Tired of making killer commitments every New Year’s Eve that you abandon by the middle of January? Try drawing up a list of realistic, rejuvenating resolutions to simplify your life and make the most of every moment.



It’s another new year, and once again, you are faced with the challenge of taking stock of your life and setting some goals for the future. But even as you sit down to formulate an impressive list of resolutions that you really, truly mean to keep, that sneaky little voice in your head says, ‘who are you trying to kid? You know you’ll never manage all that!’

If you are an obsessive list-maker you’ll write it all down anyway, just for the sense of satisfaction you get from the process. The longer the list, you tell yourself, the more you feel you’ve managed to bring order and control to your happy but haphazard life, right? Wrong!

Rule number one of effective list making is to keep the list short. Time-management gurus suggest that, over and above routine chores, you should never add more than five tasks to your daily ‘to do’ list. Limiting a list addict to five entries is like asking a shoe addict to pick five pairs and toss the rest out; but as a recovering list-maker I can vouch for the wisdom of this advice. Five seems to be the magic achievable number. More than that and you’ll probably end the day feeling frustrated and stressed by the thought of everything you have to pack in tomorrow. Long-term lists work in the same way. You are far more likely to tick things off your annual wish list if there aren’t too many items on the list in the first place.

Rule number two is to be realistic. Dreams are wonderful and necessary, but don’t fly so high that you set yourself up for failure. Given your resources, time and commitments, and bearing in mind that you need flexibility in the system to cope with life’s unexpected twists and turns, what can you realistically hope to achieve? Is it really possible for you to write a novel, lose 20 kg and learn to speak Spanish in the next 12 months?

The trick to making effective New Year’s resolutions is to focus on the broad brush strokes rather than the details. In other words, commit to some general principles that will help you make progress towards achieving specific goals, rather than the goals themselves. If you want to lose weight, for example, it’s more positive to concentrate on health awareness than those unwanted kilos. If you want to learn a language or write a novel, you have a better chance of getting there if you commit to setting aside a chunk of time each week for creative projects. The biggest dreams are attainable, but they begin with small steps. It’s these building blocks that should be the focus of your resolutions rather than the results you hope to achieve.


Do the groundwork

What if you have lots of things you want to do next year? How do you limit yourself to just a few options? Life is choice, but choices often need to be deliberated. On a large sheet of paper, draw columns representing the various aspects of your life, and give each column a heading. Your topics may read something like this: home/family, health, work, leisure/social, creativity and learning. Choose as many categories as you can think of, that are relevant to you. Next, fill in all the things you would like to achieve under each category. For example, under ‘home and family’ you may put ‘have another baby’; ‘’spend quality time with Tom’, or ‘move house.’ Under ‘health’ you may write ‘lose weight’; ‘learn to cook vegetarian meals’; ‘start yoga classes’. Under ‘work’ you may have ‘develop my business’; ‘buy laptop’, or ‘change job’. ‘Leisure/social’ may be a list of places you want to visit or friendships you’d like to grow. ‘Creativity’ may include a range of projects from sewing a quilt to writing that novel; and ‘learning’ may be about finishing a degree, taking Spanish classes or getting to grips with the tango.

Put down everything you can think of; this is the master plan from which you can map your future activities. But to all you list-lovers out there who think that’s the end of the story, it isn’t. The easy part is to write it all down; the hard part is to bring some of the ideas into form so that you can tick a few goals off your list.


Narrow the focus

Take a long hard look at all your categories and decide which ones contain the most pressing items. If you try to tackle everything you’ll be overwhelmed and land up doing nothing; but if you choose, like the Chinese, to make next year the ‘Year of the . . .’ (insert the appropriate word, like Family, Body, Mind or Soul), you may have a fighting chance of your resolutions surviving past February.

Once you’ve picked your theme for the year, you can refine your goals and set some realistic resolutions. If ‘home and family’ are in focus, you might resolve to set aside one afternoon a week for decorating or gardening projects; if you’re going for the Year of the Body, you may resolve to read up on nutrition or start an exercise programme. If your mind or soul needs feeding, you’ll commit to clearing your schedule to allow for educational or uplifting breaks every now and then.

Perhaps you’ll want to work with achieving balance, in which case you might like to pick five key words that encapsulate the different areas of your life. My Big Five resolutions for 2005 are built around ‘F’ words: food, fresh, focus, fun and fellowship. ‘Food’ stands for vigilance around health and nutrition (and in the process I hope to lose a few kilos); ‘Fresh’ stands for my commitment to some outdoor exercise every day – even if it’s only to walk round the block. ‘Focus’ relates to creative writing projects I want to complete (notice that I’m not scaring myself with a resolution to ‘write a novel’); ‘Fun’ is self-explanatory – I’d like a bit more of it – and ‘Fellowship’ represents a desire to expand my network and engage in structured dialogue with other women.

If this model works for you, feel free to use it. If not, here are five winners guaranteed to get you through the year without the guilt of failure or the stress of trying to be Superwoman. Settle for a happy new you; and a happy new year will take care of itself.


  • Make time: Even if it’s only half an hour a day, take a break that’s just for you. Relax, breathe, kick off your shoes to connect with the earth, close your eyes and soak up some sunshine or some restful music. Make your private time non-negotiable: no interruptions, no phone calls, and no visitors. Encourage your children to value quiet time too. Use it to read, write in your journal, meditate, stand on your head, or paint your toenails. It’s your time to reflect and re-focus.
  • Make space: If you’d like to invite something new into your life, you need to make space for it. If you want a new job, learn a new skill. If you want a new relationship, release the old one that is draining your energy. If you want a new look, do a ruthless blitz on your wardrobe and your household cupboards. Clearing out physical and mental clutter opens you to life’s opportunities.
  • Set boundaries: Work out where and with whom you want to spend your energy and don’t feel bad about declining commitments and projects that aren’t on your list. If you find it impossible to scale down your activities, ask yourself why you need to be so busy. Are you rescuing people who need to learn to stand on their own two feet? Are you avoiding a personal issue you should be facing? Are you ignoring the long-term health consequences of keeping up your hectic schedule?
  • Do the ‘now’ thing now: Slash that never-ending list of things to do by being proactive. When bills come in, pay them. When an e-mail or letter needs to be answered, do it right away. When documents need filing, file them. Try to handle each piece of paper only once, and you’ll find yourself procrastinating less and having heaps more time to spend on activities you enjoy.
  • Be present: Pay attention to what is happening in your life right now. The past is over and the future is not here yet. Plan for it, but don’t waste the gifts of the moment by living for a time down the track when you imagine things will be perfect. (Who says that when you are thinner/richer/older or in a relationship that you will be happy?) Your current circumstances are the challenges you have chosen to work with. Today offers you unique possibilities for transformation and the chance to engage with the richness and spontaneity of life.

Published in Good Living Magazine, 2004

Categories: Self-help

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