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Time to revisit those resolutions

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Catherine W. Idzerda
February 8, 2011
— How are those New Year's resolutions going?

Made all those life-altering, relationship-improving changes yet?


If you're like most folks, you were devoted to those resolutions for about two weeks, then you missed a day at the gym, shouted at your kids or ate a half a pan of brownies after a bad day at work.


It's a short step back to old habits.


Julie Janiak-Fenton and Susana Hernandez, UW-Rock County's life changing experts, understand the pull of familiar habits. But they've seen people changes their lives dramatically for the better, so they know it can be done.


Janiak-Fenton is the director of TRIO, a program for first generation, low income, or disabled college students.


Hernandez is the coordinator for Project AHEAD, an outreach program for pre-college students and adults who want to go back to school at UW-Rock County and Blackhawk Technical College. The majority of her students are considered high risk.


For these students, succeeding in school means learning a new set of rules, challenging previous notions about themselves and, in most cases, radically altering their lives.


The lessons they learn—and the methods in which they use to learn them—can be used by anyone who wants to change his or her own life.


Goal specific

When Hernandez meets with potential students, the first thing they talk to her about is their goals.


"A lot of people haven't had anybody talk to them about their goals, what they want to do," Hernandez said.


Some don't know or only have a vague idea, such as "I don't want to work in a factory" or "I want to help people."


Her job is to help make those goals specific and achievable.


When Janiak-Fenton meets with students who are in academic trouble, she tells them t hey still have choices.


"I tell them, 'You get to decide what you want to change,'" she said.


Her goal-setting guidelines include:


-- Keep it realistic. "All" or "none" usually mark an unrealistic goal. "I'm going to study four hours everyday" isn't achievable, nor is "I will never eat dessert again."


-- Don't "should" yourself. "Should" usually is connected with guilt, she explained. "I should get into shape" is different from "I'd love to have more energy to do things with my family and friends."


Janiak-Fenton reconnects with students after school gets under way. Were they successful in reaching their goals? If not, what stood in their way? Perhaps they need to reassess and work toward a goal that's more achievable.


Knowledge is power

Often, resolutions fail because they're not what we want.


"In all of us, they're some desire to please other people," Janiak-Fenton said.


A student once told her, "I need to be a nurse, but blood makes me queasy." Turns out somebody told this student, "You can always get a job in nursing, so you should study nursing."


Janiak-Fenton suggests examining your motivations.


For instance, do you want to lose weight because friends and family members have made snarky comments about your eating habits or because you want to have more energy and reduce your risk of disease?


Hernandez has her students work through a "wise choice process." Faced with a problem, students list choices and their consequences. This helps them understand and pin down exactly what they value.


For example, if a student isn't doing well in a pre-college math course, choices might include getting a tutor, finding a babysitter to help free up study time or doing nothing. Then the student is asked what the consequences of each action might be.


Practice, not perfection

Changing your life isn't about instant perfection.


"You have to practice," said Janiak-Fenton. "We never tell students they have to master something. We say they have to practice."


When you're working toward your goal, something is better than nothing. Didn't get an "A" in the pre-college math course? OK, but you did complete the course, understand the material and now have the tools to do better next time.


Give yourself props for the effort. Remember, a 10-minute walk is the first step to a marathon.


Also remember that part of practice means asking for help.


"Use your resources," Janiak-Fenton said. Think "I tried to lose 10 pounds; I failed. Maybe I could talk to a nutritionist.'"


"Resources" could include a best friend or a supportive spouse who provides encouragement, ideas, and, most importantly, the courage to keep trying.


Finally, be good to yourself.


"Treat yourself like you would treat your best friend," Janiak-Fenton said. "If your friend made a mistake, you'd be encouraging and supportive and say, 'Let's learn from this and then move on.'"



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