Happy New Year! It’s day approximately 124 of winter break, your children haven’t bathed in weeks, you have no idea if it’s Monday or Sunday and you’re not quite sure what planet you’re on. You’re eating leftovers for breakfast and have binged everything, even the boring things, peddled by Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. You are contemplating devouring your young. What better time to determine how to live better in 2019?
The new year always coincides with my birthday, which adds special gravity to my goals. This year, I have a Milestone Birthday to contend with…but I’ll save that agitas for a different post.
Right now, I want to talk about resolutions and how to stick to them. How to formulate them without berating yourself. How to frame them as doable, realistic and positive. This year, I’m resolving to have better resolutions. And you can, too!
I recently interviewed a wellness coach for a Boston Globe story. She talked about replacing broad, generalized goals with timed, actionable, realistic ones. For example, “Eat healthier!” is noble but vague. What does that mean? How will you do it? More alfalfa sprouts in your lunch? Less McDonald’s? On the other hand, resolving to cook at home two nights per week for a month, then stepping it up to three nights per week, is both reasonable and precise.
In that spirit, I did something different this year. I listed four precise goals and how to achieve them. Usually I list about 10 goals, and they’re broad, daunting and couched in reproach: Track my spending (you frivolous lout!), eat better (you trash compactor!), exercise more (you sloth!). This time, I’m boiling it down to actionable plans in four distinct categories: Wellness, Intellect, Health and Personal Relationships.
You can pick whatever pillars resonate for you (Personal Finance, Work, et cetera); these are just the areas that I think merit special attention in my own life. Then, I added in a “how” to actually implement them, so it feels like a path to self-improvement instead of flat-out reproach.
Stop using my phone before bed. My phone is my pet, my appendage. I take it with me everywhere, including to bed, and I end my evenings in a zombie-like scroll. My twilight moments are haunted by political tweets, photos of my long-lost high school lab partner’s poodle and ads for Allbirds shoes.
How: I started by reading this handy New York Times story titled “How to Break Up With Your Phone.” It reaffirmed my existential suspicion that I am wasting a good deal of my life looking at other people’s photos. But it also introduced me to a helpful app, Flipd, that sets limits on how many minutes I fritter on time-wasters like Instagram. I also use the “screen time” feature on my phone, which tells me exactly how many hours I’ve spent staring at it and enables me to schedule downtime in the real world. During downtime, certain preselected apps (um, Facebook) are off-limits. Yes, such punishment seems childlike, but I have also become a child around my phone, with very little self-control. I require a time-out.
Read more old-fashioned, hand-held books. I’m in the unfortunate habit of buying books on Amazon and getting them deposited straight into my iPhone’s Kindle. This means I’ll read a few pages and then feel compelled to Google something in the story. The character took a room at the Roosevelt Hotel? Wasn’t that the hotel where Don Draper from “Mad Men” hid during his marriage to Betty? Is it still open? Which reminds me, I need to book dinner reservations in New York next month…but, first, I’ll check Instagram to see if anyone is doing anything more exciting than I am right now, because it wouldn’t be bedtime without a little dose of self-loathing and comparison stalking. My evening of reading is quickly derailed by an evening of aimless Googling and social media prowling, which always ends on Instagram, just like that final glass of wine you drink at the end of the night even though you know you’ll wake up with a headache.
How: Well, replacing my phone with a tangible, non-digital book from days of yore will help. I also found this helpful story in the Harvard Business Review about how to read more. Yes, one of the ideas is to read physical books.
Cook at home three nights per week. We actually cook at home about half the time, which isn’t too shabby. The thing is, my husband does most of the cooking. It’s just the default: He has a farm share and maintains an encyclopedic mental map of which cuts of meat lurk in our freezer. I passively retreat into the background, checking email while he fusses around in the kitchen. We end up eating at 7:30 p.m. Luckily, I work from home and could definitely do some meal prep ahead of time…with ingredients I actually want to use. What’s stopping me? I guess it’s laziness (see: phone, email) and intimidation.
How: Just as I want to spend more time with tangible books, I want to use more cookbooks. I maintain a massive shelf of them, mostly untouched, in my kitchen. I always considered them sacred, dusty tomes to be cracked open when I had an entire weekend and hundreds of dollars to devote to complicated cooking techniques and unusual ingredients (in other words, never). Some are way too complex for daily cooking, but others are foolproof. So I’m picking out my three most approachable cookbooks and making meals from them. The rest can continue to prop up my kids’ art projects. I plan to use “America’s Test Kitchen: The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs,” “Stewed” by Dave Becker (who runs local restaurants Balani, Juniper and Sweet Basil) and Joan Nathan’s “King Solomon’s Table” (which also has kid-friendly recipes). Each is written for civilians with ingredients you can actually locate in a grocery store.
Pick up the phone. Yes, I know I’ve spent the past post decrying the evils of my smartphone—but that’s partially because I’ve forgotten its true purpose as an audio communication device with which one can actually…call people. To talk. And have a conversation. Without emojis! Very scary.
Now, I think I do a very good job of keeping in touch with people. I’m excellent at checking in, making plans, asking after others. It’s what I do. That said, I do it digitally. I text. I Facebook message. I could win gold in the GChat Olympics. But the only person I actually talk to on the phone, using multiple syllables, is my mother. Recently, I had to call three friends about a change in party plans, and every single one of them thought someone had died when my number popped up.
I am not the telephonic Grim Reaper. In fact, I used to spend hours on the phone in high school. Somehow, over time, the phone became scary. Too immediate, too confrontational, too much like a performance. What if the conversation stalled, or I didn’t have enough to say? Online, you can ghost for no reason, fill a gap with an emoji, or type things that might seem funny in print but hang in the air like stale garbage over the phone. Disembodied voices are intimidating!
But digital communication is also stressful. When someone doesn’t reply to your text, you have no idea if they got distracted or if they’re avoiding you. (Being an anxious person, my default assumption is the latter.) Words lose their meaning, phrases lose emotion, inflection and timing is flattened and obscured.
How: Well, there’s no real trick for this; I just need to pick up the phone and dial someone’s number. I figure it’s like riding a bike: I knew how to do it once, and I’m sure I can do it again. I’ll start small: calling for delivery instead of ordering online (just half the week, mind you). In time, I’m sure it will get easier, as people feel less like digital goblins and more like, you know, humans. We’ll see.
What are your resolutions for 2019? How do you plan to put them into action? I’d love to know. Thanks for reading this year, and happy New Year!