Promises Promises Promises

BY Stephanie Akins

Another holiday season has drawn to a close the festive lights are coming down belts have been loosened and our crisp and unmarked 2007 calendars have been hung with care. The turning of the page drives most of us to think about goals for the brand-new year a year full of possibilities still unspoiled by mistakes failures and shortcomings.

While they may not always come neatly packaged in a formal New Year’s resolution everyone has goals everyone has dreams and everyone has hopes for the future that stretch beyond the first month of the year even if their resolve to achieve them often doesn’t. Some have mastered the art of setting and achieving goals while goals get shuttled off to limbo for others. What distinguishes dreamers from doers? Different walks of life age maturity personality education beliefs support from family members and friends? Perhaps a little or a lot of them all.

It’s not unusual to hear “This is the year I’m getting in shape ” but for many the vigorous exercise regimen started wholeheartedly enough barely lasts until Valentine’s Day. Perry Maxwell a certified personal trainer and swim coach at the Wilmington YMCA attributes the lack of follow-through to the fact that “we’re a society of immediate gratification especially in the area of fitness.” Her advice is to learn to be happy with “small-step results.”

Maxwell is an energetic mother of two who attended college on a swimming scholarship and formerly served as executive director of the YMCA. She reduced her work hours when her daughters were born but her enthusiasm for training and fitness has not diminished in the least. She often trains triathletes one-on-one to help them with the swimming aspect of their competition. The key she says is for them to be “committed and dedicated to the fact that they’re in it for the long haul.”

Given that the training takes place in the water it is understandably harder for the athletes to see their own improvement — thus the need for patience. While advocating patience as a key to achieving goals Maxwell admits that patient is one of the hardest things for her to be. In the fitness context she suggests doing something three to four times a week even if it’s just walking the dog. “Do fun things but be consistent with doing some exercise ” she says.

Maxwell knows from experience that “if it’s like work people don’t want to do it; if it’s fun people are more likely to stick with it.” Only about five percent of us are disciplined enough to exercise on our own and people who exercise with a partner get fifty percent faster results.

“You have someone to push you you make a commitment to someone else ” Maxwell explains. “You’re just more likely to exercise when you’re doing it with somebody. And it makes the experience more fun.”

Maxwell’s daughters 13 and 10 engage in a variety of sports. She believes children should be free to experience a variety of activities and encouraged to pursue the ones they prefer or truly enjoy. Maxwell also has observed that children whose families are active tend to be more active themselves which is a good result on several levels. “Families spend quality time together and also instill the concept that exercise can be enjoyable ” she notes.

UNCW sophomore Josh Ellis’ goals range from raising his GPA in the spring semester to working out more to winning the Madden tournament. As for working out health appearance and not surprisingly impressing the opposite sex all play strong roles. Getting a good GPA is similarly influenced by various factors. Ellis is applying to business school next semester so good grades are essential if he wants to be accepted. He also has some strong motivation from his father — and his “buck stops here” attitude. “If I don’t do well in school my father won’t pay for my education ” Ellis says.

Maxwell’s “small-steps” approach seems to work for Ellis. He committed to studying an extra 10 hours per week and forces himself to go to the library for two hours each day. The most enduring factor in succeeding with school may be “realizing that I’m independent on my own and knowing that I need to do it ” he says but seeing the positive results from sticking to his goals certainly helps motivate him to carry on.

One of the more infamous New Year’s resolutions? “Losing weight ” says Alex Hall with a chuckle. “But it never happens.”

But if Hall has trouble sticking to that most-common goal he certainly doesn’t suffer the same lack of commitment in his professional life. Currently a successful defense attorney the lifelong Wilmington resident has served three terms in the North Carolina House of Representatives spent four years on the UNC Board of Governors and 12 years on the Board of the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers.

Hall gives a lot of credit to an extremely goal-oriented mentor his brother-in-law who approached law school with the challenge “What can I do that the rest of the pack is not going to do? What can I do that will set me above the rest?” Hall adopted the philosophy when he started law school and it has carried over to his accomplished career in the public arena as well as in private practice.

His first campaign for state office was a tough one but the philosophy was instrumental in his election he says. Many people fail to set or achieve goals Hall adds because they “are scared of losing; because of that they won’t even try.”

Bobby Brandon could be accused of “not trying” only in an upside-down parallel universe. The Wrightsville Beach resident and Intracoastal Realty broker takes a rather holistic perspective on goals and motivation. Years ago he learned at work “to start with what you want to achieve and work backwards; figure out how you want to achieve it. Once you’ve figured out what it takes to reach that goal the key is being committed.”

At the end of each year Intracoastal Realty pools money from agents and staff and contributes that money to help multiple families in need. Brandon genuinely feels as though he is helping make a difference. “Every December it brings me back to the reality of how fortunate I am ” he says.

One of his longstanding New Year’s resolutions is striving to be a better person to maintain that feeling from December into and throughout the new year. But says Brandon “every year it lasts through January maybe February.”

His resolution this year is to stretch that out as long as he can “to be a giving person not a greedy person.” On the personal side his goal is to leave the stress of the job at work and when he comes home “to be a husband to be a dad.” That’s what he wants to achieve; how he plans to achieve it is by committing to pulling in the driveway turning off the key and leaving work behind him when he walks through the front door of his home.

Not only is Brandon committed to family and business but he is also a longtime athlete. A participant in marathons for more than 20 years Brandon has taken part in triathalons for the past four years after being inspired by his friends in the sport. He believes that when it comes to endurance sports participants “are internally driven ” and that genetics plays a part. His goal in terms of sports is to improve the weak link in his three-part sport which happens to be swimming. Relying on his “working backwards” approach he outlines exactly what he needs to do in order to improve then commits to doing it. “Same way at work same way at home. Same premise just different goals.”

Sadly there is nothing magical about accomplishing our New Year’s resolutions just as there is no silver bullet for apathy that doesn’t require commitment and dedication. We can be absolutely certain of one thing: Our resolutions will always fall flat if we never try.

So whether it’s quitting smoking eating healthier saving money or any number of other goals there is nothing to lose by making an effort. Maybe success lies in taking small steps working backwards or following the example of a mentor — or maybe the answer is in remembering a goal we have successfully accomplished and using that same approach in tackling new challenges and resolutions.

Different goals same premise. If it works don’t break it.