12 resolutions to make this your best year yet

Live your best life with attainable resolutions
Peter Kraus of Peter Kraus Fitness with his rescue dog Daisy
Peter Kraus of Peter Kraus Fitness with his rescue dog Daisy

While phrases like “authentic life” or “new year, new you” may elicit widespread groans, there is something to this eternal desire. We are seekers, after all. It’s human nature to want to evolve into better versions of ourselves.

But there are traps we fall into on a fairly regular basis, and arbitrary timing is one of them (hello, January!). So is making goals that lack either action steps to get there or clarity as to why you’d want to in the first place. University of Scranton research has found that more than half of those who set clear resolutions at the start of the year give them up within the first six months. A commonly cited report by U.S. News & World Report paints an even bleaker picture, claiming 80% give up New Year’s resolutions by February.

“I would say the thing that drives me, and what I would encourage others to do, is to always remember your ‘why,’ ” says Dr. Jasmine Zapata, who is board certified in public health and preventive medicine fields. She’s also a UW Health physician who practices at UnityPoint Health – Meriter and an assistant professor and researcher at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Like many of the Madison-area people featured on these next several pages, Zapata has created a personal and professional life based on her passions and values. She’s a doctor — but she’s also an entrepreneur, mentor, author and speaker. She combines her unique gifts with the losses and adversity she’s experienced to make a living by serving others, particularly young black girls, with her Beyond Beautiful International Girls Empowerment Movement and through community advocacy work addressing racial inequities in health outcomes. When she’s not working, she carves out time to enjoy her life. For her that means playing volleyball, going out for crab legs and laughing with her kids. For you, it’s something else entirely. The more effort you put into discovering what those things are, the easier it is to build a life that feels joyful and purposeful long past January.

“If you can align your income with your purpose and passion, then it doesn’t feel like work,” Zapata says. Be clear, methodical and realistic — don’t try to do it all at once. “Make one tiny, small change and stick with that, rather than coming into the new year saying, ‘I’m going to completely turn my life around and change every aspect of my life.’ If you try to dramatically change so much, it might last for only four or five days and then you just completely revert back to your old ways.”

You might start by asking how those old ways are serving you, according to Sharon Barbour, a professional certified coach who works with life, leadership and executive clients out of her Quarry Arts Building practice. She also mentors and teaches coaching through the UW Certified Professional Coach Program. When resolving to change habits, take a compassionate view of why you do what you do so that you might find a better way of serving that need. Perhaps even more radical: Instead of telling her clients to change or “be better,” Barbour encourages them to grow and be more of who they truly are.

“Clarify your essential values,” says Barbour. Try this exercise: Pull out a notebook, close your eyes and imagine a moment when you felt most alive — what was happening? Who was there? What were you doing, feeling, seeing, hearing? Then ask yourself, what does this tell you about what’s important to you? Repeat this exercise as often as necessary and you may start to see a list of large and small goals that actually mean something to you.

“Why do you want to lose 10 pounds? To feel healthier and more energetic or to look better by someone else’s standards?” says Barbour, whose words of wisdom about resolutions feel a bit kinder. “Slow down. Do less, need less. Know you are more than enough. Take one thing off your to-do list right now; take a walk and smell the roses instead. Learn to say no. Practice gratitude and being kind to yourself. Pay attention to what is precious in life and protect that.”

Finally, keep in mind that it’s OK to dream big. While New Year’s resolutions have gotten a bad rap for their lack of efficacy over the long haul, everyday people achieve impressive goals all the time, as evidenced on the next few pages. Goal Setting Theory suggests that the more high-reaching the goal, the harder we’ll work to make it happen — as long as it’s meaningful and we’ve created a path to get there. So go ahead and resolve to run that marathon or become debt free. But if you aren’t crystal clear on the “why,” you’re far more likely to skip the 5-mile training run on a cold January morning, or charge that new flat-screen to your credit card for the Super Bowl party in February.

It is with that spirit that we humbly present the following suggested resolutions, exemplified by the stories of local Madison-area folks. Take them or leave them — that’s entirely the point. Best wishes in carving out your best year yet, whatever that means to you.

1. Dream big, but put in the work first

JT Roach with his guitar on a pier

Photo Courtesy of JT Roach

When millions of viewers tuned in to NBC in September to watch 32-year-old Madison native JT Roach win the season finale of NBC’s “Songland,” they quite possibly witnessed the best day of Roach’s life. But that’s not the same thing as living your best life, and Roach knows it.

Read the full story here.

2. Don’t just join the gym

peter kraus at his gym standing at the main entrance

Photo by Patrick Stutz

The multibillion-dollar health and fitness industry feeds on New Year’s resolutions. Every January, memberships to gyms and weight loss clinics spike, running shoes fly off the shelves and grocery carts brim with fresh vegetables and packaged power bars. But according to a City Lab analysis of tracking apps like Strava and Foursquare, most of us are back to our old ways within weeks. It’s not that health goals are bad. It’s that we bite off more than we can chew.

Read the full story here.

3. Treat yourself (in a sustainable, ethical way)

bamboo combs and brushes laid out on a table

Courtesy of Green Life Trading Co.

We all love retail therapy, but we don’t always consider the true price. Not just the dollars on our credit cards, but the human and environmental cost behind every purchase.

Read the full story here.

4. Eat the cookie
Treat yourself to a Mo’ Betta Butter Cookie, or a dozen. Taste nostalgia when you bite into a scrumptious, old-fashioned butter cookie. Stop by the 5662 King James, Fitchburg location.

5. Get organized
Commit yourself to organization this year with some Jack + Ella Paper stationery, checklists and thank-you cards. Leave no list unmade or thank-you unsaid. And, feel good about supporting a business located right here in Madison.

6. Axe your stress
Chuck all your frustrations right at the bull’s-eye when you visit Happy Axe Throwing and FlannelJax’s. $20 will buy you unlimited axes for 60 minutes at Happy Axe Throwing on Mineral Point Road and $25 will buy you an hour at a walk-in at Flannel Jax’s on Watts Road.

7. Get a mani/pedi
You can’t live your best life without flaunting your best nails. Indulge in a guilt-free, waterless, nontoxic manicure at Laquerus on Gilman Street. Manicures start at $22.

8. Try sound therapy
Sound therapy combines massage and meditation, using specific frequencies to get you in your optimal state of mind. Try it out at the So Sound Sanctuary at Spa-tique in Middleton. One 30-minute session is $29.

9. Get to know your city better with a food tour

Otehlia Cassidy is on the left as a group of people enjoy pizza

Courtesy of Otehlia Cassidy

Everyone knows Madison’s culinary scene is rife with delicious, diverse, award-winning options — but that doesn’t mean we know where to eat come Thursday night. Next time you just can’t decide, consider a food tour. Not only will you walk away with a full belly, you’ll also forge a deeper connection to your neighboring chefs, producers, artisans and farmers, who make Madison the city it is.

Read the full story here.

10. Listen deeper with the Local Voices Network

machine that records conversation

Courtesy of the Local Voices Network

When the 2016 presidential election left pundits and pollsters stunned over how they could have been so off base about the concerns of rural America, they came looking for Kathy Cramer. The UW–Madison political science professor had written “The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker” after traversing the state for five and a half years listening in on conversations in places like diners and gas stations. Now the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab and national nonprofit Cortico hope to replicate and scale Cramer’s exercise so that we can all better understand each other. The Local Voices Network, or LVN, needs you — and in return, you glean the positive health benefits of listening deeply and feeling heard.

Read the full story here.

11. Give back

group of people volunteering by putting cans in boxes

Courtesy of United Way

Volunteering doesn’t just help the communities and causes to which you’re giving your time, treasure or talent — it benefits you, too. Decades of research shows clear and measurable correlations between volunteering and health, including lowered stress and blood pressure and decreased risk of depression.

Read the full story here.

12. Let yourself go to the dogs

couple with three dogs in the back of the car

Photo by Ruthie Hauge

A full-size van pulls up into a remote country field outside Belleville, and 18 dogs pile out. They just keep coming and coming like passengers in a canine clown car, some days as many as 24. They move as an orderly pack, even though they all come from different homes. It’s raining and the country air is quiet, save for the sound of synchronized panting. The dogs are excited, but respectful. None are on-leash. They know where they’re going and who they’ll be following.

Read the full story here.

Maggie Ginsberg is a monthly columnist and senior contributing writer to Madison Magazine.