It’s that time of year...
In the midst of holiday preparations and celebrations, the annual ritual of making resolutions looms as heavily as the pounds we know we’ll put on then determine to shed - again.
Why Do We Torture Ourselves?
For millennia, human beings have established landmarks and rites to note the passing of time, “creating new mental accounting periods [that]...allow us to unburden ourselves from past imperfections/failures and ‘restart’ with new vigor and aspiration.” (Hengchen Dai, Katherine L. Milkman, Jason Riis (2014) The Fresh Start Effect: Temporal Landmarks Motivate Aspirational Behavior. Management Science). The modern version, the New Years Resolution, has become formulaic and highly suspect, resembling a wish list that is abandoned at the first obstacle or inconvenience.
We have an innate desire to evolve and grow, but when intentions remain untethered to accountability it’s hard to achieve our goals. Consider gym membership as a parable: You start the year determined to lose weight and get in shape, so you purchase a membership package that you know will encourage consistent exercise. Then what happens? If our collective past is prologue, you aren’t likely to make it past the spring before your attendance wanes. Or disappears entirely. 80 percent of people who join gyms in January quit within five months. Who comes out the winner in this spiral of empty promises? Gym owners, who “expect only about 18 percent of people who buy memberships to use them consistently.”
There’s Another Way
I want to offer a different approach to making your New Years Resolutions, one that is designed to create joy, a sense of accomplishment, and serious momentum. Its two pillars are simple and powerful: honesty and accountability.
Start by taking stock of this past year. This is your “Come to Jesus/Moses/Allah/Buddha moment"!
- Did you have a clear and precise vision of what you wanted to accomplish?
- Did you set benchmarks and deadlines? If so, did you stick to them?
- Were you realistic about the necessary requirements to accomplish your goals?
- Did you ask for help?
As you work your way through this list, be honest. Chances are, there are a couple of places where you can do better next time around.
A difficult, but important, part of this exercise is to identify where YOU were the obstacle. Identify the instances where you resisted the process; you resisted change; you resisted taking the next step towards a goal – whether it was exercising, writing, having hard conversations, refraining from gossip or from booking back-to-back meetings, or calling your mother. Resistance can look like procrastinating, making excuses, avoiding conflict, assigning responsibility elsewhere, or letting fear get in the way of you going for what you really want. You must peel back the layers of thoughts and behaviors, and clearly identify the patterns that block you from growing.
The New Roadmap
Here’s good news: there’s a beautiful opportunity to create the upcoming year in a way that is exciting, realistic and serves as a roadmap. Each December, I design my upcoming year and I write it as if it has already happened. I make the audacious assumption that I’ve actually got this! This assumption has to be supported by real scaffolding. This is not a wish list, a fantasy or a prayer. It’s a plan - one that’s inspiring and clear. Clients of mine who’ve been doing this with me for years swear by the process. Like me, they put it in their back pocket/notebook/computer case and whip it out regularly to check in.
Your plan should include:
- measurable accomplishments
- new practices
- actionable steps, and
- a commitment to sharing goals (so that your people - however you define that - help hold you accountable); see Peer Networks for some inspiration on this one
You’ll want to check in with yourself and your posse no less than once a month, ensuring that you are sticking to the new habits and timeline.
“Do or do not, there is no try.”
The key is to focus on those areas where you can affect outcomes and to be resolute. As Yoda said, “Do or do not, there is no try.” (I actually wear a bracelet that says this as a reminder!) Include not just what you want to do, but how you want to be. For example, if you want to cultivate patience, what will be required? Maybe you need to create more pauses in your daily calendar, or practice taking a beat before responding or acting. Perhaps do some reading about the merits of thinking slowly (I can’t help returning to the incredible work of Daniel Kahneman). If being judgmental is getting in the way of cultivating close relationships at home/work, can you challenge yourself to find one awesome thing about each person you encounter? The goal is to feel incredibly proud of not just what you’ve done, but who you’ve become.
By being precise, honest, and serious about what it takes to live your best year, you increase the chances of real growth. Get resolved - not to a “to do” list but to a “to be” credo that is supported by an integrated set of commitments that you make to yourself.
Wishing you a magnificent year. Please check in and share your progress with me by commenting below. If you want support to make it your best year yet, click here and we can explore how Heyman Partners can be on your team.
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