A year ago Toledoan Clara Petty made sure she always stood in the back of group pictures to hide her weight.
Now, 56 pounds later and more fit than she has ever been in her adult life, she’s the one standing proudly in the middle of photos.
Keith Jordan saw some of his old high school friends last year at a local Toys For Tots giveaway, down on their luck, homeless, and addicted to drugs, and he wondered how that happened.
So he visited the Cherry Street Mission each week this year and learned something about his buddies and about himself. He also spends less time in his job on administrative duties and more of his day working with kids, an enriching experience that makes his days more fulfilling.
Jean Drees of Toledo read something about thanking others and being grateful, so she set out at the beginning of 2012 to write a thank-you letter every day of the year to someone in her life, whether it was her husband or the person who handles orders at a fast food restaurant.
The result: she feels like she has a better understanding and greater appreciation of the people she relies on every day.
This is the season for transformation and change in the form of New Year’s resolutions and each one of these examples is proof that you can successfully follow through on your new goals when the calendar flips. The experiences of Mr. Jordan, Ms. Petty, and Mrs. Drees are instructive for what we can learn about change and how to make it happen.
New Year’s resolutions don’t have to be empty promises we make to ourselves and then feel guilty about a month later when we know we won’t come close to realizing them.
Make it achievable
Ms. Petty knew that the real test for her wasn’t Jan. 1. She had resolved before to lose weight and was able to keep her motivation going for about a month before something would happen and she would go back to her old bad habits. Her challenge was always Jan. 28.
So in 2012 on that very date she walked into Extreme Results by Vince on Monroe Street and did what was for someone her age a brutally hard workout. Her goal was to lose 55 pounds by the time she reached 55 years old in July.
“When I left the class I could hardly walk. I thought this was ridiculous, there’s no way I can do this. I immediately got in my car and went and got some epsom salts and I just cried,” she said. “I said, ‘I have to commit to something. You tell your kids they have to finish what they start...’”
She stuck with it and kept going back, plugging away at a goal that amounted to about two pounds of weight loss per week, which is a strategy that Harbor mental health counselor Kathy Andros said is appropriate for making real change.
Goals should be achievable, specific, and measurable, she said. If your New Year’s resolution is something vague such as losing weight, being more organized, or saving more money, what does that mean? If it’s too general, you’re probably setting yourself up for disappointment.
“I think people can really help themselves by setting that goal and having that dream, but then sitting down and looking at it and saying, ‘How can I break that down into more manageable pieces so it doesn’t seem so overwhelming?,’” she said.
“That’s where people have a problem, whether it’s losing weight or saving money or deciding I want to change my life and do more charitable things. Well, how much time do you have and what would you be willing to do? If it’s an hour a week, then let’s start there and find one thing you can do for an hour a week.”
Ms. Petty also used an approach that Ms. Andros highly recommends: have a friend or family member who either pursues the goal with you, or keeps you on track. For Ms. Petty it was her daughter, Sydney, who worked out with her and was a strong role model when she went on her own successful weight loss program.
“I think having a support system is paramount to achieve a goal. That person can sort of be a cheerleader, but also be the one to hold your feet to the fire,” she said.
Make it measurable
Mr. Jordan considers his resolution one that reflects more his values than his habits. When he saw his former classmates struggling he realized that in stark terms that could be him if his life had turned out differently. He also felt like he was spending too much time at his nonprofit JLJ Vision Outreach focused on office work rather than his original mission: helping kids.
“I take three hours every day now to work with individual students to become better socially and academically. That has been more fulfilling than anything else because that got me back to my roots, my foundation,” he said.
Making your goals measurable like this is something that Ms. Andros said goes a long way toward fulfilling them.
“People really need to stop and say what does that [change] really mean for me. If I don’t like my job, what is it about my job that I don’t like? I might not need a new job, I might need to talk to my boss and say, ‘You know, I’m not really liking my job, I don’t like it for this reason, could I find a way to job share with somebody, could someone else take that over?,’” she said.
The point is to look closely at what you want to change rather than make some grand pronouncement that will only lead to failure that derails everything and leaves you defeated.
Make it specific
Mrs. Drees said her resolution to hand-write a thank-you note every day to at least one person in her life was ambitious, but doable because it already fit her lifestyle and world view. When she read about someone else doing it, she thought it “was just the coolest thing.”
“I move way too fast between being a mother, a wife, an executive and the little things go undone sometimes and I felt like that was a weakness of mine,” she said. “I feel like all of us have so many blessings and we’re all so harried and busy and we just kind of lose a little bit of the people touch.”
Zeroing in on perceived weaknesses and working on them is always a good idea, Ms. Andros, said, noting that you can begin the process of change any time of the year.
“I think it’s important for everybody to reassess his or her life at various points in their life and not just New Year’s. How am I doing, what needs to change if anything? It’s important to do that gut check every now and then.”
Mrs. Drees said the amount of help that she receives from others is humbling and taking the time to thank them reminds her how important they are in her daily life. For example, she noted that as a busy mom, she relies heavily on other mothers to help her haul the kids to and from school activities and without that assistance her entire schedule could break down.
Her resolution allowed her to count her blessings, she said.
“What I got out of it really was a sense of acknowledging how good my life is. I think that was my big takeaway,” she said.
Ms. Petty is healthier, she still works out five days a week and wants to lose more weight, and she said she has a more confident outlook thanks to exercise and realizing that she can achieve her goals when she sets her mind to it.
“I feel better. I look better in my clothes. I’ve gone down four sizes and I do feel better,” she said. “When you look better you feel better. You carry yourself different.”
Mr. Jordan said he sees the world more clearly since he’s been visiting the Cherry Street Mission and his resolutions have transformed from goals to his everyday reality.
“You’ve got to always self-check and give back, and karma is a son of a gun. I could be making a million bucks or a hundred thousand dollars annually, but if I’m not giving back to anybody it’s going to hurt me in the end,” he said.
“Those two resolutions, I’m going to stick with them. That’s my heart. It keeps me grounded, it keeps me focused, it keeps me humane.”
He also noted that setting an achievable goal can transcend personal development and extend out into the greater world.
“A resolution is when you want to change your heart. That’s how I think of it. At the beginning of the year I want to change my heart,” he said. “And if everybody just makes a resolution to smile more or love a little more or if you give $10 away, add 10 percent to it. Understand how your heart will feel.”
Contact Rod Lockwood at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6159.