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January 2006
A Cleaner Garage and Other Resolutions

by Annie Fox, M.Ed.

" ...we desire self-improvement, we eagerly make New Year’s resolutions. But unfortunately, those resolutions fail miserably. Why? The answer is printed clearly on the box: Plan of action not included."
Praise the calendar gods! January 1st falls on a Sunday so we get an extra 24 hours of relaxing before rejoining the work-a-day world on Tuesday the 3rd. That means a little more time to express our goodbyes to 2005 with whatever level of nostalgia (or relief) feels appropriate. Then get ready to celebrate the New Year and all the “clean slate” potential it offers.

Because most of us believe that change is possible and we desire self-improvement, we eagerly make New Year’s resolutions. But unfortunately, those resolutions fail miserably. Why? The answer is printed clearly on the box: Plan of action not included.

As David and I marveled at the 2005 Tournament of Roses Parade floats streaming across our TV screen—an impressive display of goal setting and achievement—we made a New Year’s resolution of our own. We decided that we wanted (and desperately needed) a cleaner garage. Feng Shui aside, it had become impossible to get our second car inside. A year later, here’s what we’ve got to show for our resolve:

Garage Mess
(click for larger image)
Before: Our garage, December, 2005.
Garage Agter
(click for larger image)
After: Our garage, May, 2006, after an extensive clean-up.
Great resolution but no plan of action and... sigh... no success. But we haven’t given up on the goal. We’ve got a 2006 Garage Resolution that we’re very excited about. In fact, I’m highly motivated to see this one through because of its direct bearing on my parenting skills.

What does cleaning out the garage have to do with parenting? Plenty! Because our kids need to see themselves as people who can identify a goal, create a plan of action, and make it across the finish line. To help them do that effectively, we’ve got to model it for them!

We’ve begun a new family tradition of taking our college-age son and his girlfriend out to dinner at the end of every school break. Over dessert we go around the table and each of us sets goals to be accomplished by the next vacation. (Like: “I want to write a term paper that I’m proud of.” Or “I want to become more fluent in Spanish.”) We write down the goals then bring them to the next dinner (usually 2-3 months later) and talk about what we’ve accomplished. It’s a nice way to share our individual dreams and to maintain a special forward-thinking connection with each other while we’re apart.

So, if family goal setting appeals to you as a new approach to a new year, here are some tips that will make the process easier.

  1. Call a family meeting. If you’ve never had one before, this is a great time to begin a new habit.
  2. Share goals for the New Year. You might start by giving everyone a chance to fill in the blank “This year I want ____________.”

    A personal goal must have meaning otherwise it’s easily discarded. So with each goal, encourage each person to “Tell us some of the reasons that’s important to you.” What a great opportunity for family members to get to know each other on deeper levels.

    Point this out to your kids: It’s essential to recognize the difference between what you can and can’t control. If you can’t realistically do something to make it happen then choose another goal. Trying to achieve something you’ve got no control over is stressful and a waste of time.

    Can’t control: I want… to win the lottery… to be taller… my own room… a different sister!

    Can control: I want… to put more effort into math this semester… stronger abs… to learn to knit… a better relationship with my brother.
  3. Make a plan of action and a public commitment* to that plan. Once you state the goal, break it down into little steps. If someone doesn’t know how to get what they want, the family can help. Parents should be resources, and even if mom or dad can’t directly answer the question, you should be able to help your teen figure out where to go to get the answer.

    *David and I have agreed to clean out our garage by June 1, 2006 and we’ve got a plan of action. We immediately agreed to spend at least an hour the very next day, sorting stuff into 4 piles: “Save,” “Toss,” “Donate,” and “Craigslist.” And we did!
    UPDATE: See the "After" photo of our garage on the right... completed before the deadline.
  4. Choose a Goal Buddy (optional). Having someone to report your progress to can help you achieve your goal. You and your buddy can set up any supportive contract between you that you like. Everyone appreciates having his/her progress acknowledged. For example, if my goal is to walk for an hour every day, when I return home, my buddy might say, “You took a walk. Good for you!” If I fail to keep my agreement, my buddy might say, “How can I help you get back to your walking?” Support and encouragement are powerful motivators.
  5. Update meetings. The whole family can meet regularly to share progress. All progress should be celebrated and encouraged. Never get on someone’s case for what they didn’t do.
  6. Permission to change a goal. Sometimes we no longer want what we once aspired to. (For teens, “once” can mean “three weeks ago.”) There’s value in seeing something to its completion, but there’s no point in putting effort toward achieving something when your heart’s no longer in it. Goal setting should be about personal achievement and family support. Period.

Good luck and here’s hoping that 2006 brings you many opportunities to deepen your understanding of yourself, appreciate the uniqueness of your children, and celebrate family life.

In friendship,



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