Planning is power
BY Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer
The New Year's ritual that guides Michele Henry always starts in mid-December, often with a scribbled note to herself on a Post-it or on the back of an envelope.
It will evolve by the first of the year and go from a dream to a haiku-sized plan of action written on an index card that Henry will carry with her all the time.
Every New Year's resolution gets a card, each one a handy source of inspiration. Henry will read them in the morning to start her day or whenever she's feeling blue. She's had as many as six in her purse, sometimes pulling them out to glance at while driving. In 2009, she even posted a resolution-related video on YouTube.
"It is important to be very, very specific," Henry said. "Goals are more like visions. Once it becomes internalized you are more focused on where you want to go."
If it sounds obsessive, consider this: The 51-year-old businesswoman has successfully realized her New Year's resolutions 80 percent of the time since her twenties, when she first started recording them in journals.
Henry's resolution triumphs in 2009 included finishing her first Ironman triathlon and qualifying for the Boston Marathon.
But for every Henry in the world, there are dozens whose resolutions fail by the third Monday in January, which is sometimes called "Blue Monday."
Resolutions always seem like such a good idea in December. They're the annual distillation of a year's worth of unfulfilled aspirations. But 95 percent of them whither on the vine because people lack a plan, behavior experts say. People make goals that are too vague, too lofty and often, simply too unrealistic.
STICKING WITH IT
For Henry, owner of Tea at 1024, a tearoom on Nu'uanu Avenue, part of her solution also includes perseverance.
"You know eventually you can get where you want to go, so it is important to not stop trying," she said.
Barbara Pellegrino, a "life coach" who lives in Kāne'ohe, said people often make empty promises to themselves.
"They just say, 'I am going to do it, it's a New Year's resolution, and someone is going to wave a magic wand,' and (think) it will happen because they made a choice," she said.
"Usually by Blue Monday, the old habits come back. Life gets in the way. Everything that has happened the year before and the year before that rears its ugly head."
Pellegrino teaches classes on goal-setting at Windward Community College and the Hawaii Women's Business Center. Her students have sought a variety of changes in their personal lives, from finding a better job to forging a better relationship.
She encourages people to choose goals they can commit to, and to accept the fact that they may have to abandon others. Stimulating the brain with visual and written reminders — such as index cards and photos — can help accelerate success, she said
"Be very clear of the end result," she said. "Know exactly what it is you want. Once you know what you want you can see how big of a goal that is and you can set a realistic time that you can accomplish it by.
Simply put, it's all about being reminded.
"Write it down and read it over and over again," she said. "If you could get a picture of the end result and have that somewhere to add to the emotions and the excitement, that gives a much more holistic approach."
Positive reinforcement is an important tool for change, said Dave Chong, a Kaimukī personal trainer-turned-behavioral health consultant. When he works with clients, he doesn't discuss the reasons they might fail.
"They don't need to know that," he said. "We'll talk about why they can succeed."
But clear that hurdle and you still have to work hard and that's where a lot of people stumble, he said. Losing 10 pounds always sounds easy until you have to start exercising regularly.
"They want the outcome, but they certainly don't want the path to get there," Chong said. "What they want is to be at the end point without taking the path between where you are at, and where you are going and want to be."
Chong's solution is to urge clients to find something they'll enjoy as much as the end result and then create a schedule to make it possible.
"Most folks set goals that are too vague," he said.
"If they can set something that is measurable, like, 'I want to walk 15 minutes a day, three days a week, starting tomorrow,' then that is way more specific than saying, I want to be more active."
POWER IN WORDS
When Dawn Nash thought about making a New Year's resolution for 2009, she decided it was time to finally succeed. Every year she's made a long list and every year nothing stuck.
But Nash, a 34-year-old wedding photographer and mother of two, wanted to become a performing comedian. Her plan included what life coach Pellegrino calls a vision board — a homemade collage that displays a person's goals.
"I made goals for myself and cut out pictures of things I wanted and put it on my wall so I could see it when I sat down at the computer," Nash said.
Her screen saver included written goals, and she tacked affirmations on the walls of her bathroom and her bedroom. The written word has power, she said.
"I have found that even if I don't read it, I know it is there," Nash said. "It really reminds me and keeps that passion burning and really helps me conquer any of the doubt. It isn't easy being a comedian."
She took classes at the start of the year and by June she was performing at Caroline's On Broadway and the Gotham Comedy Club in New York City. Then she won a contest that landed her at the Jon Lovitz Comedy Club in Hollywood for lessons and time on stage.
"I got my very first standing ovation," Nash said.
The reason this resolution succeeded sounds simple: Nash said she stopped ignoring what choices were available to her and committed to success.
"I am more afraid of not trying," she said, "than I am of failing."
Hoping to make a New Year's resolution stick in 2010? Here are a few suggestions from behavior experts Barbara Pellegrino and Dave Chong:
• Choose goals you will fully commit to, and decide which old ones you are letting go of.
• Create visual and written goals. Written goals activate the left side of your brain and pictures activate the right side, including your subconscious mind.
• Visualize, feel and celebrate the end result. A daily, focused five-minute visualization of a positive result will speed your success.
• Develop new habits. No matter what goal, dream or desire you are working on, the foundation of your goals relies on what you do every day.
• Develop a positive affirmation: Supportive self-talk and a "mantra" to keep your mind busy and to stop any random negative thinking.
• Choose something you want to do instead of something someone urges you to do and you will have a better chance of success.
• Value the effort to change as much as the goal by finding a task you enjoy.
• Set a goal that is specific and that includes concrete steps along the way to measure progress.