Don’t let hype distract from life-changing resolutions

  • Tue Jan 5th, 2010 9:40pm
  • News

By Julie Muhlstein, Herald Columnist

Join a gym. Clear that clutter. Lose 10 pounds — or 20 or 50.

Not even a week into this new year, I’m already weary of the drumbeat for superficial change. That, and I’m a little mixed up. Is it Marie Osmond pushing Nutrisystem and Valerie Bertinelli touting Jenny Craig, or vice versa?

Clearly, I’ve been watching too much TV. And I’m jaded by the January bombardment, the message that everybody needs to fix just about everything about themselves.

I do take aiming for better health seriously. It’s a smart and sensible impulse, year-round. Positive change is good, it’s the hype I can do without.

For Shannon Gaule, helping people accomplish real change is a worthy mission. Gaule, 45, heads the Life Transitions Program at the Everett regional center of YWCA of Seattle, King and Snohomish counties. Set up in 1979 by the state Displaced Homemaker Act, the program helps people who’ve been out of the work force to achieve self-sufficiency.

Gaule is a graduate of the program, which helped her after retirement from the military. Now, she works with people whose circumstances force them to make big changes. “It could be divorce, or the death or disability of a partner. All of a sudden, something happens, and there you are,” she said.

Participants learn work skills and organization and are helped with creating an affordable wardrobe. “All these changes have to happen quickly, and there’s a lot of fear involved,” Gaule said. While change and fear often go hand-in-hand, Gaule said that by setting goals — “small action steps that can keep you moving” — people make progress and build self-esteem.

All this may seem unrelated to New Year’s resolutions, but I figured that someone who helps others change would have good advice for the rest of us.

Gaule doesn’t make quick-fix resolutions.

“I’ve learned that’s self-defeating,” she said. “For myself personally, it’s about prioritizing. What is the most important thing to you? Not to other people, but to you?”

Think about that. Tune out all the pitches for weight loss and lifestyle makeovers. Would your top goal really be to drop 10 pounds?

“What’s most important? The little tire around your waist, or cultivating a relationship?” Gaule asked. “Take small steps toward what is truly most important.”

Through her Mukilteo-based business Whole Life Coaching, Liza Patchen-Short works with clients seeking improvement in their lives.

“We really look at all the pieces, spiritual, mental, physical and psychological. People want more purpose and balance,” Patchen-Short said. “Where are they now, and where do they want to be?”

Patchen-Short, 46, also works in counseling for Cocoon House, a nonprofit organization that serves homeless and at-risk teens in Snohomish County.

As a life coach, she asks clients to dig deep to determine their values and then to set goals to match. “Picture the balance of a wheel. What spokes are missing or off-kilter? How can I get my wheel running smoothly?” she said.

These days, Patchen-Short hears about longing for simple things and spending more time with family. “It’s going out for a walk with their wife. It’s time for self, and slowing down and breathing. Take note of what you want,” Patchen-Short said.

A new year is a time of renewal, Patchen-Short said, but that doesn’t have to mean a diet or exercise regime.

“I signed up for an art class today,” Patchen-Short said Monday. “I was going to do it for awhile, and I finally did it. I wanted to think about my creative side.”

In the coffee shop at the Everett Public Library Tuesday, 90-year-old Margaret Harrison was chatting and laughing with two longtime friends. They get together several times a week to talk about old times and keep each other company.

“I can’t help you,” Harrison said when I asked if she makes resolutions with each new year. “If things are going well, why change?”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460,