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11 Meaningful Resolutions That Actually Work for Life Change

My favorite tree in Boston gets bright red in autumn.
My favorite tree in Boston gets bright red in autumn.

How Can Next Year Be Even Better?

There is a lot I can’t write on this site of mine because it’s not a fit for its 1,500-readers-a-day situation and my career, but I can tell you that 2019 — exactly ten years since I started this blog — has been the most intensely growth-filled year since I left the country in 2009 to travel.

While my expansion of a decade ago was thanks to solo exploration around the world, the growth of 2019 centered on how to combine that independent adventuring spirit with now being part of marriage and motherhood: elements I am DEEPLY thankful for, but which do not come easily to someone of this temperament.

Reflecting on this wild roller-coaster of a year, I want to offer you the 11 things that most helped over the past 365 days. I’ve privately shared some of these with friends who have said they helped — and they might help you now, too!

Walking in nature is another form of therapy.
Walking in nature is healing.

1. Try Therapy.

Though I’ve been open about how helpful couples coaching has been for our marriage, this was the first year since college that I tried individual therapy, and I am KICKING myself for waiting so long. It’s amazing — and seeing a therapist doesn’t mean you’re “broken” — it just means you’re willing to work with an expert listener and thinker to get perspective and new paths forward on places you’ve been stuck.

Here’s the part I didn’t realize: Therapy might cost you as little as a $10 copay (or even $0 if your insurance is right) if you find someone covered. You can use this therapist search engine to find someone near you — or even online — who takes your insurance. (Honestly, even if you find someone great who does not take insurance, it will be a worthwhile investment to see them at least a few times, once a month.)

There are also local lists that circulate of therapists who specialize in specific demographics or topics. Many therapists will also do a combination of individual and couples therapy (which, again, doesn’t mean you’re messed up — just wanting to get to the next level of awesomeness), and some will also let you to bring in important people in your life for a guest session to work something specific that’s been on your mind. See my post on walk and talk therapy for a way to combine it with exercise, too.

Please don’t put off trying therapy if you’ve been intrigued. It will make a world of difference, and is not scary. As a friend put it, “You know… I spend $10 on snacks every week, but therapy would probably make more of a difference than chips!”

(Sub-tip: Beyond professional therapists, consider telling the people in your life what is actually going on with you, and what you’re dealing with. You’d be surprised how much they might share and help in return!)

This sunrise was my reward for my 5:30am work alarm to go teach!
This sunrise was my reward for my 5:30am work alarm to go teach.

2. Understand Adult Attachment Styles — Especially Yours.

I read some great books this year, but (affiliate link coming) the most impactful by far was Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it Can Help You Find — And Keep — Love. This easy-to-read book COMPLETELY changed how I understand relationships and my interactions with them. It made me realize why I’d made the choices I made over the years, and explained techniques for new ways forward. These techniques actually work, and I use them every day now!

The moment I finished reading Attached, I bought a copy for seven people in my life. The exclamation-filled texts I got from these friends as they worked though the exercises in the book made every penny of my purchases worth it. And if you’re wondering, my attachment style — like I would guess many other solo travelers are — is… “Avoidant.”

Key learning this year: Pho can be made with ramen noodles!
Key learning this year: Pho can be made with ramen noodles!

3. Do a Mini-Book-Club or “Marriage Book Club.”

My spouse and I read FIVE books together this year — him reading on Audible and me on the Kindle app on my phone. (Sub-tip: Reading doesn’t have to mean paper and ink. Do the kind of book consumption that works best for you!)

For each text, we picked a topic we wanted to learn more about together — in our case, marriage and relationships — and found a highly recommended book on the topic to devour and discuss. Our favorite so far was Attached, but we also loved both Esther Perel tomes. Doing this mini-book-club as a couple was awesome, and it could work well with a friend or colleague, too.

Seeing Leslie Odom Jr. perform at Symphony Hall in Boston was a highlight of the year.
Seeing Leslie Odom Jr. perform at Symphony Hall in Boston was a highlight of the year.

4. Consider Helping Others or Volunteering.

Sometimes people ask if I’ll ever quit my day job as a teacher and become a full-time writer. There are many reasons why the answer is no, but one is this: Whenever I stop helping others (specifically, teaching 7th graders), I fall into a deep mental spiral. Me alone with a computer for days on end equals disaster. I need to be pulled out of my own head and into the larger world in a positive way to stay happy — exhausting as that 5:30am school alarm can be.

The research which put the pieces of this puzzle together was an article I stumbled on this year entitled “Volunteering is the Best Kept Secret for Mental Health.” The thrust of the research is that helping others literally boosts your happiness. There is now scientific and chemical proof.

Your mileage may vary, but if you’ve been feeling down and are not already doing some sort of helping job (paid or volunteer), try it out to see if it makes a difference. It’s pretty win-win once you find a good fit for your helpful skills and energy!

Chocolate chip cookies brought me much happiness this year.
Chocolate chip cookies brought me much happiness this year.

5. Lift Weights and Get Outside.

I’ve already talked extensively about how exercise helps, but this year, weightlifting came into sharp focus for two reasons. One: In November, I was in a minor car accident in which half my body was dragged sideways along the vehicle. I’m convinced that if I hadn’t been working my muscles over the past year, the injury and recovery would have been far worse. As it was, I was able to brace quickly against the impact and protect my spine from twisting further.

Two: The research is coming fast and furious about the mood-lifting benefits of exercise, especially weightlifting and exercise that allows you to be outside in nature. My current mantra is, “Weightlifting is the answer to everything.” Annoyed? The answer is: “Go lift weights.” Sad? The answer is: “Go lift weights.” Want money? The answer is: “Go lift weights.” (I’m not sure how that last equation adds up, but I’m sure it does somehow.)

If you don’t know how to lift, there are inexpensive YMCA and local gym classes, online workout programs (I just finished “80 Day Obsession“) that teach you what to do, helpful friends, and others to help jump-start the fun. Thank me once the endorphins (and your bulging biceps) kick in!

A warped window at a historic Cape Cod house.
A warped window at a historic Cape Cod house.

6. Learn to Identify Love Languages.

A mental trap that causes humans a lot of anguish is assuming that the same things make us happy as everyone else. The 5 Love Languages theory has been profoundly helpful in escaping that painful trap and realizing that everyone has a slightly different cocktail of preferences from among the following ways of showing affection: Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Gifts, Acts of Service, and Quality Time.

It’s worth 5 minutes to take the quiz on that site, or through this affiliate link to the full Love Languages book, to figure out your #1 and last place preferences, and those of your closest loved ones. (The amount of hurt feelings that can be avoided by realizing similarities and differences in this realm with loved ones is sizable!)

In my case, realizing the rock-bottom position of “Gifts” in my preferences allowed a change of family rules to completely eliminate gift-giving, which has saved us huge amount of money and stress. Seeing the #1 position of “Touch” has allowed me to start studying Reiki (Japanese healing touch practice) which has been a joy of the past year — and for many years to come.

Western Massachusetts has become a favorite place.
Western Massachusetts has become a favorite place.

7. Figure Out How Foods Feel.

At the age of 38, I finally solidly understand how any given food and drink will make my body feel: both in the immediate moment, and in the hours afterwards. This has been extremely helpful in helping to cut down sugar (because it doesn’t feel so sweet in reality!) and stop drinking alcohol, and to make sure to add in those little foods which make everything good.

In my case those happy foods prove to be: dark leafy greens, chia seeds, tahini, raw garlic, legumes, brown rice, avocados, dark chocolate, and Fire Cider, among other hippie and vampire-repelling items.

8. Do Art (of All Kinds, in Lots of Places).

As you may have gleaned from my 40 Art Prompts article, I’m increasingly integrating creativity into my 7th grade English class. Art is a deeply important form of human learning and expression, and it’s been thrilling seeing how people of all ages are increasingly embracing different kinds. Which kind of creativity will YOU choose this coming year?

A creative rice bowl which graced my belly.
A creative rice bowl which graced my belly.

9. Practice Ruthless Self-Care.

Resolved: I do no one in my family any favors if I need alone time, but refuse to ask for it, and instead am a grouchy beast. I’m learning this year to ruthlessly carve out and demand the time and space I need to regain balance and wholeness: be it by solo travel, exercise, friend outings, help with parenting, venting, or — in the case of tonight for me — time to write. In the end, it’s better for everyone, even if it doesn’t come easily to request what’s needed!

10. Know Payoffs May Be Years Down the Line.

I’ll start with the negative version of this first, then go happy. Today we found out that our 6 year old son has his first cavities. We had been ignorantly congratulating ourselves on juggling all the parts of our ultra-packed life, and suddenly we realized the ball that had been dropped: optimal dental hygiene. Nooo!

When the dentist warned years ago that we had to floss our kids’ tiny back molars, it seemed impossible. I didn’t really get that we HAD TO find a way to MAKE it possible. Now we know. May this negative result be a wakeup call to all of us — our son included — that care for our bodies really does pay off in one way or another down the line.

Now for the positive example. This year, I got to see a photo that I took three whole years ago turned into a giant grocery store mural — and got paid for it! I never would have imagined that a simple snap from 2016 would become so (literally) huge, but I suppose the thousands upon thousands of photos I’ve published here always had a chance of going somewhere… as do all the millions of little choices we make each day. May more blossom in the coming years!

The sun is setting on this year. Here's to a wonderful next year, and beyond!
The sun is setting on this year. Here’s to a wonderful next year, and beyond!

11. Love that the Learning Does Not Stop.

Blushing, I admit that I thought I would have this whole life thing figured out as I neared 40. It’s actually a pleasant surprise to see that this year, at age 38, I’ve learned and grown more than nearly any other year in recent memory.

On top of this, how surprising that all of these revelations happened during a 12-month span when I didn’t leave the country once! (Sub-tip: Local and lesser-known spots like southwestern Pennsylvania are awesome. Though don’t worry — I will voyage abroad again soon!)

So let’s close this year-end reflection on a note of excitement for all the learning that is to come in our hopefully long lives. Yes, this year had tears and lows. Yes, this year had injuries. However, in the immortal words of Beyoncé and Jay-Z in Everything is Love, “I can’t believe we made it! This is what we’re thankful for.”

Resolutions That Work: Daily Inspiration Which Actually Helps: a Reflective Journal in 11 Ideas
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Sunday 2nd of February 2020

there is just one word for that beautiful :) thanks for sharing. xoxo

Lillie Marshall

Sunday 2nd of February 2020



Tuesday 31st of December 2019

This was such a great read! I totally agree about individual therapy. I originally went for one specific reason and it helped me in many other ways too. I'm always telling friends how beneficial it is.

I'm adding the book to my "to read list" because I often struggle with personal relationships with people much different than me.

Lillie Marshall

Tuesday 31st of December 2019

Awesome! Yes, it's really cool how it's possible to enter therapy with one thing in mind, then see a whole other world of possibility and ways forward that were invisible before the expert eye!


Tuesday 31st of December 2019

Your reflections are, as always, deeply meaningful. This article has given me a lot to think about. I do/know several of the things on your list but there’s a difference between knowing something and doing something with that knowledge. Thanks for providing a framework for thinking about how I want to approach 2020. :)

Lillie Marshall

Tuesday 31st of December 2019

Thanks for your kind words! I'm curious which of the list you're most focusing on this coming year!

Danielle Kempe

Tuesday 31st of December 2019

Wonderful post Lillie!

I need to be better about twice a day brushing for my 2 year old daughter too.

My husband and I are taking a kid free trip to Seattle in February for the wedding of 2 friends. I know I'll miss her but am looking forward to it.

Lillie Marshall

Tuesday 31st of December 2019

Ahh -- that's a huge deal, and will open up a lot of great things: including appreciation of being back together! I'm sure it's already on your radar, but definitely see the Chihuly exhibit: -- one of my favorite art displays on Earth.

Suzanne Fluhr

Tuesday 31st of December 2019

Thank you for the timely and topical essay. I'm a bit (quite a bit) down the road from the stage of life where you are. In fact, I'm in the demographic most likely to encounter an eye roll and "OK Boomer". I do remember the dual professional careers, little kids stage of life as being exhausting, but I didn't take the time to learn the things you're learning at the right age to come out the other end at least relatively unscarred, physically and mentally. Fortunately, by pure luck, rather than dedicated work and planning, our now 37.5 year marriage has mostly been a port in the storm. There was work and planning, but it was self-directed and uninformed; that is, we stumbled through it without professional help or even self awareness . My sisters maintain I've never been in touch with my feelings. I call it an ostrich inspired approach to life. So far, it has mostly worked.

My word (2 words, actually) for 2020 are "reimagine reinvention". I'm finally declaring myself an "almost recovered lawyer". Now I need to consciously plan for the next phase, starting by realizing that my adult life-long measures of success might well be irrelevant or at least, less relevant; hence, the need to "reimagine reinvention".

P.S.: The fact that you're an English teacher caused me to liberally sprinkle many more semi-colons than usual throughout my overlong comment. P.P.S.: I realize I split an infinitive in the preceding P.S. Has that grammar rule been jettisoned officially yet?

Lillie Marshall

Wednesday 1st of January 2020

Suzanne, Thank you for taking the time to leave this BEAUTIFUL and insightful comment! I love the idea of "reimagining invention." I'm excited to hear what it opens up! Oh, and I fully approve of your grammatical choices.

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