The Christmas holidays are when Jenn Wallage likes to sit down with her family to plan out the year. “We’ll pick two things we want to do each month,” says the mother of two from Waterloo, Ont.
Buoyed by the pleasure they got from crafting a summer bucket list together, Wallage decided to make New Year’s resolutions a joint affair. The idea is to set measurable goals
to ensure the months don’t slip by without making time for what matters to each family member, she says.
Creating goals showed Wallage that her nine-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter’s aspirations can be quite modest. “They wanted more time together just doing stuff like going to the park,” she says, “not necessarily trips to Disneyland.”
Simplicity is key when it comes to these objectives, says Dr. Sandra Mendlowitz, a psychologist at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. “Goals have to be attainable, because if they’re not, why set them?” she says. The downfall of the typical individually motivated New Year’s resolutions we make-to lose weight, get in shape or become more organized-is that people set “vast encompassing goals they can’t achieve.”
Part of the problem lies in our desire to cram all our efforts to change into the start of the year, says Mike Vardy, the author of The Front Nine: How to Start the Year You Want Anytime You Want and a father of two from Victoria. “You’re coming off a swath of family time and the rush to get work done before the holidays-you’re at your lowest levels of energy and focus.”
In fact, a poll commissioned last year by researchers at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania showed that just eight per cent of people who had made resolutions were successful. “But if your family is a part of the process,” says Vardy, “it’s more rewarding and more likely that those resolutions will stick.”
And that is great news for kids, says Mendlowitz. “There’s significant evidence that suggests goal-setting has a positive impact on children in terms of their ability to self-regulate, their motivation and achievement.” A good objective, especially in today’s time-pressed society, she says, is to have one weeknight when everyone eats a meal and participates in an activity together.
Vardy advocates for regular tech blackouts. “Consider putting your phone on airplane mode when you’re hanging out,” he says. You can still snap pictures or check the time, but you won’t be distracted by texts, email and social media notifications.
Fitness should be top of mind for families that make goals together, says Christa Costas-Bradstreet, a physical activity specialist with ParticipAction and a mother of two teen girls. “Only five per cent of Canadian children and youth are meeting physical activity guidelines, and only 15 per cent of adults,” she says.
To help with motivation, pick fun activities. Hit the bowling alley or swimming pool, or make snowmen in the backyard, suggests Costas-Bradstreet. “If it’s a wicked cold day, go outside for 10 minutes and run through the snow. You can still do some of the things you could do in the spring-just with more appropriate clothing.”