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Upside-down resolutions

Posted by Robin Abrahams  January 6, 2009 09:07 AM

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For some reason, I've been thinking a lot about New Year's resolutions. Partly because of the interview I did for Weekend America, partly because the phenomenon is an interesting one to look at through many of the lenses that I use to view the world--Judaism, psychology, evolution--partly because I'm on a constant quest for self-improvement and like to get all meta about it by resolving to make better resolutions.

I could go into all of that a lot--and maybe I will, in some future posts. But the "January Joiner" piece sparked a particular thought that I want to share with you. The JJ phenomenon, of course, is that of people who join a gym with all kinds of high hopes in January, and are nowhere to be seen come March or even February. Now, I've been trying to kick up my own gym-going to a new level, so this is relevant to me. Partly, it's relevant in that during January, I have to be a lot more flexible about my workout routine and schedule because my gym is busting at the seams and there might not be an available elliptical. Selfishly, it's so nice when the JJ's start to drop off! But of course these are people who want to be working out, so I shouldn't be glad when they fail to meet their goal.

And I might have an idea to help them. Here it is: Make your New Year's resolution.

Then set an implementation date of February 1.

In other words, you don't attempt to start your New Year "all set." In January, you are "still working on it."

Two of my resolutions this year are to get up earlier in the morning, and to work out four to five times a week. If I'd decided to start the resolution on January 1, I'd have already broken it by now, and become discouraged, and maybe quit entirely. But January is the process of getting me there, it's the journey, not the destination. I've been getting up a little earlier, cutting myself slack when I fail, setting modest goals at the gym. I think in over the next four weeks I'll have built up some fairly good habits. I'm never going to be one of those terribly disciplined people who gets up every morning at 4:30 and works out every day for 90 minutes, but I can get closer to that than I am now, and I bet by February 1, there will really be some significant improvement.

January 1 is your starting gate, not your finishing line. Maybe you don't need a finishing line; people differ in what motivates them. But if you do, make it February 1.

What are your resolutions this year? What tips and tricks do you have for making self-improvement schemes stick?

UPDATE: Fillyjonk of Shapely Prose has a great post on "reverse resolutions." Check this out!

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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9 comments so far...
  1. I've resolved to eat more vegetables and take more calcium. I'm starting to creep up on 30 and if I don't start eating healtheir now, I probably never will.

    Posted by Noel January 6, 09 09:47 AM
  1. I actually *forgot* to make a new years resolution.... I told myself I'd get out of consumer debt by March though....or at least get out of as much debt as I can. And I made it clear to most people I know that I'm trying to get out of debt, there's nothing more depressing than making spaghetti for the umpteen millionth time when your friends are out on the town and keep bugging you to join in on the fun.

    Posted by Veronica January 6, 09 10:51 AM
  1. I love your idea of having a ramp up period. For me, I stuck with my fitness goal for 5 months last year because I had signed up for a 5K race in May with a co-worker (I am not a runner). Because I had that race hanging over my head, I kept going out and jogging, even on those cold, damp spring days when it was time to go from the treadmill to the road and I hated. Every. Single. Stride. Once the race passed, though, I kept it up for another month or two then stopped completely and promptly gained weight. So this year, I'm signing up for multiple races throughout the year so that I constantly have something to "train" for and hopefully that will get me - and keep me - going.

    Posted by Jen January 6, 09 12:16 PM
  1. I added a couple of 'quick wins' into my New Year's resolutions; for example, updating my Facebook page and clearing out the holiday clutter by the end of the first week of January (so far, so good). My fitness resolution is a little less defined, so I may meet the goal, but not achieve the results...the goal is to do something *active* every day...walk, run, jump on a trampoline, do sit-ups/push-ups. I questioned the possible results when I found I could only do a few sit-ups/push-ups! I love the idea of the delayed start for a resolution.

    Posted by MAK January 6, 09 12:21 PM
  1. I rarely resolve, but this year, I made two.

    This year, I will continue last year's resolution, which was, in short, to do my best to make sure I was not my own worst enemy. Or, in other words, to be nicer to myself. So far, so good -- got a great new job, moved across the country, still keep in touch with the important people from back there.

    Secondly, I have most firmly resolved not to let the dishes take over the kitchen so often. Believe it or not, this will be harder than the first one.

    Posted by bluemoose January 6, 09 12:49 PM
  1. A great post!
    I'm a big fan of making resolutions throughout the year, not just on New Year's eve.
    So much so that myself and two friends created on our free time. It provides an easy way to write your resolutions down and share with whoever you want to share them with. It also has a charitable 'flipside' to it - if your resolution doesn't stand it asks you to donate money to charity. So whether you keep your resolution or not, either way the world will be a little bit better.
    In the two weeks since launch an encouraging number of people have made their pledges already

    Quite a few people have put their non-food related resolutions down there already. Would be great to get more people to try it out and hear if it helps to stick to resolutions.

    Posted by Andrus January 6, 09 01:22 PM
  1. My resolutions are to be more patient/less "yelly" with my daughter (she's a "pre-teen" with pre-teen selective hearing, so this may be a tough one) and to exercise more regularly and every week. I have a crazy schedule, so I didn't want to set a more fixed goal like 4-5 times a week that I would most likely fail, so I set a goal that is a bit more loose.
    I like the idea of having the "warm up" until February 1st. I'm actually avoiding the gym for a couple of weeks so that I don't get frustrated with the JJ's. There is a small gym in the building I work in, and adding a few newbies to the schedule can really mess things up. There's nothing worse than going, getting changed, lacing up the sneakers and then finding that the machines are all occupied . . .
    I've been doing some Wii Fit, though, which is more fun than exercise, but at least I'm up and moving!

    Posted by MAP January 6, 09 02:29 PM
  1. This comment is for Jen in #3 - Jen, if you hated every stride so much, why not pick some other form of exercise to get back in shape? It doesn't have to be running! It's really hard to stick with something when you hate doing it, but I love to dance so it's really easy for me to do aerobics, etc. Also I have discovered Wii fit as well and it is so much fun!

    I was thinking about resolutions this morning and I think I want to try to be less judgmental. I know that sounds vague but I know what it means. I never made it a resolution, though. I love the idea of easing into resolutions on February 1.

    Posted by Stick to It January 6, 09 05:48 PM
  1. This year instead of making resolutions, i have made declarations. Therefore, intead of dieting and exercising, I am emphatically having SNACKS! and RECESS!

    It's worked so well, I may add MAKING STUFF! and NAPPING! soon....

    Yes, I'm going for deliciousness and play and creativity and unconciousness, just to change things up : )

    Posted by Ajay January 7, 09 02:53 PM
About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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