finding resolve

January’s almost over and I’m still hearing people talk about New Year’s resolutions. This comes up every year, of course, but I’ve been finding the discussion particularly wearisome lately, mainly because of the attitude that usually comes along with it. You’ve come across it yourself, I’m sure: a kind of hopeless certainty that all the goals and good intentions are destined to end in early failure, the assumption that life this year will continue on pretty much the same trajectory as the last one, the acceptance that next January we’ll be dragging ourselves once again through the same pointless process, with the same wishlist of life improvements and the same vaporous results.

I witnessed a perfect example of this kind of cynicism recently, when a man announced to a group of his neighbors that he’d already failed to keep his resolution for the year by drinking a Coke the previous morning. This announcement came on 2 January; it was just a few hours into 2011, and he’d already given up on a change he felt he should be making in his life. We all laughed, of course; New Year’s resolutions are a joke so well-known that we didn’t even need to hear the punchline before we were laughing. I’ve been thinking it over an awful lot since then, though, and it actually does’t seem that funny anymore.

The whole goal-setting exercise actually starts to look quite sadistic when all it consists of is a systematic acknowledgement of your personal weaknesses in habit and personality, without any real intention or expectation of seeing a change for good in any of them. How can this be healthy? If I were to resolve on anything for 2011 and beyond, it would be to have nothing at all to do with this sort of attitude. I’m done wallowing in past disappointments, done refining my expectations of failure. And I won’t allow myself to wait another whole year before my next attempt to become a better person. As I’ve been reminded this morning, each day is a new day; we are always riding the breaking wave of a new beginning.

One thing I tried a couple of years back was to set a series of shorter-term resolutions rather than trying to commit to a full year on any one goal. Most of these lasted somewhere between 4 and 6 weeks, enough to stretch myself and hopefully develop some good habits. This system actually worked pretty well for me, and I’m thinking it might be a good thing to start up again.

What successes have you had setting goals, though? What contributed to your success? There are plenty of good ideas out there on how to make and keep goals effectively, but I’d be interested in hearing about what has worked in your own experience.

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9 responses to “finding resolve

  1. Oh New Years resolutions…. I feel quite similar. I’ve always been a list oriented person but when I stack so many goals on top of each other I lose momentum and always end up just disappointed. If you ever find a system that works let me know. I’ve been doing just little tiny ones and usually on my birthday instead. Things that I can feasibly do within a year that have some grounding.

  2. I find resolutions to not do things are easier to keep; i.e., resolutions to stop bad behaviors are a lot easier to implement than resolutions to start good ones. Of course, you need the good ones too, or the bad creeps back in…
    I like your idea of short term goals, though. Also, I think resolutions are just that: resolutions, not laws. Statements of intent, not checklists requiring perfections. So if I were to drink a Coke, that would be a setback, but not one to make me chuck out the whole resolution; I probably shouldn’t set “perfection in this thing goals” until I’m already really good at them. That said, I probably should take my own advice more seriously; I’ve almost scrapped my writing goals for the year, and we’re not even a month in.

    • I had to catch myself on this one … my instinct was to respond with a sarcastic comment about writing goals not counting because in my experience I’ve never been able to keep them. But of course they count and I’ve enjoyed being able to work on my own writing even when I wasn’t hitting my daily or weekly goals right on.

      Best of luck with your current goals, and in finding ways to keep yourself writing!

  3. My goals usually have nothing to do with the new year. At least, not in the “New Years’ Resolution” sort of way. Instead, I’ve identified at least three times throughout each year when I naturally feel re-energized and ready to re-examine goals that are often in the back of my mind. January happens to be one of those times, but it feels no more magical than the others.

    Whenever something about my life starts to feel easier, it gives me energy. I just harness that energy to fill the “easy” times with something that will improve me. When that energy runs out or life starts to get hectic again, I don’t sweat it. I know there will be another time soon enough when I feel ready to jump back in. The hope in all of this is that each time I start to wane from my self-improvement, I don’t wane as much as the last time. I think that’s the real test, anyway. Who am I when things get hard?

    Mostly, though, I know if I try to take myself and my goals too seriously, the fall short sooner and harder than if I just aim to improve when it feels better to improve. I know myself. I trust that I would not satisfied to squander my time and self away to things I don’t find valuable. Because I trust this, I can be more patient with myself. And I remember every goal is part of the bigger process to live in way that I would feel comfortable with the Savior at my side. Each goal is not an end in itself. It’s just part of the process.

  4. I feel that, to use your example, drinking a coke is not the breaking of the resolution, the declaration that it’s all over because of the one coke is the breaking point. How many people can quit smoking cold turkey and seriously be successful? I made goals at the beginning of the year, and I’ve made poor choices regarding those goals, but I don’t count them as broken necessarily. In fact, over all I’ve made improvements because I keep trying. Isn’t that the point?
    To me, setting resolutions or goals are a way of repenting. You are changing your course to a better one. I really like how Becca said it- I don’t wane as much as the last time. It’s all part of the process.

  5. I like the idea of doing smaller goals. In fact, sometimes I want to do “happy” goals instead of “change your life” goals. Last year I had a list of 30 things to do while I was 30. It was going hiking, taking hula classes, meeting my new niece, etc. I totally loved it when I finished all 30 “goals”. Now I have 31 to do this year. The only thing is that I hope that by focusing more on things I want to do I will make more positive changes. I guess that is my overall resolution.

    • I like the idea of “happy goals.” Especially something along the lines of taking hula lessons . . . that’s definitely something fun (for some people, anyway, I imagine) and not too weighty, but I think that kind of thing will still have a positive life impact beyond just entertainment. Spending bits of my year developing different skills and interests, or even working on personal projects (organizing my India pictures), outside my normal work and responsibilities sounds like a pleasant way to live.

  6. You guys are great; I love you all :)

    I absolutely agree that a “no-forgiveness” approach is an obvious dead end in most cases, but that seems to be the system we usually expect to hold ourselves to.

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