“Happy New Year!” I chirped to my regular Caribou barista on Jan. 2. “Any resolutions?” The barista smiled. “Well, I’m 23 years old, so this year I decided to have 23 resolutions.” I was floored. “They are in different categories — health, professional, etc.,” she explained. I’m sure my eventual response was the same as at least 12 other customers that day — “Well, I hope you stop doing that by the time you’re 50!”
The barista’s enthusiasm for resolutions, however, got me thinking. When I got back to my desk with my latte, I wrote down my own resolutions for the year. I thought about putting them into categories like “health, professional, etc.” But I realized that, at this point in my life, there are no boundaries. I need to involve “health” in my work life and “professional” in my home life — categories of resolutions wouldn’t reflect my reality. So what did I resolve?
Once a week, have lunch with an old friend or new acquaintance outside the office. You know how it goes — the weeks go by and you realize that you haven’t seen a friend in eight months, let alone take time to develop new relationships with entertaining people you’ve met. I resolve to be better this year. My outlook calendar has been instructed to remind me to set up my weekly lunch.
For me, the benefits of getting out of the office for lunch are immeasurable — I return from the break energized and, sometimes, with new perspective on the legal issue du jour. There is, of course, a marketing aspect to my plan — our profession depends upon our relationships with people. Investing in those relationships is personally fulfilling, but also provides the building blocks for a successful career. Last (and clearly least), I am a messy eater — eating at my desk is not only depressing, but can result in crumbs in my keyboard and curry on my briefs. Nothing is more embarrassing than returning a document to a senior partner with food stains on it.
Stand up for two hours a day. I have a wonderful sit-to-stand desk. When I first got the desk, I stood for four hours every day. Then, I got pregnant and eventually sat, curled in c-shaped hunch, over my keyboard for six months. The baby has arrived, and it is time to spring back into motion. I know the research — The New York Times reports that men who spend more than 23 hours a day sitting (in cars and at desks) have a 64 percent greater chance of dying from heart disease than those who sit for 11 hours a week or less. (Full disclosure, I was sitting when I started this piece, but, reminded of death, I am now standing tall).
Bring lunch and breakfast twice a week. As much as I need to get out of the office, I also need to stay in more too. I have a bad habit of dashing downstairs to Caribou (as evinced in my first paragraph) and running to D. Brian’s (or a yummy food truck) pretty much every day. I know that I can eat healthier meals and save money if I commit to bringing my own nosh twice a week. And, I picked twice a week because it seemed realistic; I like eating out too much to quit cold turkey.
I can make this a social goal by inviting a colleague to join me for lunch in our office community room. Voila: the social benefits of getting out of the office coupled with the cost savings of eating in.
I know that these are small goals; I propose no big overhauls in my life. The scope of my goals does not reflect a sense that I have no large areas for improvement. Instead, my goals reflect areas where I can realistically achieve incremental improvement this year. Running a marathon or finding inner peace will have to wait for another year.
What do I need to do to meet my goals? I recalled hearing that it takes 21-days to create a habit. But, in researching this claim, I learned it’s simply a popular myth In a recent article, Forbes magazine provided a model “of what habit formation really looks like.” First, there’s an initial honeymoon phase — the first few days are easy (that’s why gyms are packed in January). A “fight thru” phase follows when reality sets in. There are different techniques to “fight thru” a return to old habits. My favorite? Imagine what your life would be like in five years if you don’t make your changes.
After fighting through, you eventually reach the promised land — your new habit becomes “second nature,” and you are in a groove. While these instructions present more ambiguity than simply “commit to your goals for 21-days,” they confirm my past experience with New Year’s resolutions. Change requires effort.
Not only do you have to commit to your goals, but your goals themselves can help create success. A friend of mine writes for the Washington Post. She recently interviewed D.C. celebrities about their resolutions and asked a psychologist to evaluate the resolutions. Todd Kashdan, a psychology professor and motivation expert at George Mason University, praised resolutions that were specific, values-driven, and included a mechanism for holding oneself accountable.
I shaped my resolutions with this advice in mind — my goals are quantifiable and reflect my desire to be healthier and renew friendships in the New Year. And as for a mechanism for holding myself accountable, shouldn’t this article count?
Sybil Dunlop joined Greene Espel in 2010. Her practice focuses on representing individuals, corporations and public-sector entities in business and governmental defense litigation. She can be reached at email@example.com.