I know I’m a minute late for traditional New Year’s Resolutions, but if it’s a good idea on January 1, it’s a good idea on January 19 or March 23 or July 9. It’s a part of that “examined life” I like to talk about.
I kinda have a problem with the word “resolution” anyway. To resolve something is to finish it. If I resolve to stop drinking diet soda, and I slip on January 19 and drink a delicious glass of Diet Dr Pepper, that’s it. I blew it. Drat! Now I have to wait until next January 1 to try again.
I like the word “intention” better. It’s more real, more honest. There are things about myself that I intend to change. If I intend to stop drinking diet cola, and I slip and drink that glass of Diet Dr Pepper on January 19, it’s not the end of the intention. It’s still a good idea, and I can pick right up on January 20 and be back on track for success. Intentions seem a bit gentler and harder to fail at. If I slip again on April 3, it’s an Oops! And I’m back on track on April 4. It’s a net success over the long term.
On December 31, if I’ve slipped fifty times, it’s still a net success, because that means that for 315 days (actually, 316 for this year), I didn’t drink diet cola. Or whatever other change I might be working on.
Humans aren’t really wired for instant change (except for dangerous situations, like touching hot stoves or approaching wild skunks; that’s called one-shot learning). I suspect there are very few of us who can decide to change something and just do it without a bobble. There are some, though. I know an incredibly strong woman who was told in her forties by her doctor, “You can drink, or you can live. You can’t do both.” That lady, now in her early seventies, has never had another drink—or wanted one. She credits her strong faith in God for that success. So I know it can be done, but I am not a person who has personally done it.
I also think it’s important that we not be too harsh with ourselves when we fail to meet our own intentions. We all have negative programming that we’ve absorbed over our lives, from very early childhood on, from parents, siblings, teachers, and the world at large. One of best things I’ve learned in my life is to talk to myself the way I’d talk to my best friend. I’d never say to my Pinky Pal, “You are a miserable failure and you will never get it right!” But I’ve said that to myself on several occasions.
Speak gently to yourself, redirect your intentions, and go back to (mostly) meeting the high standard you’ve set for yourself.
Another thing that seems to set us up for failure is trying to change too many things at once. It just doesn’t work. I can only handle one or two at a time. For several years, I chose one habit a month to work on, and I had some success with that. Then I found a great Udemy course, but I’ve taken several from there and I can’t figure out which one it was in. The instructor has a system that he calls the 13 x 4 plan. You list the thirteen small habits you’d like to change this year and concentrate on each one for one week. When you’ve done all thirteen, start over and do them again. Over the year, you’ll have concentrated on each small habit four times and not died of boredom doing it for a month. Don’t have thirteen things you’d like to change? Only have maybe nine? Stick the hardest ones in twice. Works for me.
The point is to take baby steps and be gentle on yourself. If, at the end of the year, you’ve achieved even one-fourth of what you planned at the beginning, I’d call it a success. After all, these self-improvement ideas are superimposed on an already busy, probably over-committed life. It’s not like we have nothing else to do.
So ponder a bit. What’s worth the effort, in your life, to work on changing? Set yourself an intention. Set it again next week if you have to. And the week after that. Setting an intention shows that you are examining your life and making a conscious decision about how you want to live it. That’s worth doing.
Thanks for Reading,
Oh—a funny story from Teacher Land. A hundred years ago, when I was teaching fourth graders, we were discussing making New Year’s Resolutions. I was encouraging the nine-year-olds to examine their lives and think about what they’d like to change. One little guy said, “I got it. This year I’m gonna be rich. I’m gonna have a new house. I’m gonna have a new bike…” Don’t we wish it worked that way?
Oh—the guys at Udemy don’t know who I am and do not give me money for mentioning their work, but if they’d like to… I’m sure we could work something out.