Like you, I’m sure, I can’t resist a little humor and a smile, which explains my choice of title for this article. But make no mistake about it, the subject is serious. You see, since life is synonymous with change, this year our lives will either improve or worsen. The likelihood of it improving is greatly enhanced for those of us who make resolutions. To succeed, however, we must remember that resolution implies remaining resolute, steadfast, unswerving, and unbending in our determination. And I’m not suggesting that we remain firm and unwavering in shirking our duty. Rather, like Benjamin Franklin, I’m suggesting we resolve to perform what we ought to do and perform without fail what we resolve.
When we make New Year’s resolutions and stick to them, we grow stronger. We mature. We develop self-discipline and lift ourselves by our own bootstraps. The result is greater self-confidence, peace of mind, and control over our lives. On the other hand, when we break our resolutions, we grow weaker. After all, we have demonstrated to ourselves that we are not resolute; we lack self-discipline, and we have given up on improving ourselves. Don’t allow the negative effects of the broken resolutions of others deter you from making your own. Instead, use that information as motivation to stick to the promises you have made to yourself and enjoy the benefits that will follow.
When asked about their New Year’s resolutions, some people reply, “This year, I’m making only one resolution, and that is NOT to make any resolutions.” It’s a cute reply, but a regrettable one because the implication is they have no plans to improve.
Why have they given up on making New Year’s resolutions? Because they became discouraged by their past failures. Why did they fail? Because they never made resolutions in the first place. What they made were wishes. Oh, they may have stated it as a resolution; for example, Bob may have said, “This year I plan on losing ten pounds.” But his heart was saying, “Wouldn’t it be nice if I lost ten pounds? I hope I do.” That’s not a plan; that’s a fanciful dream. No wonder Bob failed. And when their resolutions come tumbling down, all they’re left with are broken promises and shattered dreams.
There is only one way to make a resolution and that is to make a commitment. A commitment is a passionate plan. That is, you are passionate about achieving a particular goal and you have a plan on how to go about doing so. Compare Bob to Charlie. Charlie clenched his teeth, pounded the table with his tightened fist, and exclaimed, “I’m sick of being overweight. I’m going to do something about it. I’m going to make a plan to lose ten pounds by March of this year!” Charlie is passionate. He’s committed. And he’s working on a plan.
He develops his plan by asking himself a series of questions and reflecting on the answers. Questions like, “What are the advantages of losing weight? What are the disadvantages? How much weight can I reasonably be expected to lose? What resources do I have to help me reach my goal? Who and where can I turn to for advice? What obstacles am I likely to meet and how can I overcome them? What steps do I have to take and on what dates will I accomplish each step?”
After completing the above process, Charlie feels good. He has a sense of direction. He realizes that next year life will no longer be something that merely happens to him. Rather, he is going to make things happen. He is in control. He instinctively understands that when we keep the promises we make to ourselves, we become promising.
What about those who say, “More power to Charlie, but I’m not like him. I can’t make resolutions and keep them.” Sorry, that’s not true. You see, everyonemakes resolutions and keeps them. The only problem is their resolutions are negative, for example, “I CAN’T lose weight. I CAN’T quit smoking. I CAN’T wake up on time.” The list goes on and on. They are amazingly successful at keeping their resolutions. Unfortunately, their negative resolutions bog them down, limit their capabilities, stunt their growth, and diminish their happiness.
Since we all make and keep resolutions, the questions we want to ask ourselves are “What resolutions do we want to make? Will I resolve to become MORE than what I am today or will I resolve to become LESS than I am capable of becoming?” The choice is ours. If we’re now in a mess, why despair when we can repair? We should be looking forward to the New Year. It is the perfect time to initiate changes in our lives.
New Year’s Resolutions Preparation
To begin the New Year on a sure footing, it may be helpful to review some of the steps involved in developing and carrying out our resolutions.
Reflection. Before we can change our behaviour, we need to change our mind. And before we can change our mind, we need to be aware of the need for change. Often, we get so caught up in the mundane activities of life that we don’t see which way we are heading. What’s the point of traveling if we don’t know where we’re going? That’s why there’s a need for reflection. We pause to ask ourselves questions like: “Where am I heading? Did I accomplish everything I set out to do last year? What did I do that was right? What did I do wrong? What do I need to do differently this year? Awareness of problems leads to a desire for change and is the first step in getting back on track.
Conviction. Now that we want to change, it’s time to acknowledge that we CAN change. Reflect on the many accomplishments you have already attained. Remind yourself of your personal power. Use your achievements to inspire you to add new attainments to your list of accomplishments.
Resolution. After accepting that you CAN change, you’re ready to resolve that you WILL change. Focus on your determination and get your adrenaline running. Determination is the key to releasing your power. For as William Ellery Channing wrote, “A man in earnest finds means, or, if he cannot find, creates them. A vigorous purpose makes much out of little, breathes power into weak instruments, disarms difficulties, and even turns them into assistances. Every condition has means of progress, if we have spirit enough to use them.”
Commitment. You are resolved to act, so now make a commitment. That is, make a plan and take your first action steps. For example, if you’re planning to start an exercise program, take a tour of some facilities; select one, and sign up. Congratulations! Your exercise program will not only firm your body, but will make you firm and resolute. And when you are firm and resolute, you mold the world and shape your destiny.
Get excited. Turbo charge your emotions. Resolve is the poker that stokes the fires of enthusiasm and passion. When you’re burning with enthusiasm, you’ll find the way to succeed. The fire that lights your heart, lights the way. Someone else described it this way, “Paths clear before those who know where they’re going and are determined to get there.”
No pain, no gain. Don’t be afraid of ‘pain.’ The more you experience, the more you will delight in your accomplishment. Don’t let a little pain stop you, for as the Scottish Theologian William Barclay said, “All life is based on the fact that anything worth getting is hard to get. There is a price to be paid for anything. Scholarship can only be bought at the price of study, skill in any craft or technique can only be bought at the price of practice, eminence in any sport can only be bought at the price of training and discipline. The world is full of people who have missed their destiny because they would not pay the price. No one can take the easy way and enter into any kind of glory or greatness.”
Persist. Simple persistence and perseverance are golden keys. Those who unfalteringly remain on target are assured of success. When Muhammad was told to give up his unpopular crusade, he said, “O uncle! I swear that if they put the sun on my right hand and the moon on my left, I will not renounce the career I have entered upon until God gives me success, or I perish.” That was determination. Such determination is unstoppable.
Change your viewpoint. Positive change is positive. So, your viewpoint must also be positive. For instance, let’s say you plan to give up cigarettes. Don’t say, “I will quit smoking.” Why? Because that’s a negative viewpoint. You see, all it does is bring up thoughts of LOSS. Each time you think about quitting, you’ll think about being deprived of the pleasure and comfort of smoking. No wonder it’s hard to quit. Instead say, “From today I will lead a healthier lifestyle.” That statement brings up thoughts of GAIN. You will gain stamina, well-being, a heightened sense of taste, a longer life span, and so on. By focusing on the positive, you’ll have a reason to persist.
Tips on Making New Year’s Resolutions
Here are some tips to help us carry out our resolutions.
If we make a resolution, we are resolving to do something we are not yet doing. Why aren’t we doing it? There must be reasons. It may be difficult to do, involve some efforts we have to make, or sacrifices we have to carry out. So, expect resistance. Prepare for it. Accept the short-term pain for the long-term gain. After sticking to our resolution for a month or two, it will become a habit and much easier to carry out. So, it will no longer be a matter of working harder, but of developing good habits which will propel you forward. Keep your eyes on the goal and anticipate the success that is yours.
Don’t become unrealistically ambitious. True, it may be great to improve your golf game, lose weight, hang out more with your friends, take a computer course to improve your productivity, learn ballroom dancing, make a rec room in the basement, and design a flower garden for your backyard. But wait a minute! Do you have the time? Don’t engage in wishful thinking. Instead schedule each activity so you know exactly how much time is available. And don’t forget to include extra time for emergencies.
Here is a powerful technique. At the same time you make your New Year’s resolutions, change your routine. For instance, take a different route to work, have lunch at another place, open the door to your office with your left instead of your right hand, and so on. Why do so? Because each time you act out of character, you are forcing yourself to remember that you are living in a new way. It is easy to change your routine, and the changes will act as powerful cues, reminding you that you have resolutions to follow.
Make your goals as specific as possible. Don’t say, “I’m going to lose some weight” but say “I’m going to lose 10 lb. by March 30, 2014 by drinking more water, cutting out junk food, eating balanced meals, and exercising.”
Monitor your progress weekly. What are you doing right? Keep doing it! What are you doing wrong? What is the cause of the problem? How can you correct it? Also, set milestones. For example, if you’re going to lose 10 lb. by the end of March, that works out to 3.3 lb. per month. Confirm your standing every month. By keeping a watchful eye on your progress, you’ll be able to make corrections as you go along.
Do it for yourself. Don’t be pressured into anything. Remember, to succeed, your plan must be a passionate one. How can you be passionate about something you don’t want to do? Decide on what you WANT from life and focus on those goals. Granted, there may be things you should be doing, but don’t want to. That’s fine; it simply means you’re a human being. The good news is that as we accomplish goals we WANT, we develop self-discipline. In other words, you’ll have the strength to work on bigger goals later.
Because we cannot accomplish everything at once, we need patience, focus, and persistence. As we monitor our progress and see the progress we are making, no matter how small, it will be enough to motivate us to continue. If you come across bumps in the road, don’t be discouraged. Just pick yourself up and continue. How can you develop your skills if it’s smooth sailing all the way? You need to experience a few storms before you can become the Captain of your ship. Make these words of Theodore Roosevelt your manifesto: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Also heed the words of Michael Jordan, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Creating New Year’s Resolutions: The Advanced Course
Are we created by our thoughts or do we create our thoughts? The answer is BOTH. You see, by default, the daily ebb and flow of events automatically generate our thoughts. These thoughts then automatically lead to feelings, behaviour, and consequences. However, if we remain aware of our thoughts, we can interrupt them and change them. Once we do so, our feelings, behaviour, and outcomes also change.
When we fail to control our thoughts, they control us, and we are reduced to mere automatons, robots, or zombies. Most people, however, are neither zombies nor masters of their fate. They are somewhere in-between, controlling their thoughts at one moment and being controlled by them at another moment. The degree of success we experience in life is directly proportional to the amount of control we have over our thoughts.
For this reason, a major resolution for the New Year should be to increase our awareness and control of our thoughts. Let’s get a bit more specific. Our thoughts generally fall into two categories: positive or negative. They inspire us or diminish us, enslave us or set us free, empower us or weaken us. Moreover, since our mind, body, and spirit are integrated, what happens in one area of our lives affects the other areas as well. So, a negative thinker can end up with a broken spirit, sick body, and shattered dreams.
Now, let’s move on to another, but related, area. Let’s consider how the words and sentences we use can color or shape our perception. Our perceptions are important because they play a major role in the decisions we make. I’ll begin with an example. Mortimer is middle-aged and plump. So, he made the following resolution, “I need to lose weight, so I’m going to use this one-month free pass and workout several times a week at the fitness club.”
Although well-intentioned, his resolution fizzled out in less than a month. He quit exercising. What went wrong? Well, the words and phrases he used were self-defeating. He started by saying, “I NEED TO lose some weight.” His statement may be factual, but the trouble is that words like I NEED TO, MUST, HAVE TO, SHOULD, or OUGHT TO automatically trigger a response of RESISTANCE. After all, we don’t like to do what we HAVE TO. We don’t like to be bossed around and told what to do, even if we are the ones giving the orders! So, rule number one, drop NEED TO and its variants from your self-talk because they are lead weights that hold you back.
Even if Mortimer had said, “I’m going to lose weight,” that also would have been self-defeating. Why is that? That’s because he would be focusing on the problem rather than the solution. Instead of thinking of what you are now (overweight), think of what you wish to become (slim). Suppose you wanted to quit smoking and decided to repeat several times a day, “I will quit smoking! I will quit smoking! I will quit smoking!” What would that accomplish? The only thing it would do is make you think MORE about smoking and increase your craving.
So, rule number two is, rather than focusing on what you DON’T WANT, focus on what you DO WANT. The importance of this rule cannot be overstated, for the only things we do are the things we WANT to do. It’s not about willpower, it’s about want-power. So, what is it that Mortimer wants? Did you say he wants to lose weight? No, that’s the wrong answer. He doesn’t want to LOSE weight because that involves the perception of LOSING the pleasure of eating. It also brings up an image of the EFFORT (ugh!) we have to make in order to LOSE weight.
Well, then, what is it that he wants? He wants to become more physically attractive, gain confidence, and increase his health, wellbeing, and longevity. Now, those are things to get excited about. Those are things to WANT. Now that Mortimer is thinking correctly, he decides to go a step further by dropping the word WORKOUT from his resolution. After all, no one wants to EXERT EFFORT or do WORK.
Compare his original resolution with his new one. His original resolution was, “I need to lose weight, so I’m going to work out several times a week.” Mortimer changed it to, “I want to enjoy life to the fullest, so I’m going to take a few HEALTH (or FITNESS or LONGEVITY) BREAKS each week at the gym.” Can you see the dramatic difference? Can you see the change in perception?
Did you see what else Mortimer did? He replaced “several” times a week with “a few” times. Don’t you think repeating something a few times is easier than doing it several times? Many people mistakenly overreach in their resolutions. This leads to failure. It is not realistic to expect go from zero workouts a week to many a week. Going from zero to many is HARD. Going from zero to a few is EASIER. And the great news is, as Mortimer discovers how wonderful it feels to take “fitness breaks,” he will automatically be motivated to increase his visits to the gym.
After revamping his perception and thoughts, Mortimer is now in charge of his life. He even changes uncomfortable bodily sensations into positive thoughts. For example, although some newcomers get discouraged and give up because of the aches and pains that follow long, grueling ‘fitness breaks’ on the treadmill or Stairmaster, not Mortimer. He relishes the discomfort because it is a signal that his body is being resculptured, muscles are toning up, blood vessels are widening, his heart is growing stronger, and his general well-being is improving. He even rejoices when he has to slosh through a rain or snowstorm to get to the gym. “Wow,” he says, “the nasty weather will keep half the people away, so I’ll have all the equipment to myself. Besides, only the dedicated members will attend, so by joining them, I prove that I have just as much self-discipline as they do.”
Isn’t it amazing how we can change our lives by changing our thoughts? Shh, if you remain silent for a moment, you will hear the unlimited potential of the New Year beckoning you and asking, “Are you ready to meet my challenge?”
References and Tools
Resolutions That Stick! How 12 Habits Can Transform Your New Year by S.J. Scott
The New Year’s Resolution Journal by Michele Costello and Carly Gramer
Make It Happen and The One Hour-A-Day-Formula eBook bundle
Your Best Year Yet!: Ten Questions for Making the Next Twelve Months Your Most Successful Ever by Jinny S. Ditzler
A Year to Live: How to Live This Year as If It Were Your Last by Stephen Levine
Best Goal-Setting Apps
Karma Life Matrix(Chuck’s recommendation for all iPad owners)
Your TED-inspired New Year’s resolutions.
The 4 Habits to Make This New Year Awesome
2013 New Year’s Resolution Goal Setting Webcast & Workshop