New Year’s Resolutions: Friend or Foe?

When I was a child, we had a family friend who we would often visit on Saturdays. They had a wonderful big old house, and being scholarly types, had bookshelves full of books. There weren’t many there that were kid friendly, but one day I came upon a hardbound collection of Wonder Woman comics. I would spend hours poring over the stories of this amazing and heroic woman. In later years, when Lynda Carter starred as Wonder Woman in a TV series, I felt like I knew her personally.

Wonder Woman had many special powers, including being “as beautiful as Aphrodite, strong as Hercules, wise as Athena, and swift as Mercury,” but the one that I remember most was her ability to ward off bullets using steel bands on her wrists. No matter the speed with which they flew toward her, she was able to divert them in midair (this was a skill that she later used to her advantage once she came to America and needed a way to earn money, as she would star in Las Vegas type shows.)

I sometimes think of Wonder Woman and her particularly impressive steel bands when life is throwing “bullets” my way. I imagine myself standing firm in front of the onslaught and flinging the obstacles aside with ease as she did. The only thing is, while I’m busy dodging the bullets of life, I never seem to make any progress on the goals that are important to me. So when I am coaching others about achieving their goals and visions, I use this quote as a basis for discussion (origin unknown):

“If we do not take specific action towards our goals we will simply be managing what life presents to us.”

Around the beginning of the year people feel a renewed commitment towards their goals because it feels like a fresh start. We are encouraged by the media and our peers to let go of the old and embrace the new with verve and commitment by making New Year’s Resolutions. This is why if you’re a regular at a gym you know that there is never any equipment available from January 1 through mid-February – everyone is working on their new commitment to get healthy. However, by around April, the gym is back to normal, with the regulars making the rounds. Knowing this historical context of goal setting and goal abandonment, why bother to make resolutions at all?

Let’s take a look, first of all, at why New Year’s Resolutions so often fail.

  • Fixing what is historically wrong with you rather than declaring from your vision. The example I always use is when people want to lose weight. Deciding that there is something wrong with you (“I’m fat”) may compel you to action now, but it will be temporary because you are basing your motivation on feeling bad. If you don’t see results, you continue the negative conversation about yourself that not only are you fat, but you are lazy, incompetent, etc. That pint of chocolate ice cream is sure looking attractive right about now.

    Declaring from your vision means painting a picture for yourself of what you will look like when you achieve your goal and START BEING THAT NOW. Instead of “losing weight,” decide to “be healthy.” Your actions will follow suit as you will take the actions of a healthy person. Your motivation is not based on your results but rather on your vision. When the results come you can use them as evidence to continue on the same path or make alterations as needed.

  • Trying to accomplish some THING instead of creating some EXPERIENCE. For the first couple of years after my daughter started school, the mornings in our house were very difficult. Invariably it would end with a meltdown or argument. Often I was brought to tears and began dreading getting up each day. Not only was it a daily wear and tear on our lives, but it was beginning to seriously affect our relationship as a mother and daughter. I kept thinking that if I got up earlier or prepared better in the night that it would go more smoothly. Nothing seemed to help. Finally I came to the core of what I wanted: stress-free, easy mornings where we enjoy being together. The very first thing I did was to work on controlling my own emotions and reactions when she had her meltdowns. Yes, I did many “doing” things to make things easier such as buying seamless socks and dressing her at night. But it was my commitment to our relationship and enjoying that time together that really made the shift.
  • Things take the time they take. Resolutions often fail because people are expecting instantaneous results, and when they don’t get them, they give up. Don’t discount small progress as not being good enough. It took my family over a year to get to the point where our mornings went smoothly, and we still have the occasional breakdown. Instead of discounting the work we’ve done, I treat it more like a wakeup call to give our relationship the focus it deserves.

OK, so if that is what NOT to do, what SHOULD you do to support the creation of empowering goals with sustainable results? Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Is this goal authentic to you? Will it make you happy? Or will it make someone else happy? One man I coached spent 8 years studying for and taking (and failing) the CPA exam. When we got to the core of why he kept setting this same goal, he said that his mother wanted him to be a CPA, but he didn’t.
  • Is your goal “doing” based or “being” based? I adapted this quote from an ad I saw online: “To achieve something that you have never achieved, you must be something that you have never been.” First, set the goal as you usually would. Then, ask yourself, “What is the experience I want to create or would expect as a result of this goal?” Creating that experience is what will keep you motivated.
  • Did you set yourself up to win? Challenge yourself but don’t set goals that you know aren’t achievable (such as declaring to lose 30 lbs. in a month) or can’t be sustained. You will get more confidence with the positive attitude you experience when winning.

Effective goal setting will get you on your way. However, three to six months down the line, you may find yourself faltering. I’ve found these tips to be helpful in keeping me focused:

  • Make what you want to create a priority. There are ample ways to get distracted. Are you doing something right now that is a) more important or b) less important? (see my previous blog on procrastination.)
  • Trust the Universe. Remember that what you want is already on its way to you. Find things right; what’s happening is for your good, even if it doesn’t feel good. This means to accept the situation of the way it currently is, and couple that with a powerful commitment to alter it. As I once heard it, “I am in my right place, going to my true place.”
  • Things take the time that they take. The mind can conceive of something faster than the universe can provide it or you can create it. Patience and enjoying the journey is the key. Don’t underestimate small changes. You can have the experience you’re looking for NOW before you have the thing you want.
  • Discouragement is understandable when you have breakdowns. You will have a breakdown as soon as you commit to something, because you don’t have it yet! It doesn’t mean that things are going wrong. Continue to focus on what is working, and reconnect with your vision when needed. How would you be operating if you knew it was guaranteed that you’d have your vision?

I imagine Wonder Woman still out there in the world, standing up for what she believes in and never giving up. Her willingness to take risks even in the face of adversity can be an example for us all.


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