A Better New Year’s Resolution
I wrote a good blog post at this time five years ago, and haven’t improved on it yet. Here it is again.
Happy New Year.
My unscientific sampling says many people make New Years resolutions, but few follow through. Net result—unhappiness.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
You could, of course, just try harder, stiffen your resolve, etc. But you’ve been there, tried that.
You could also ditch the whole idea and just stop making resolutions. Avoid goal-failure by eliminating goal-setting. Effective, but at the cost of giving up on aspirations.
I heard another idea: replace the New Year’s Resolution List with a New Year’s Gratitude List. Here’s why it makes sense.
First, most resolutions are about self-improvement—this year I resolve to: quit smoking, lose weight, cut the gossip, drink less, exercise more, and so on.
All those resolutions are rooted in a dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs—or with oneself.
In other words: resolutions often have a component of dissatisfaction with self. For many, it isn’t just dissatisfaction—it’s self-hatred. And the stronger the loathing of self, the stronger the resolutions—and the more they hurt when they go unfulfilled. It can be a very vicious circle.
Second, happy people do better. This has some verification in science, and it’s a common point of view in religion and psychology—and in common sense.
People who are slightly optimistic do better in life. People who are happy are more attractive to other people. In a very real sense, you empower what you fear—and attract what you put out.
Ergo, replace resolutions with gratitude. The best way to improve oneself is paradoxical—start by being grateful for what you already have. That turns your aspirations from negative (fixing a bad situation) to positive (making a fine situation even better).
Gratitude forces our attention outwards, to others—a common recommendation of almost all spiritual programs.
Finally, gratitude calms us. We worry less. We don’t obsess. We attract others by our calm, which makes our lives connected and meaningful. And before long, we tend to smoke less, drink less, exercise more, gossip less, and so on. Which of course is what we thought we wanted in the first place.
But the real truth is—it wasn’t the resolutions we wanted in the first place. It was the peace that comes with gratitude. We mistook cause for effect.
Go for an attitude of gratitude. The rest are positive side-effects.
I definately like the idea of focusing on what’s good about oneself. Accepting we are good at some things and less good at others is mature self assessment. In a lifetime in big corperates, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told of my “development areas” and the subsequent “training” I would need to address them. Corporate HR always seemed to want me to be working on weaknesses and not excelling at my strengths. I always preferred to see myself as a specialist – outstanding at a few things rather than a generalist – and not particularly good at anything. (Funnily enough I always noticed when things got really tough, the specialists were retained and the generalists were let go.) I’m a great believer in understanding what you are “good” at and moving that upward to “outstandingly good”.
The key to change is the process. If you must make resolutions, make them around a plan to improve – and that means practice. If there is one thing a musician could teach a business person, it would be about practice. A musician would expect to go through a three minute song at least a hundred time before it was polished.
Musicians don’t see a piece as difficult when they start practice – they see it as unfamiliar; so we could allow ourselves to see a new business chanllenge as unfamiliar, rather than difficult. That a new business task needs practice to perfect it, we need to give it the repetition it deserves. That means practicing that three minute speech for 100 x 3 minutes = 5 hours before its really good. Like a musician, you’ll get better if you make a resolution to commit to practice. It’s not difficult – it’s unfamiliar.
Chris, I always love the perspective you give looking through the musician’s lens. So helpful. Happy new year!