I love the Christmas Season, even when it is 40 below outside. Fairbanksans ignore the cold, get on with shopping for friends and family, wish each other season’s greetings and we plop coins and bills generously into The Salvation Army red kettles. We celebrate family traditions, volunteer at Food Bank and other charities, many of us travel and we generally have a great time.

Then, Christmas and other holiday celebrations are over, Dec. 26 hits, followed by a cold January (at least this year), and life gets back to “normal” for another 11 months

I propose that each of us make a commitment to make the spirit of the Christmas season last all year long. Businesses and customers would then have a jollier existence up here in the arctic for 12 months each year instead of just one!

I have done a lot of reflection on how I can make that happen in my tiny sphere of influence. I asked myself what is it that makes the Christmas Season so special and how can we keep it going today, Jan. 12, and for all of 2020? First there is a deep spiritual side of the season which, regardless of a person’s religious belief, helps create our attitudes and facilitates the seasonal magic of generosity and genuine concern for others. As a byproduct of that spirituality we set goals backed by action and, like little children, we are filled with anticipation. It goes without saying that we need to keep that alive within us each day.

I would like to focus this column on how to set and achieve goals that fuel anticipation of real achievement as another way to keep our Christmas spirit alive throughout the coming year. In the past I have tried to do this on Dec. 26 by setting lofty New Year’s resolutions that began the next week on Jan. 2. Three years ago, I resolved to lose 75 pounds in a month, rigorously exercise at least one hour per day, five days per week, etc, etc, etc. By Jan. 13 — my resolutions were in the dumpster next to the Christmas tree.

Recently, I have learned, and I continue to learn, important principles about setting and keeping New Year’s resolutions. These principles have made all the difference in the world for me and will move you and your organization forward as well. I discovered that changing a behavioral pattern is like trying to eat an elephant. We will get sick and give up quickly if we try to eat it all at once. Instead of trying to lose a ton of weight by a shock-therapy diet, I started by substituting water for soda pop. When that became a habit, I started to eat pizza slowly like my grandmother instead of inhaling like my dog. So it goes, changing one little bad habit at a time, building on the last success to fuel the next.

Several years ago, I wrote in this column that “organizational vitality is equal to the sum of the audacity plans of each individual in that organization”. Instead of retiring, I actually listened to my advice (for a change) and embarked upon an elephant-size professional development program with the end goal of earning a Ph.D. (I forgot to get it 25 years ago when I started teaching). I took one class each semester (tiny bite size pieces) and much to my surprise, those tiny bites eventually added up to complete my degree required course work. Robert Schuller once said, “Inch by inch everything’s a cinch, but yard by yard everything is hard.”

I must confess that a year ago I hit the dissertation elephant and tried to eat it all at once. Big mistake! However, my son took the advice that I did not, and now he is a licensed Ph.D. clinical psychologist in Manhattan. I could not be prouder of him!

Little actions, consistently performed, add up to a lot over time, but, we must start right now and not wait until Jan. 13. One really can earn a university degree by taking one class at a time. There is still time to sign up for the spring semester. Albeit, classes start tomorrow at UAF.

Let’s keep Christmas alive throughout 2020. I’ll do my part by committing, one day at a time, to “wow” at least one student. How many happy customers would our university have if each faculty and staff member committed to positively blowing one student’s mind each day?! I will write at least 15 minutes, one day at a time, starting last week. Fifteen minutes is only 1% of the day, but it will make a huge difference in a year. I will stop skipping breakfast — starting today; I will walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator — starting today; as a reward I will take my wife on a cruise around Australia in March.

We need to tie a reward that we really enjoy to our little behavior change. I love watching movies-for-guys-who-like-movies, so my first reward (when at the end of the day I can check off each tiny task) will be watching, with volume cranked way up, the Blu-ray movie “Top Gun” which Santa thoughtfully left for me on Christmas morning. I promise you this: nonperformance on my part means that the TV stays turned off.

A little customer service improvement, a little change in eating habits, a little bit of exercise, a little bit of writing, coupled with accountability and rewards are my resolutions for 2020. Your elephant size goals are undoubtedly different than mine, so I recommend you write them down and then break them up into daily and achievable bite-size tasks. Doing these little tasks daily will then become big habits to build upon.