On Monday (December 31), my daughter Linnea ask me about my new year's resolutions. I didn't have an answer for her; I hadn't yet made any.
It has been a while since I made new year's resolutions. I learned long time ago that they, for me, are futile. I can easily make the resolutions on January 1--or late on December 31, but just as easily, I can break them before the first month of the new year is over.
Still, Linnea's question had me thinking. There are certainly things I want to achieve in 2013. I want to nurture and strengthen my relationship with my wife. I want to continue to support my children--all of whom are now adults over the age of twenty-one--in their life journeys. I want to share my message of meaningful living to a larger audience through live presentations, recorded speeches, and books. I want to improve my health and reduce my debts. I want to learn more about human behavior. I want to have fun with friends.
When I concretized my desires, I recognized them as being the same as those I wrote in response to Chapter 31 in my book, Making the Moment Meaningful, regarding "Knowing What You Want." My desires had not changed over four years. (To concretize a desire is to acknowledge or admit it and then put it into words.)
The question then arose: What can I do to fulfill my desires. For the most part, I am satisfied with having done what I wanted to do over the past years. I recognize, however, that to excel means to do better today than I did yesterday. I also know that I cannot achieve a different result by doing the same thing as before. So how can I do things differently in 2013?
I learned some things in 2012 about getting things done, and they apply to, if you are going to do it, making resolutions and keeping them.
How do you keep your new year's resolutions?
Be positive. Resolutions are difficult to keep because they are usually resolutions to undo something, such as to lose weight, or to stop doing something that you enjoy or have developed a long-time habit of doing, such as eating sweets or smoking. If these were easy things to undo or stop doing, you wouldn't have to make a resolution in January to do them. You could just do them any time you wanted.
You are more likely to keep your resolutions and achieve your goals if they are positive ones--things that you want as opposed to things that you don't want. For example, I am changing my eating habits and exercise activities because I want to live to be 100 years, not because I want to lose weight.
Develop a plan. Whatever it is that you have resolved to do, you must develop a plan for how you will accomplish it. The plan will be the steps that you will take toward the goal. Such a plan delineates your activities. You can create a plan to identify your activities for a year, for a month, or for a day, depending on how detailed you decide to be. Getting treatment for substance abuse can be a step toward the resolution to improve your relationships with your family, but getting treatment for substance abuse itself needs a plan. The first step of that plan might be to locate a facility that can treat you based on the nature and severity of your condition. Or, your first step might be to review your health insurance policy to see what treatment is covered.
A plan helps you to keep your resolution because it (a) lists what you will do and (b) breaks the project into easy-to-achieve parts.
Write it down. For years I scoffed at the notion that you have to write your goals down in order to achieve them. I have a great memory and could remember my goals without writing them down. However, in 2012 I started making a to-do list. I needed to make the list because I had twenty-four speeches to do for fourteen clients in a 60-day period, and I had to keep track of what I had done for each client--things such as making travel arrangements and sending itineraries, choosing speech topics and sending descriptions, sending invoices, and recording resource sales. I put other things on the list like helping my son with his taxes and writing a novel. (I put the latter on the list because I had an idea for a novel and Jaci told me that November was National Write a Novel Month.) I was able to keep my speaking engagements organized, so the to-do list did what it was supposed to do. The added benefits were that it was a daily reminder about my son's taxes and the novel idea--two items that easily would be pushed way down the list of priorities.
The benefits of writing down your resolutions (or goals) and the plan for achieving them are (a) your activities are organized and recorded, (b) you gain the momentum of success by having the opportunity to check off your completed tasks, (c) you avoid procrastinating on the distasteful tasks, and (d) you have a constant reminder of new ideas that come to you. Even if you have a good memory, sometimes you need someone to nag you about doing things you know you ought to do. Your to-do list becomes the nag, and you don't get angry or upset with it as you would if it were your spouse or partner doing the nagging.
Establish a habit. In most cases, your new year's resolution is a commitment to break an old, now unwanted habit. A great way to ensure that you keep your commitment is to substitute the bad habit with a good habit.
In my last post [October 2012], I shared a list of eight "I Am" characteristics. In addition to developing these statements, I established a habit that would remind me of them. Every night as I lay my head on the pillow just before falling asleep, I repeated the eight character statements. I have not only committed them to memory, but they are now seared in the drive that governs my behavior. A character trait will pop up in my mind at the times when it is most needed. For example, when I got upset with an airline for wrecking my travel plans and causing me to miss giving a speech, "I am forgiveness" came to mind; it calmed me. At one of my speaking engagements the client did not have the stage set up that allows me to maintain my orientation to the audience as I speak. I avoided frustration when "I am possibilities" popped in my head.
The benefit of establishing the desired habit is that the conduct will become second nature to you, and you will not have to think about it to do it. It will be hard to break your resolution if you are doing what you desire without thinking about it.
Set deadlines. The two greatest enemies that you will have to fight against to keep your new year's resolutions are discouragement and procrastination. If you don't see progress, or if you backslide, you will likely become discouraged and give up your resolution. When you delay in undertaking what you committed to do, putting it off over and over will be easier and easier.
You can be victorious over these two enemies by setting deadlines for your activities. By setting a deadline to get something done, you ensure that it doesn't continually slip to the bottom of your priorities. You can put off studying for an exam only until the day of the exam. You can put off going to the gym forever. You put going to the gym on a par with your exam by setting a deadline.
Equally as important as avoiding procrastination is maintaining the drive and motivation to keep your new year's commitment. One sure way of maintaining drive is having a string of successes. Setting short-term deadline dates gives you the opportunity to celebrate successes.
One reason that people do not keep their new year's resolutions for very long is that a year is a long time. If you fall after only a week, you give up. Your commitment was to not smoke in the year. Once you smoke one cigarette, you have broken the resolution. It is then impossible to "not smoke in 2013." On the other hand, you can start your resolution with not smoking for one day. This is easier to do. The next day, set a new resolution for one day. A series of seven one-day successes will give you the motivation to set your resolution for one week. And then another and another. Pretty soon, you have kept your resolution for a month. Then two months, and so on.
If you break your resolution that is for one day, you can start fresh the next day. If for one week, you can begin again for another week. You don't have to give up for the whole year.
When you have kept your commitment for a significant period of time, say one month, the incentive to keep going becomes stronger. As it is commonly said, "I've come too far to turn back now."
Set limits. What you desire and resolve to do in 2013 can be pushed aside and crowded out of your life by the unending demands for your time, attention, and money. You have to set limits so that what you want stays in the fore and gets the attention you want it to have. Costco will sell you as many chocolate chip cookies as you can buy; you have to limit yourself on how many you buy. The local liquor store will gladly sell you all the alcohol you are willing to pay for; you have to set the limit on what and how much you will drink. The cable television company provides you with hundreds of channels that enable you to sit in front of the television 24 hours a day; you have to limit the time you will spend watching TV. Using the resources available in your local library and on the internet, you could research a topic seemingly forever; you have to determine when research should stop and writing should begin.
An activity need not be a bad or nefarious one. You already know that you should stop those altogether. It is for things or activities that are not harmful in themselves that require your self-imposed limits. It is possible to have too much of a good thing. Too much time sitting at a video game, at the computer, or in front of the TV not only takes time away from exercising at the gym but will also negate the gains you get from going to the gym.
In summary, a resolution is simply a decision or commitment to behave in a certain way or to move in a certain direction. If you don't put action to it, it is just a good idea. If you can't put your heart into it, it will be burdensome. Sooner or later you will relieve yourself of the burden. The resolution will be broken and soon forgotten ... until next year.