Resolutionary Road

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Build Yourself a resolution roadmap for a successful 2020!

Whether you think they’re positive or pointless, New Year’s resolutions provide plentiful fodder for news coverage, surveys, Google searches, and even car commercials, each December and January.

Yet the more we make them, the more they seem to stay the same. Indeed, an NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist Poll on the subject found that despite some shuffling, the top ten resolutions for 2019 matched those of years past:

  • Exercise more
  • Eat healthier
  • Save money
  • Lose weight
  • Reduce stress
  • Stick to a budget
  • Get more sleep 
  • Spend more time with family
  • Learn a new skill
  • Travel more

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Unfortunately, another familiar aspect of New Year’s resolutions is that most of us will fail to change our bodies, minds or daily routines as much as we’d like. According to a well-circulated statistic from U.S. News & World Report, an estimated 80 percent of resolution-makers will fail by the second week of February.

But all hope is not lost; the answers to just a few simple questions—ones that I arrived at when making my now-achieved 2019 resolution—can help you not only choose, but also achieve, a better resolution in 2020.

What do you want to change?
A good resolution starts with asking yourself what you—not your family, friends, pop culture, or anybody else—sincerely want to change. While this could definitely be one or more of the ten items above, the key is to stop and think hard about what specific area of self-improvement you consider worth your yearlong time and effort; to ask yourself what, if anything, you find yourself regretting as each year comes to a close.
This time last year, my personal answer was an easy one, the same answer that I’d had every year since graduating high school: I had not been spending as much time as I’d like visiting Adams-Myers-Bryan Farmstead, a roughly 150-year-old Greek Revival house and collection of barns that’s been in my family for five generations.

How can you change it?
After figuring out what you want to change, the next question is if it can actually be changed (for example, you can’t change your height) and, if it can, how you can go about changing it.
In the context of my resolution, this meant taking stock of holidays and vacation hours; deciding when some time off would make sense, then requesting it. And finally, in what is the most difficult part for me, a guy known for constantly postponing or canceling “vacations,” actually sticking to my plans and driving the 368.5 miles from Annapolis to Valley Falls, N.Y.

Will achieving it benefit you? And perhaps others?
The next task is to defining your resolution’s “why.” Then arm yourself with the motivation to accomplish your goals by constantly reminding yourself of how they’ll benefit you and, in many cases, others.

In my case, I knew that visiting the farm would benefit:

Me, by allowing me to perform manual labor that summers spent on the farm made me truly love; spend time outdoors, at a place where I’m most at peace; and, when there with my dad, have plenty of conversations that mix fond memories with future plans.

My dad, not only through these conversations but also by showing him my commitment to keep the farm in our family.
The farm itself, given that my labor helps preserve it.
My dog, Buddy, because the farm offers him some rare leash-free freedom.

Can you measure its achievement?
Before you’re ready to enter the resolution-achievement process, it’s important to consider if and how you can track its attainment (one reason why “be kinder,” “work harder, etc. are great everyday goals but don’t necessarily make the best resolutions). In most cases, this will involve a mix of quantitative and qualitative measurements that provide yet another source of ongoing motivation.

For me, this first simply meant counting up the number of days I spent at the farm in 2019 (somewhere around 15) and contrasting them to those spent on it in 2018 (five or six), and reflecting on what I accomplished (building a picket fence, snowshoeing in our woods, discussing our lease with my dad, etc.) and how I felt (proud, connected to past generations, happy, etc.) while there. Again, writing this stuff down was a huge help!

What about next year?
Last but not least, if you’ve chosen a resolution that truly matters to you it’s only rational to not only want to continue achieving it but hopefully expand upon it beyond December 31, 2020.
While I obviously won’t resolve to continue tripling my year-over-year days on the farm, a surefire route to losing my job, I can do this by spending more days there with my dad and other family members, getting more work (e.g., painting the aforementioned picket fence) and play (e.g., paddleboarding on the Hudson River) done while there.
And voila, there you have my resolution for 2020. Good luck on yours!

—Steve Adams