounder after the first month, not because they weren’t worthy goals, but because we failed to take into account the human element of any equation. The idea of being slim comes up against the delicious box of gourmet chocolates received at Christmas; the budget is pitted against car trouble and flu season; plans to get organized drown in the enormity of resolve required to file everything or keep at it. Therefore, the first rule for reaching a goal after dreaming it involves creating a plan that considers the fluidity of actual living.

Read these inspiring stories from real families who are conquering New Year’s resolutions and sharing the tips needed to stick with it.

Losing Weight: Every year, “Get fit” is still on my list. I’ve been a member of a gym on and off over the years, used treadmills as laundry baskets, and own a Wii Fit that now makes sarcastic comments when I step on it: “Oh…it’s you.” So I turned to a family who made fitness a goal and achieved it.

Freedom Green is 40 and a mother of Kylee (in heaven), Trey (9), Skyla (8), Chloe (6), and Elodie (3). When she found out she was pregnant with Elodie, she knew she’d need more energy to keep up with her young family. She and her husband Joe set a goal of getting fit. They owned an elliptical so, rain or shine, Freedom made a promise to herself to exercise daily. She also found a book, Run Like a Mother: How to Get Moving and Not Lose Your Family by Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen. In addition to making her laugh out loud, it provided some ideas and tips on how to go about her goal.

As the months went by, the physical benefits of her daily run expanded. She got one-on-one time with her children, as the older ones would ride alongside her while she trained. Her youngest acted as a motivational coach while riding in a baby carrier on her back. Sometimes she and her husband chose a long jog for a date. It helped clear her thoughts, de-stress, give her down time, organizational time, and “mommy me” time. “Running is my drug,” she says, laughing. This past October, she ran in her first marathon in honor of her first daughter, raising over $800 for CHERUBS, a charity funding research on Congenital Diaphrenetic Hernia. Running has become part of her family’s culture.

Tip No. 1: Don’t go it alone. Invest your family in your dream so they can be your cheerleaders, your reminders, and your support group.

Getting Organized: As a follower who never quite gets off the ground and still hasn’t read the article I saved on “How to Organize Absolutely Everything” from summer 2010 (because I don’t know where I put it), this is a goal I perpetually fail to meet.

Eight months ago, Andy Sanders shared an article with his wife Jennifer about the problem with “affluenza.” The term describes the painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more. Something struck a bone—they had been wanting to de-clutter the house, but this was the spark that made both of them commit to the positive goal of having more time to do things with each other and needing less.

“We took out a piece of paper and brainstormed our own ‘Affluenza Project.’ We came up with three goals: 1) De-cluttering—getting rid of 50 percent of all the stuff in any room; 2) Organizing—creating a sense of space; and 3) Decor—making a hearth of the home.

They are halfway there. “We did get sidetracked by work and vacation for a bit, but the focus is still there,” Andy explained. The little changes have added up to bigger ones. For one of their two daughters’ birthday, rather than a party at home with scores of new things coming into the house, they invited Mary Kate’s friends and families to go to the zoo and bring part of a potluck picnic. The experience and the community became the focus of the birthday, not mounds of presents.

Tip No. 2: Create a plan with a positive end goal. Post the plan. Revisit, revise, and restart the plan as needed.

Keep A Budget/Get Out of Debt: Even members of Congress have trouble with this one. Books and balancing the checkbook don’t seem to be enough. Managing money, like de-cluttering and dieting, requires a degree of vigilance. One year I stated, “This year we will no longer use credit cards.” It was like a dog whistle to my house, children, and life. The first purchase was a prom dress and shoes, then an air conditioner repair, then a run to the ER for a kid with a possible broken arm. Credit card to the rescue! So much for the resolve.

At the age of 30, Maria Lecuona had been playing the credit card transfer shuffle as a result of eight years of impulse buying. She’d run up a tab of over $25,000. Feeling trapped and unable to build a life of her own because of her finances, she tried debt counseling. Ironically, her good credit (she always paid the minimum) kept her from receiving assistance. “I had financial ADD,” she said.

Then she began dating Patrick McClure, the man who would become her husband. He seemed to be good at money, always using cash. He said, “Let me help you,” and they talked out the theory, got focused, and made a plan, paring down her expenses to only what she needed. For the next two months, she wrote down every expense—even packs of gum. She tracked every dollar. Next she cut up her credit cards. Making an Excel sheet to illustrate her guaranteed monthly costs, bit by bit Maria started paying off her debt. She would pay her bills and put the rest into a savings account. By paying herself first with no new credit card expenses, she could manage her money. “If it couldn’t go on the debit card, it didn’t happen.”

It took discipline. But she set goals and, taking one bite at a time, one day at a time, she was debt-free in four years. Two years after that, she married Patrick. They paid for the wedding and their honeymoon with cash saved during their engagement. “I liken it to weight loss. If you write down all you eat, you understand why you need to diet. If you write down all you spend, you know where the money is going.” She recommends talking to a financial planner and suggests a favorite fiscal radio host’s webpage, and his books as part of refining the process.

Tip No. 3: This won’t happen overnight. Changing habits takes time. As you do little things every day toward your goal, the progress eventually leads to greater perfection of the goal. The process will lead you where you want to go.

So, Happy New Year! Gather your family and friends, dare to dream, and armed with a plan, their support, and persistence, this New Year you can make yourself new, too!

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