Lowering bar on resolutions raises expectations, potential for success

Reaching high by starting slow

Posted: Sunday, January 07, 2001

Off to a good, slow, easy, respectable start. Here I am, five days into the new year, and still going strong.

I have done the unthinkable: I have made New Year's "resolutions."

Perhaps I was inspired by all the Web searching I had to do to put together the "Resolutions" section in the Dec. 31 issue of the Clarion.

Perhaps I decided to be brave and face the challenge of correcting all those years of neglect to my body and soul.

Realistically? Perhaps it's guilt for all those years of neglect to my body and soul.

No matter. I still made the commitment to go where few have dared to go before me.

OK, that's not actually true. Many have gone before me -- few have crossed the finish line. That's what I meant to say.

Let's face it, how many of you have made "resolutions" in your lifetime? And how many days have you gone before you tossed them along the wayside?

I think my record is three days; so you see, I already have succeeded.

But that's not my goal this year. This year, I have vowed to be successful by following one simple rule: Set the criteria low.

No, this is not a cop-out. I just know how miserable I make myself when I fail. It destroys any motivation I had to begin with and prevents me from getting back on the wagon.

The theory is quite simple, actually. I don't know why I didn't think of it sooner. I came across it by accident quite some time ago; it just took a while to sink in.

I have a friend named Faith who teaches dog obedience. I have watched in total amazement at how she turns clueless, floundering dogs and puppies into bright and obedient creatures.

One day in class, Faith asked a rather young girl to come into the middle of the room with her. She then asked the girl to touch her hand. The girl gladly obliged, and the two shook hands.

Without a single word, Faith then raised her hand a little higher and held it out. Again, the girl reached out and shook her hand. A few seconds later, Faith raised it again, then again and again until the girl had to jump to reach her hand.

Without a sound, the girl did what Faith expected her to do. It made a memorable impression in my mind -- I just didn't know it at the time.

Faith was teaching us that you have to start at a level that's easy to accept and comprehend, then as you become more successful, you raise the criteria a little to maintain the challenge.

As the new year got closer, I thought of all the things I wanted to work on -- and should work on -- and decided to put Faith's technique to the test.

My first resolution -- I prefer the word "goal" -- is to exercise for a certain amount of time each day. I set the bar low, so to speak, because I always can raise it, and already have on three of the five days so far.

However, if I only spend the minimum amount of time exercising on a particular day, I don't feel guilty and the goal has not been compromised.

My second goal is to eat less and healthier food. No problem. I know this is a gradual process and while I may be sick of carrots this week, there are lots of other veggies in the garden.

My third goal is to be more patient. This one is tough, since it requires me to think before I act or speak. I've already caught myself a couple of times -- hardly a major improvement, but enough to get me headed in the right direction.

It is, I fear, the fourth goal that I have set for myself that I am most challenged by: to be more organized.

I mailed my Christmas cards on the 26th (among other horrendous missed deadlines too numerous to mention). Needless to say, there is room for improvement. But I already am making strides.

My initial criteria is to make a list each day. I start with what must be done, followed by what should get done and then what I want to do. I make sure I get to do at least one thing from the "want" list to reward myself for all the good things I am doing.

And reward is important. A dog will not continue to perform what you ask it to unless what it's doing is reinforced. Why should I be any different?

The difference is, I can reason, and I need to be realistic as to what my reward is. In other words, I can have chocolate, I just can't have the whole bag.

I suppose this will fall under the category of "what I learned from my dog," when I finally sit down to write my memoirs.

Of course, by then I'll be a fit and trim vegetarian who does yoga -- but only when it's written down in my Day-Timer.

Now, on to day 6 ... .

Dori Lynn Anderson is the features and copy editor for the Peninsula Clarion.

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