New Year’s Resolutions and Revamps

January 4th, 2012 by Potato

Though the rolling-over of the calendar has very little physical or spiritual meaning (if anything, the solstice should be used for new undertakings), it is nonetheless a very common time to make resolutions for change. Here are a few handy tips for a variety of resolutions:

Exercising/getting in shape: This is a very common new year’s resolution. Perhaps the most common, so whatever you do, don’t run out and join a gym January 1st (or the 4th, whatever). My friends who do go to the gym regularly are already complaining about the influx of resolution newbies making the place crowded. If you join a gym now, it’s going to be a crowded experience, and less fun than it would normally be. Trying to exercise outside is miserable this time of year. So do yourself a favour and put a pin in that resolution, and mark your calendar for March 1st to make your new beginning.

Dieting: I am not one to talk, but it’s probably best to ease into a diet/weight loss resolution. You should get a natural boost to a weight loss plan just coming down from your post-holiday binge. The next month will be harder, and you’ll have to be even better about your diet to see improvements (losses).

Quit Smoking: The miserable weather makes deferring exercise plans a good idea, but really helps a quit-smoking plan. There are a tonne of different approaches to control cravings, modify behaviour, etc., and this isn’t the place to deal with it in detail. I will say briefly that the #1 quit-smoking motivation in my experience is a cancer diagnosis. If you were not lucky enough to get a cancer diagnosis over the holidays, there are other ways to take the initiative to quit. Procrastination can help: you don’t have to quit forever right now, you just have to put off your next cigarette until tomorrow (and tomorrow and tomorrow). There are also some new-ish pharmaceutical treatments that can help (in addition to good old nicotine replacement like the patch and gum there’s Bupropion and Vareniclineand it is at this point that I will remind you that I’m not “that kind of doctor”).

Start Investing: Ah-ha, now more into my subject matter. This is a great time of year to start investing: you may have a bunch of cash gifts, or will have some free cash flow to save once the holiday credit card bill is paid off. A new round of TFSA contribution room just opened up, and it’s still early in “RRSP season” so there won’t be much of a wait to see someone (if you need to). If you’re not quite sure how to get started, go off and do some reading (for example, my own book: Potato’s Short Guide to DIY Investing), but don’t spend too much time on that: it’s easy to get lost becoming a near-expert on theory, and planning out a perfect-to-the-last-basis-point investment plan without actually getting around to opening an account. Particularly early on, actually starting with a “good enough” plan is better than getting it perfect — especially with one that’s easy to back out of (like a savings account, or a no-load fund with a short lock-in time like TD’s e-series funds or ING Direct’s Streetwise).

Travel more: That’s not even a resolution, that’s a wish or a plan for a one-off event. Get out of here.

Be environmentally friendly: this is a good one to break up into a few pieces, and add them as you go. January is a good time to get on the energy-efficiency kick: put on a sweater, turn down the thermostat, get that shrink-wrap film for the windows, put a grill block on your car. February is a great time to kick bottled water and start using a reusable bottle (the tap water is particularly chill this time of year, too). The spring is best for avoiding car use, and mucking around with composting/gardening.

Learn more/study more: A new term for those in school, and a great time to snuggle up in bed with a good book for those who aren’t. Go ahead and tackle this one right away.

Improve the blog: Well, posting more is a common resolution, but that is not necessarily an improvement if it’s a matter of quantity over quality. Myself, I’m cleaning up the blogroll: a few sites there have stopped posting (or equivalently, been taken over by sponsored ad posts). Self-promotion time: is Blessed by the Potato in your blogroll? If you want to start a blog, then I’d recommend starting by writing a few posts to get a feel for just writing without having to deal with the whole issue of putting it all out there for the world to comment on, or dealing with a platform (it’s pretty easy these days, but still not zero work to set up a blog).

Things that are, and that are not, in your control: in general, I think it’s important to recognize what is and what is not under your control when undertaking your new year’s resolutions. It’ll be nothing but disappointment and guilt, leading to an unstoppable shame spiral if you set some kind of new year’s goal that you actually have no power to enact. For example, you may decide to be more efficient at work and make more money, but only one of those may actually be under your control.

2 Responses to “New Year’s Resolutions and Revamps”

  1. wayfare Says:

    I think your “Procrastination can help” point under quitting smoking is extremely helpful for dieting too.

    …you don’t have to quit forever right now, you just have to put off your next candy/chocolate/bag of chips/pizza until tomorrow (and tomorrow and tomorrow).

    I always fail at that. If I have a chocolate bar in the cupboard I know I’m going to eat it at some point anyway, so I may as well eat it RIGHTNOW. Which leads to buying a replacement chocolate bar, which leads to more RIGHTNOW eating, and it’s a vicious cycle.

    I like the idea of harnessing procrastination for the power of good.

  2. Netbug Says:

    A couple of comments on two points that are up my alley.

    1. Diet: Everybody is different for this, but from my experience, easing into it has never worked. What always ended up happening for me is that a gradually lowering glucose level meant I was tired and had a slight headache of the entire period of lowering. I found it was better to crash it out and feel like shit for 3-5 days. This doesn’t mean never having simple carbs again (you know I will still partake in the yummy yummy waffles), but as long as it’s like once a week, the body doesn’t re-acclimate to the higher levels. That said, I totally binged over the holidays and I’m paying the price now with a slight headache which will probably remain until Friday.

    2. Gym: I think your gym target of March is pretty far off. Most of the resolutioners (I made a word!) will fall off the wagon within 2 to 3 weeks. A better idea would be to wait till the middle/end of January and then go to your prospective gyms at the days/times that you intend to work out. So if you’re gonna workout mondays and thursdays from 5-6, go on those days at those times to see how busy it is.

    Some other general gym points:
    a. I’m a fan of the classic gym, barbells etc. Cardio bunnies (though often nice to look at) are for the most part wasting time on the elliptical machines. If you’re going to do cardio, that’s great, but it’s supplemental to some form of resistance training.
    b. Don’t start without a plan. This goes for diet as well. It’s great to say “I’m going to eat less crap this year!” but that’s pretty useless if you don’t know what crap you’re currently eating and set some specific targets. I promise that if you don’t keep track, at least for the first few months, you WILL unintentionally consume more than you think you do.
    c. There’s lots of new types of gyms springing up. Bootcamps, crossfit, etc. Just getting moving is the first step, but make sure that the gym that you choose will be able to accommodate you as you grow. Maybe you just need a calorie restriction and treadmill for the first 8 weeks if you’re really out of shape, but you’re body is going to adjust (that’s the point) and need some other form of use to continue to grow. This is where you want to be looking to see if the gym has dumbbells or barbells or even just an increasing intensity of some sort. The most common progression I see from new people is light cardio > cardio with some machine resistance > dumbbells. Great, but too many people are afraid of the barbell. Yes, they are intimidating, but they’re also easy to learn and you feel awesome when you can throw them around. :)
    d. If you’re doing cardio, choose a cardio method where you are NOT dictating the effort. This is why I don’t like elliptical machines; you are determining the work you put in as you are using it. Get on a treadmill or a stairmaster. These machines go at a set rate that you have to keep up with. Doesn’t mean you have to be going gangbusters for an hour, but you will probably find you “cheat” less, when something else is telling you how hard to work. (Also, going 130rpm with level 1 resistance on the elliptical just makes the rest of us laugh; up the resistance level).
    e. Again, as with diet, HAVE A PLAN! Ask questions, do some research, but figure out your goals and determine what you should do to get there. You’re just wasting time and money any other way.