I’m taking a different approach to New Year’s resolutions for 2019. In fact, I’m not making New Year’s resolutions at all. Instead of writing a “Future Letter to Myself,” as I have done for the past six years, I’m simply going to keep up with my monthly habits tracker in my dot journal.
It sounds lazy, and maybe it is, but having a daily account of every time I, say … completed (or failed to complete) my food log is more effective than the more nebulous long-term goal of “be more healthy.” For me, it’s even more effective than a specific long-term goal, such as “Return to my pre-baby weight and clothing size by the end of 2018” (something that was in my 2018 Future Letter to Myself, which I’ll write about next week). At the end of every month, I can see which habits I practiced regularly, and which ones need more work.
When I first started my dot journal almost a year ago, my habits tracker contained a handful of actions I wanted to practice anywhere from daily to twice weekly, depending on the habit. Some things have been deleted; others added. It has since doubled to include 16 habits for the month of January 2019.
I like the word “habit” because it’s sort of neutral, almost second-nature — something that’s just done in the course of my day/week because it’s something I just do. It’s not a one-and-done goal that I seek to achieve. It’s not a task to cross off my to-do list (my dot journal has ample dedicated space for that and other lists!).
It’s not a chore, an obligation, an objective or an achievement. It’s not something that’s over once I complete it — maybe for that day or week it is, but a habit is something that I practice again and again.I recently re-read Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project,” and I realized that my monthly habits tracker is similar to her monthly “resolutions charts.” She noted that a resolution is something one strives to keep, over and over, compared to a goal, which, “once you’ve done it, you’ve done it.” And then what?
I also like Rubin’s motivating philosophy behind her happiness project: to change her life without changing her life. She writes:
And more important, I didn’t want to reject my life. I wanted to change my life without changing my life, by finding more happiness in my own kitchen. I knew I wouldn’t discover happiness in a faraway place or in unusual circumstances; it was right here, right now …
Looking at the list of habits by themselves, they may seem like a collection of random actions that don’t seem to contribute to self-improvement or growth. But similar to my future letters, my habits fit into different “buckets”: motherhood and parenting; marriage, family, and relationships; career; health and fitness; and creative projects/other personal interests.
Some habits are longstanding practices: my daily gratitude journal, taking 10,000 steps and sleeping 7 hours a day (both trackable with my Fitbit), and having “kneecap time” with Kail — something inspired by the pastor who married us, who said he and his wife, through decades of marriage, always made time to sit down and communicate (we don’t always actually sit knee to knee). I don’t have exercise on my habits tracker because that is covered in my dot journal’s workout spread.
Others are often blank for the entire month (wrote, meditated) or are sporadic depending on the week (socialized, FaceTimed family).
And some habits I’ve added recently, as I was thinking about New Year’s resolutions. One of these is “kind act for Kail.” I was reminded while reading “The Happiness Project” again of research demonstrating that, in marriage, negative experiences “stick” more than positive ones. Rubin writes:
It takes at least five positive marital actions to offset one critical or destructive action, so one way to strengthen a marriage is to make sure that the positive far outweighs the negative.
I originally had the goal of three (downgraded from five) kind acts per day, but that got unwieldy to track, so I’m starting with one. I also originally had the goal of making it an “above and beyond” act — i.e. baking cookies or doing something special, not something like watch George on a weekend morning so Kail can go to the gym, which I sort of viewed as part of my responsibility as a parent/spouse. But we decided that was unrealistic (not to mention unhealthy, at least as far as baking was concerned), and that daily, “routine” acts of kindness still count.
Some other recent additions to my habits tracker: “used good language” (even though Piopio isn’t a year old, he hears — and will soon understand — everything we say, so I need to check my potty mouth, particularly while driving); “no nagging” (See: negative experiences stick more than positive ones, above); and “something new with [Piopio]” (this used to say “Read to [Piopio],” but since I read to him multiple times a day, I thought a habit encouraging new experiences — visiting new places, trying new foods, reading a new book — would be better).
One thing I like about my dot journal, which I’ve written about before, is its flexibility. If I identify another habit worth practicing, I can add that next month or six months for now. Similarly, if a habit becomes less of a priority, I can leave it off. (While that might provide an “easy out” for keeping a resolution, my writing habit has literally been blank for more months than not and I still track it.) Each month offers a chance to review my progress and reevaluate my priorities for the following month.
What are your 2019 New Year’s resolutions, or what regular habits do you wish to cultivate?