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How to Be (A Little Bit ) Better This Year: 10 Resolutions For Men

Make this the year to foster connection.

Resolutions have a bad rap. There’s certainly nothing wrong with renewing your commitment to being a better person, to make meaningful change in the new year. The turn of a calendar year is a fresh start, all glistening and full of hope. But, as a whole, so many resolutions feel so vague or unrealistic. The intent is pure, but the reality is muddy. That’s why 75-percent of New Year’s Resolutions fail before February. And in 2021? Few of us have the energy or interest to take on another challenge. 

Goal-setting is worthy. The desire to be a better person should always flicker, especially for parents who want to set good example for their kids. But lofty promises never kept can wear you down. That’s why we wanted to offer some resolutions that revolve around a central conceit: connection. Connection with family, with your partner, with your friends, with your kids. The resolutions you see here are all simple and achievable. Hell, they don’t take huge amounts of time or effort. Actually, most require small, but meaningful, corrections. But that doesn’t mean they don’t pat out big dividends.

“Little moments are all we really have,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology at University of California, Riverside and author of The How of Happiness. “The small moves aggregate and add up.” They’re also quick, surprising, and break up the routine — the latter of which can shift the whole day upwards, because, “We all operate on momentum,” says Beth Kurland, clinical psychologist and author of The Transformative Power of 10 Minutes

Momentum is a good thing to build. So are connection and more fulfillment. Hopefully, the 10 goals below will help you find all three.

1. Reach Out to Friends Regularly…

Men, and fathers in particular, are guilty of letting old friendships fall to the wayside. You tell yourself Oh, I’ll check in with Jim next weekend when I’ve got the time. But a more convenient time rarely comes. However understandable, this needs to change. As we age, social networks become thin or non-existent. Those connections are immensely valuable. For support yes, but also for stress-relief, for connection and for emotional intimacy, the latter of which is difficult but craved by men.  It doesn’t matter how much or how often – hard numbers create undue stress – but resolve to reach out more.. It can be any mode of communication, but text might be ideal; the format keeps things casual. Just type out, “What’s up?” or “Give me the four worst team names.” Whatever. Calling on any shared interest furthers cements your relationship and reminds you that you have a history and a place. It’ll grow from there. 

2. …And Try to Share More With Them

Sometimes “I’m good,” or “We’re getting through” is a fine answer before talking about other subjects. But occasionally, with your friends, be honest. If you’re at your breaking point, tell them. Say, “I’m fried and I hate my job right now.” Or just shoot it off in one of those above texts. Struggle is universal, but people still like to put on the confident front. Share your stress and it makes it easier for your buddy to do the same. You’ve both got the feeling that, “Oh, I’m not alone in holding this,” Kurland says. 

3. Listen More, Problem-Solve Less

Listening is a skill that requires constant improvement. It requires a number of small techniques that work together to let another person know that what they’re saying has been heard and understood. One technique to resolve to work on: the tendency to just wait until a person stops speaking — or even when they’re mid-sentence — to offer your “wisdom”. During a conversation, commit to not talking for five minutes. And if you’re prone to interrupting, vow to wait five seconds to make sure someone is done speaking. These tactics give whomever talking to the whole floor. When they see that you’re fully locked in and not looking for openings, they’ll be more confident that you’re hearing them and more comfortable when speaking. A caveat: Give the person a heads-up on your intention. Even if they don’t want to be interrupted, people are used to feedback and the silent treatment can be unnerving.

4. Observe Your Kid

Seriously. Just sit, watch and listen. Long enough to notice to the gap in their teeth, the sound of their voices, the way they walk. “Life moves pretty fast,” a noted truant once said. “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” We want to appreciate what’s going to change soon, but, by cueing in, past and future worries recede. You’re all about being in that moment, and, moreso your child can tell, says Emily Edlynn, licensed psychologist in Oak Park, Illinois. Fully be there as often as you can.

5. Compliment More

No quota here. Just occasionally dole out a short and personal compliment to your partner or friend or colleague. “You always give great advice.” “Your work ethic is amazing.” “I wish I could tell a story like you.” Most people love but never get them. They’ll be shocked in a good way and feel like they’re been noticed. Compliments are the low-hanging fruit of connection. “They cost you nothing and they make people so happy,” Lyubomirsky says. Just don’t give them out that often or you risk coming off as insincere.

6. Go One-on-One with the Kids More Often…

As Tyghe Trimble wrote, “The truth is, when your partner is there, it’s harder to discipline effectively, show love in a way that is meaningful, bond in a way that is believable, and play in a way that doesn’t lead to battles.” In two-parent households, parenting feels easier to do things en masse, but younger, quieter kids can get lost. Carve out individual slots and put them on a refrigerator calendar so it’s public knowledge and each child can look forward to it, Kurland says. It can start out with 15 minutes, but in that window, you can ask questions and your child might feel less intimidated to ask their own or share feelings, which otherwise might come out as tantrums, because, per Edlynn, he or she now has an audience of one.

7. …And Give Up The Wheel

When you’re playing, let your kids take the lead. “We’re always in charge. We’re in charge of everything they do,” notes Edlynn. In some circumstances, let them  pick what to do, and the rules they want, which they can change as they see fit. The game might make no sense, and so what if no glass is getting broken? Because they’re having fun, you never know what the two of you will discover together.

8. Find 15 Minutes For Yourself

You don’t have endless time, but there are hidden pockets. A good first move is to ask what would make you feel better, Twitter or anything else? And anything else wins again. There’s little downside, since nothing is going to unravel during your 15 minute break. You just have to schedule with your partner so no one is caught unaware. And make sure they get their block of time, too. “It’s a discussion, not a disappearance,” says Edlynn, adding that you’re both going to get personal time and the mutuality makes it a smoother transaction. You also make it known in the house. It’s good for the kids to know that you’re not always all-access, and because it’s a regular thing, you won’t feel pressure about making any one day the ultimate getaway experience.

9. Prioritize Date Nights

If date night were sporadic before, chances are they’re rare or non-existent now. But they are crucial for getting back to base, for nurturing connecting, and so much more. They’re a necessary ingredient for a happy marriage. For quiet moments with your partner, make what was already going to happen feel a little special, Kurland says. You don’t have to put on real clothes — although that might not hurt — but for your show or movie, make popcorn, share a dessert, or just sit next to each other. It might feel initially awkward, but you need a little push to get out of a rut.

10. Take a Beat

2020 was a daily loop of going from work to overseeing school to shopping to doing chores. Try to carve out a few brief moments of respite to shift from work mode to dad mode to teacher mode. Take 30 seconds or until the end of the song before coming down from your office or in from the car. It gives the hesitation to take on the next situation with more intention, less scrambling. “It gets us out of autopilot. We’re not plowing through the day,” Kurland says. “We can handle what’s there a little better.” And that’s something we should all resolve to do.