For the past few years, I've strayed away from the conventional approach to New Years Resolutions in favor of something more practical and fun.  Really, what is fun about dieting, exercising more, spending less, or restricting yourself in order to correct something that is not perceived as perfect.  Why not focus more on the positive and use the New Year as a reminder that life is short, so just as this blog promotes, you need to get out there and experience as much of it as you can while making yourself a better, and more responsible, person in the process.

The first time I thought about this approach as a substitute to prior years of overly ambitious resolutions, that I broke soon thereafter, was due to an incident that happened over Christmas.  I had invited my close friends, who were remaining in D.C., over to my house for a nice Christmas dinner.  I thought I had covered everything in my planning.  I was going to make some of the classics, then try to mimic a local restaurant favorite, sauteed spinach with pine nuts.  What ended up happening is that the spinach cooked down from two giant boxes of fresh baby spinach leaves to maybe a wooden spoonful of sauteed spinach per person.  Then the super cheesy potato gratin was very ambitious with its many, thick layers such that even after an hour cooking, it wasn't close to being done, but I thought it was because I had tested a slice on top and it was fine.  I think you see where I'm going here.  I'm not a great cook, but I'm better than I was then because my top resolution for the subsequent new year was to learn how to cook.  I signed up for a 16-week culinary skills recreational course at a great cooking school in D.C., L'Academie de Cuisine, and started to develop knife skills, make my own mayonnaise and salad dressings from scratch, and learn all about cooking meats.  Even a few years later, I'm still annoyed that there's no set time guideline for cooking meat -- I can't tell you how many times the answer to my question by the chef instructor was "when it's done."

Anyway, the point is that my resolution was a big success, and it inspired me to embark on a new resolution in the next year.  Having always considered myself to be a goofy girl who loves to make others laugh, the 2nd annual big resolution was to learn to be funny...well funnier in a structured way.  And I did that by enrolling in the Washington Improv Theater's beginner course, which led to five additional classes, with more in store for future years when my life settles down a little.  This year, I didn't have a major resolution because it got superceeded by a decision to move, but I still accomplished a lot of minor things I set out to do and many others that were amazing surprises, all of which led to the inspiration for this blog!

In addition to looking for a major new activity to try or skill to learn, I've found it to be helpful to set small goals that are achievable that will make life run smoother and inspire change to regular routine.  I typically organize my thoughts around the following categories:

1. Practical - personal finances, home organization/cleaning
2. Lifestyle - going out, cooking/baking, friends, media limits
3. Knowledge - learn/refresh one new thing, reading books
4. Physical - fitness and specific goals (e.g., run a half marathon)
4. Travel/Culture - I try to visit at least 2 countries each year and do some fun long weekends in favorite places or new places.  I also am inspired by event-driven travel, like going to Pamplona or the French Open.
5. Stretches - Recognizing my major challenges where I have been unsuccessful changing habits, in the past.

Using this format, here are my resolutions for 2012:

  • Take more time to be cognizant of how I am saving and spending money
  • Become more engaged in the management of my savings and investments
  • Try to clean out closets once each quarter and give to charity
  • Try at least 10 new restaurants
  • Bake something new at least once a month
  • Cook a nice dinner at least once each week
  • Schedule one weekend a month to do something creative with friends
  • Host a dinner party and open house for friends
  • Read at least one book each month and at least three books on investing
  • Finish Rosetta Stone French and Spanish programs
  • Take time to play piano more and try to find a beginning guitar class
  • Become a regular runner again, at least 10 miles per week, to assess marathon potential for 2013
  • Drink more water
  • Travel to 3 countries, at least one new - potentially Peru (Machu Picchu), Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Belize, England
  • Go on two fun long weekends - potentially Las Vegas, Nashville, New Orleans, Skiing, Caribbean, Sundance, Austin Formula One race
  • Attend the US Open in NYC
  • Go to bed early enough to get at least 7 hours of sleep (really tough because I'm a night owl)
I'm still working on a major resolution, like improv or cooking in prior years.  I'm looking for ideas, so leave me a comment if you have some!  

Now that I've exposed my resolutions on a public forum, I guess I will have to work harder to make sure I tick them all off!  But the good thing is that I think they all are within reach, so it's just a matter of making them a priority, if need be.  Hopefully this approach makes you change your mind about making resolutions by going about it in a smart, sensible way - bold enough to push you a little outside your boundaries, but practical enough to fit into your life easily.  Good luck and Happy New Year!