So. Do you make New Years resolutions? Or are you among the vast, world-weary crowd that considers them useless at best and possibly even an act of self-defeating folly? (“If I write down my intention to lose 20 pounds, I’ll hate myself and maybe even commit seppuku the first time I give in to a Krispy Kreme!”)
And if you do ponder and put pen (or electrons) to resolutions … what are the chances of you making progress toward keeping them?
I don’t say, “What are the chances of you keeping them?” because I suspect it really is self-defeating folly to hold ourselves to every resolve. It’s the progress part that’s most interesting.
I confess. I’m a resolution maker. And like most everybody else, not so great a resolution keeper. But years ago, I got a pretty good eye opening on the progress aspect of resolutions.
When I was young, I was shy, tongue-tied, and inarticulate. Year after year, one of my resolutions would be, “Become more articulate.”
Bad resolution. It doesn’t give any “how.” Doesn’t set any measurable goals. No milestones. Clearly a resolution doomed to failure.
Eventually, I quit resolving stuff like that — or resolving anything, for that matter because it all seemed so useless (anyhow, I was going through my Very Sophisticated period, and Very Sophisticated people don’t do anything as corny as make resolutions). Then about five years later, while throwing out old paperwork, I ran across one of those resolution lists — and realized that not only had I become more articulate; I had also achieved nearly every other long-term goal on the list. Or had at least moved in the desired direction.
Now maybe I just became more articulate because I matured. That’s part of it. But as I looked at that tattered list of wishes-mostly-come-true, I realized that, by writing them down and putting them into my own head, even if I didn’t thereafter pay conscious attention, I had gradually moved my life toward where I wanted it to be.
I expect a lot of people here get that. Maybe you want to move to an off-grid homestead, for instance. But that looks impossible from where you are right now. The money’s not there. The spouse doesn’t want to go. Your job keeps you in the city. Your health has gone way south on you (as happened to one comment-section regular), etc., etc. The prospects look dim.
But simply by keeping the goal somewhere within, you end up gradually sliding in your dream direction despite the odds — sometimes making choices that you’re unaware carry you toward the goal. A job comes up and you take it on its merits, not fully considering that it puts you near a place where real estate is more affordable. You get a divorce, and once the emotional chaos has washed over you, you realize it leaves you free to make new choices. And maybe the resulting lack of money even helps teach you needed saving and scrounging skills. Who knows? The challenges you have have to meet due to your bad health make you a stronger, more determined, maybe even more confident, person because you know you can overcome obstacles. Or maybe bad health helps you realize you need to re-scale your goal to something more attainable. A little money comes your way and instead of blowing it on a new car, as you might have in the past, you invest in preparedness. Or land. Or how-to books. And on it goes until one day you find yourself standing right next to your “impossible” goal.
Actions, decisions, and opportunities that might have seemed random turn out to have been almost frighteningly purposeful.
Call it kismet. Call it your unconscious mind at work. Call it God’s guidance. Call it what you will. But writing down the goals and writing them down again and revisiting and refining them really does make a difference in getting you where you want to go — even if it takes a long time and the path takes some pretty strange twists.
Here’s the opening of an article called “Two Tools Critical For Success in All Areas of Life”:
I am about to give you the two most critical tools ever created to help you achieve the life you always wanted. Whether it be financial stability, happiness in your relationships, weight control, goal achievement, you name it, these two tools are the key. These tools won’t cost you a thing and chances are that you have lots of them lying around the house in most of your drawers. You use both of them every day and yet don’t understand they make the difference in success and failure in almost every situation. I even hesitate to mention because I know the minute I do, most of you will say something like “Oh my God, he’s got to be kidding me! How ridiculous!” Okay, enough . . . here you go!
The two critical tools for success in all areas of life: pen and paper.
I know, I know. You already groaned. You think I am being overly dramatic. That’s fine with me, let’s compare results and then you can decide.
The fact is that only about three percent of people have written down goals for their lives. I didn’t say that only three percent have goals, just that only three percent bothered to write them down. Most studies tell us that the three percent with written goals achieve more than the other ninety-seven percent combined. That alone is a pretty strong testament to writing things down. But let’s keep going.
While I wish he’d linked to some of those studies, I’ve seen ’em, too, and I believe it. I’ve lived with the strangely logical magical powers of writing since I got my first diary for my 11th birthday.
The conclusion of that article is pretty good, also: it’s not what you get, but what you give up that moves you in the right direction. Interesting thought.
Larry Winget, the author of “Two Tools,” also has a take on how to make New Year’s resolutions stick. It also starts with giving up — or rather letting go — letting go of past failures, letting go of the anxiety over not meeting our expectations for ourselves, letting go of all the things we failed to do and just getting on with getting on.
Kind of reminded me of what every teacher of meditation always says: When your mind wanders, as it will, don’t beat yourself up. Just breathe, refocus, and return your consciousness to its center. Easier said than done. But worth doing.
Winget’s take on resolutions is worth a read. And in fact is so good that I should probably just shut up here and let him have the floor. Before I do, though (yeah, I’m a writer; you can’t shut us up that easily), I want to agree but disagree with one point. His fifth tip for keeping resolutions is:
5. Keep your goals to yourself. Don’t share them with anyone. And don’t say, “He’s my buddy, I can tell him.” No. Or “She’s my wife, she will support me!” Don’t count on it! If you are a couple, set goals together but keep your personal goals to yourself. Even your most trusted confidants keep you from achieving your goals by shaking your confidence with just one negative word.
I agree with not telling anybody, though for slightly different reasons. Any smart writer knows that if she talks too much about “brilliant new ideas” before actually working on them — they die. The talk becomes a substitute for doing. The fresh new idea gets old from repetition. And pretty soon … bleah. (It’s a sure bet that if you ever meet a guy at a party who tells you all about the novel he’s writing, he’ll never finish it.) Same with your best resolutions, I suspect. I don’t think it’s your friends who are likely to torpedo your intentions with negativity (though if you have those kinds of friends, you might cultivate some different ones). I think we torpedo our own intentions by going on about them more than acting on them. By announcing them, we set ourselves up for failure.
That said, this year I’ve made some specific resolutions and I am going to tell one friend about the biggest of them. Because it turns out she and I both have resolutions that will benefit by having a support group. So we’re meeting this Friday to go over those particular aims, those self-promises. Then in the new year, she can call me up when she’s facing her temptations and I can talk to her when I’m having trouble with mine and we can remind each other why it’s worth persevering. Or how to get back on track if we’ve “fallen off the resolutions wagon.”
Sort of a Resolutions Anonymous.
And in the long run, if we do it right — a slow, rolling revolution in the course our lives take.