The launch of another year (where does the time go?) typically triggers columns about a resolution to start doing something good for us or to stop doing something bad for us.
According to Wikipedia, the origin of New Years resolutions goes back as early as the ancient Babylonians when, at the start of each year, they made promises to their gods to return borrowed objects and pay debts. Later Medieval knights used the season to re-commit to a life of chivalry. In more recent times the concept of sacrifice (the Catholic season of Lent) or seeking forgiveness (the Jewish Day of Atonement) were markers to set the stage for us to use a specific calendar date to commit to self-improvement
When I was in the business of coaching, my January calendar filled with clients who wanted to improve their physical and/or mental well being, to become more organized, to reduce stress, improve relationships and plan for their future. Counseling psychology dictated that changing direction included helping a client realize that change is more successful when past successes and failures can be examined. My colleagues and I agreed that most clients were reluctant to talk about their past—usually because it included failure to reach a goal they still wanted to achieve. I'd hear, "I can't change the past," or "that was then, this is now" and other somewhat trite responses to questions about where they were coming from. Most expressed a reluctance to believe that resolution attainment required reflection about of the goodbyes in life as much as it was about new beginnings. The end of bad and good things in life can be a such a downer that many people often go to great lengths to avoid bringing closure to situations that enable us to move on.
Change, including a New Years resolution, often triggers a free-floating anxiety that makes it easier to skip over life goodbyes. It wasn't until I read Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart that I got it. Chodron wrote, "change is the only thing we can count on," and "to be fully alive is to be repeatedly thrown out of the nest." Resolutions are, in my opinion, conscious and/or unconscious efforts to throw ourselves out of our nest-our comfort zone. That often leads to a rocky rate of follow-through. I once heard someone say "A New Years resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other." Indeed, the problem with resolutions is that they can be meaningful, but with a focus on the desired change instead of looking at the big picture that includes your past plus looking at life in the "now," they can be doomed to failure because even the worst of times can prepare us for the best.
So, where does this esoteric discourse lead us?
If you want to be successful, you need a written SMART plan. The SMART acronym works this way:
S = Specific. A goal must be specific so you know you have achieved it. "I want to be healthy" is not clear. Instead consider, "I will park my car farther from the door to the grocery store to increase my physical activity".
M = Measurable. How will you know when you have reached your goal? What will success look like? A MEASURABLE goal might read, "I've reviewed past successes and failure and have a map with milestones to assess my project." For example, I commit to activities that will support a loss of ten pounds of fat in two months.
A = Action Oriented. You need to take ACTIONS that will move you daily toward your goals. Your action plan should include writing down three things you will start, stop or keep doing to reach your goal.
R = Realistic. Goals must be REALISTIC and attainable. Regardless of the urgency it would be unrealistic to plan to drive from Phoenix to Minnesota in one day. Put your goals in the framework of the needs of your limitations. Consider the resources and constraints relative to your situation.
T = Timely. It takes TIME to create new habits. Is the New Year the best time to adopt this resolution? Will you have time to fulfill your goal? Is this a good time to make change? How have past efforts been sabotaged by being untimely? Is your current life stable enough to support making SMART change?
Having created this written plan you are poised for success if you do one more thing. Take out another piece of paper. Draw a vertical line down the page and list the supporters and saboteurs that can affect your goal. Consider that a friend or spouse might be a saboteur if your SMART goal interferes with their life plan. On the other hand, someone you barely know may become one of your most fervent supporters. Ask these potential supporters if they're willing to be on your team. Put phone numbers and Email addresses by these folks so they can be there for you in a moment's notice.
I recently read a research paper that included the resolutions practiced by extraordinary people over the age of 100 who had defied a genetic predisposition to a short lifespan. They included:
Each of us had gains and losses in 2013. Here’s to greeting 2014 with the resolve (and resolutions) that allow us to meet the gifts and challenges that are headed our way.
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