New Year's Resolutions:
Moving Beyond Hope
With each new year, you're given the gift of a fresh start.
You hope to be better, do better or look better.
The hard part is moving beyond hope to achieve real change.
On a typical new year's eve, we pause as the clock approaches midnight. Sometimes we're celebrating in a loud and crowded room of strangers. Other times, we're alone or in the company of a loved one. Whatever the case, as midnight draws near, we pause to look back at the past year. We think about what we achieved and what we didn't. We contemplate the highs and the lows. And then we instinctively look forward to what we hope for in the new year. We do this almost unconsciously, sometimes in the blink of a moment, and in the midst of celebration.
If you're like most people, you're full of hope today. "THIS is the year I'll finally _____." Fill in the blank. You're eager. You're confident. You're committed. You may even take immediate or bold action as you start the new year. Unfortunately, for most of us the intense commitment we have on January 1st doesn't last. Real life gets in the way. Most resolutions are broken, many even forgotten, before spring arrives. Our hope lives on. Our resolve gets distracted.
It's not really a surprise that resolutions fail. They're usually just... too hard. We tend to think BIG. "I won't do that anymore. I'll do this instead." We have to rely not only on hope, but also on motivation, will power, and resolve. Don't get me wrong. I believe in the power of hope that comes with each new year. I've been both happy and sad looking back on my own track record for resolutions, just like everyone else. What I've decided, though, is not to give up hope, but to move beyond it. Hope isn't enough to bring about positive change.
This year, you can move beyond hope too. Don't just hope you'll be better, do better, or look better. Actually achieve it. How? By going against everything you've ever heard about making new year's resolutions.
How do you move beyond hope... to create real and lasting change in the new year?
We love big resolutions on January 1st. We spend the first few weeks of every year talking with friends, family and co-workers about resolutions. We share our hopes, and we even pretend to believe we'll achieve them. Most of the time we have a pretty good idea we won't achieve our resolutions, but we make them anyway.
I love a big and lofty resolution as much as the next person. The start of a new year is the perfect time to have hope. BIG hope. Hope for all that your heart desires: for yourself, your family, your career, your finances, and your life. Goal-setting experts tell you to focus your intention on what you want, with full confidence that you can have it. I agree. But that's where the agreement ends, especially when it comes to resolutions.
You can certainly follow the so-called expert's advice even further, and develop a very detailed personal plan, with specific actions that move you toward your goal. Having a plan isn't a bad approach. I spend much of my time at work helping other people develop plans. The reality, though, is that most plans aren't followed unless the stakes are really high. When it comes to our resolutions - our personal hopes - even when the stakes are high, we don't usually stick to a plan. It's not because we don't want to. It's just because we're busy and distracted by real life. Our reality takes priority over our hopes.
Here's the thing. New year's resolutions are about change. Change is hard. Big change is overwhelming. If you don't have much going on, you can dig in and manifest all kinds of big changes in your life. The problem is that I don't know anyone that doesn't have a lot going on. If new year's resolutions fail because they're hard, why not just make them easier?
So what's my suggestion for achieving real and lasting change this year? Fair warning: I'm telling you to do the unthinkable. Set aside your big resolutions... and think small. You may achieve even more than you thought possible. Your hopes may just become reality.
The Concept: Do Better Today Than Yesterday
I recognize that telling you to think small may seem ridiculous if you want to achieve big things in your life. Ridiculous or not, I think it's worth trying. First you think big. Then you think small. You may be thinking right now, "But aren't resolutions supposed to be big and hard and life-changing?" No. No. And Yes.
Here's my ridiculous suggestion to achieve real and lasting change this year.
1. Know What You Want To Change.
Think of one or two things you'd like to change in your life. Think as if you're developing a traditional new year's resolution. What do you really hope for in the new year? Maybe it's a new job, more money, more time with your family, a better relationship, or a healthier you. Set your intention to achieve what you want. (That really just means believing that you can and assuming that you will.)
2. Think About What It Will Take To Make That Change.
Now imagine you were developing a plan to achieve what you want. What types of things would you have to do? What are the most important things that would have to happen? Don't write it down. Don't develop a plan. Just think about it, and then set it aside.
3. Do Better Today Than Yesterday.
When you try to make big changes, you probably start strong and lose your resolve over time. A couple of slip ups, and you give up. You may feel like a failure. This year, take a different approach. Don't make sweeping changes that you can't sustain over time. Just do better today than you did yesterday. Take one small and almost irrelevant step toward what you want. Every morning, think of one thing you can do better today than you did yesterday, that moves you closer to what you want.Getting Started
I know it sounds too easy. Too ridiculous. And yet, it isn't. It's been proven that small and simple actions deliver big results over time. If you do better every day, in one very small way, imagine the changes you'll see over the course of a year. It adds up.
If you've ever hiked a mountain, you know that it looks incredibly hard before you start. But if you just take one step and then another, you suddenly turn around to see you're half-way to the top. So it is with achieving what you want in life. Small steps. Big results.
Here are some examples to spark your imagination.
If you want a promotion, you have to stand out somehow. Today, take a few minutes to share something you know with a co-worker. Tomorrow, take a little extra time to improve one thing you deliver at work. The next day, make a point of doing something you know a co-worker will appreciate. The next day, think of a new idea that might help a client. And so on. I promise, it adds up.
If you want to get along better with your boss, it's all about recognizing and delivering on what matters. Today, start by thinking about what matters to your boss. Tomorrow, do something you normally wouldn't, that makes your boss's life easier. The next day, make a point of sharing something that it may help your boss to know. The next day, ask your boss how one of his or her pet projects is going. The next day, say something nice (and true) about your boss to show your support. And so on. Imagine the change that will come with 200+ work days, each with one small effort made.
If you want more quality time with your family, you have to make it happen day by day. Today, wrap up thoughts of your day on the way home, so you can be fully present and less stressed when you get there. Tomorrow, take five minutes when you get home to do nothing but talk with your spouse or child. No multi-tasking. The next day, leave work five minutes earlier or do one less errand on the way home. The next day, tell someone you love something that you love about them. Or thank them for something they do. And so on. The little things matter a lot.
If you want to be healthier or more fit, small choices make a huge difference. Today, make one less trip to your co-worker's jellybean or snickers snack bowl. Tomorrow, take the stairs rather than the elevator. The next day, drink an extra glass of water. The next day, use less butter on your toast or drink less soda. The next day, eat three extra bites of vegetables. The next day, do ten minutes of exercise and no more. And so on. Sometimes small changes "stick" better than big ones when it comes to our health. As the changes add up, your fitness improves.These are just a few examples of how you can achieve positive changes in your life without grandiose plans, by making small changes instead. This works in every area of your life. Bonus? It's so much easier to do.
Making new year's resolutions is part of our culture. Even people who say they don't make resolutions (in some sort of rebellious statement against pop culture) have hope for their lives at the start of each new year.
This year, make your resolutions. Have hope for positive change in your life. Then do something different. Move beyond hope. Avoid trying to introduce drastic and sweeping changes. Don't let yourself take an "all or nothing" stance on your hopes. Take small steps toward a better future. Make small choices every day that support what you want. Be conscious of how the small decisions in your life can have big impact. It seems counter-intuitive at first, but it makes sense as you go along.
Bottom line? Do better today than yesterday. Every day. Move beyond hope... to reality.
On a personal note as I look back on this year, I want to thank you for your support and your encouragement. I appreciate it more than you know. I appreciate too your generosity in sharing this column with your friends, family members, and co-workers. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. I couldn't be more grateful.
I wish you the very best in the new year. Cheers to your success with moving beyond hope, and achieving everything you want for yourself in 2013. One small step at a time.