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.