When I was a young ballet student, I remember writing out a lengthy list of New Year’s Resolutions on a small piece of paper and taping it to the headboard of my bed. It included things like “stretch every day,” “180 degree penché,” "get foot to ear in grand battement," “high arabesque,” and “triple pirouettes.” Each morning when I woke up, my list stared back at me, giving me a boost of motivation. But when I went to bed at night, I’d look at the list and feel discouraged—I was stretching more, but my extensions were stubbornly imperfect, and I was still having trouble nailing double pirouettes to the left. Before long, that list became a constant reminder of everything that was wrong with me and I stopped paying attention to it.
Herein lies the problem with New Year’s Resolutions: they’re hard to keep. According to a Journal of Clinical Psychology study, 46% of New Year’s Resolutions fail within six months. In my case, it was because I set the bar too high. I know—this sounds counterintuitive, especially for ballet dancers. But while it’s healthy to have ambition, we often forget that in our endless quest to be “perfect” we’re only capable of achieving so much. That’s why the best way to transform your resolutions into a daily habit is to make them small, specific and manageable. My problem is that I wanted it all—and I wanted it overnight. If I had tight hamstrings and struggled to lift my arabesque to 90 degrees, how could I achieve a 180 degree penché? How could I perfect a triple pirouette when I was still having trouble with doubles? A better resolution would have been to improve my double pirouettes to the left by, say, mid-March. I would have had a more realistic goal, with a deadline to keep me motivated.
I did succeed at one resolution that year: each day, I spent 15-20 minutes stretching. And guess what? My extensions started improving bit by bit as a result. And while my arabesque wasn’t as high as I wanted it to be by year’s end, it was higher than it was on January 1. So if you’re making a list of resolutions today, keep it short, realistic and take one thing at a time. You may be surprised at the results!