Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Instead of resolutions, best practices

I wasn't even consciously thinking about resolutions when I started writing in my journal on New Year's Day, but somehow I wandered into the topic of Things That Seemed To Be Working For Me.

Actually, it started with food. I was writing about the fact that almost two years ago, I decided to stop eating sweets on weekdays, but last month, with so many desserts and candies and homemade goodies greeting me at every turn, I relaxed that rule and instead ate whatever sweets I wanted, pretty much from the first of December through New Year's Eve.

Probably not surprisingly, that didn't leave me feeling all so good, and I realized that my resolution of January 2012, to save sweets for weekends, had been working for me.

And that realization led to an informal listing of other useful tactics -- or, as I learned to call them during my short stint in the corporate world a few years ago, Best Practices. My list went something like this: Exercising daily. Getting out of bed no later than 6:30 in the morning. Shutting down all Internet connectivity by 10 p.m. Finding time for walks with friends whenever possible.

It looked like a list of resolutions, when I reviewed it. But these weren't resolutions. These were things I was already doing.

And that was when I realized I'd done something possibly more useful than a list of New Year's resolutions. I'd made a list of things I already knew I could do that seemed worth continuing to do.

On some level, it appeared self-serving that I was listing my Best Practices on a day typically dedicated to resolutions. It reminded me of the concept of core competencies, a principle of business management that says companies do best when they target their primary strengths and put most of their resources into fostering those strengths, rather than casting a wider net. Just as with core competencies, it seemed a little complacent for me to say that I was going to put my concentration into things I was already doing rather than targeting areas for self-improvement.

But these are all tactics that probably originated as resolutions, whether I realized it or not, and then they became ingrained as habits, and now I know that they benefit me somehow. Not eating sweets until the weekend rolls around, even though I know there's no physiological basis for differentiating among the days that way, just keeps me feeling healthier and more self-disciplined. Getting up by 6:30 every morning seems to boost my energy. Resolving to get to bed earlier or to get more sleep has never really been a successful plan for me, but at least disconnecting from email and social media by 10 p.m. puts me into a more restful state of mind.

So for this year, no resolutions. Just awareness -- mindfulness -- of what my Best Practices are. Maybe I'll eventually branch out and add to this list with new habits I haven't yet managed to develop. But it makes sense that after more than 40 years, I know what works for me. And capitalizing on that awareness, even if it has a self-congratulatory ring, seems like a more circumspect approach to the New Year than making entirely new resolutions. 

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