The New Year is beginning. For some of us, the New Year started on January 1st, for others it starts today with the Chinese (Lunar) New Year (February 3, 2011). It is a time of reflection for many of us, about the year that has closed and about the changes that we want to make in our lives in the coming year. It is a time of opportunity as well, because prospects of facing a new year can provide us with the motivation to mobilize. It gives us the feeling that we can make a fresh start or adjustments to ourselves if we have the desire and will to do so.
How many of you have made up your New Year’s resolutions? Now that we are starting February, how many of those are fading away already? Whether you have already done so or not, I would like to I invite you to take a deeper look as you contemplate the resolutions and the changes that you want to make in the coming year.
Why New Year’s Resolutions Sometimes Fade Away
One most common reasons why New Year’s resolutions get set aside is that the goal you have set is something you feel you “should” do, but in the scheme of things, perhaps it is not truly a priority. While it might have made perfect sense at the time of making the commitment, actions speak louder than words: our actions during the course of the year of will determine whether the goal was really a priority or not....
...Another reason why resolutions are not achieved is that our lives are 200% full of activities, so many busy things that we are unable to create room for the things we feel are truly important to us.
Perhaps you know it is something you really want, but do you catch yourself taking care of other things first? Is it always last on the list? Has it made it into your diary for this week? Next month? And the month after? Just like any other project in our business or home lives, commitment to achieving your new year’s resolution needs to find its way into your normal schedule, or perhaps it will never happen.
Could it be that if you find a reluctance in yourself to commit to the actions required to achieve your goal, that perhaps there is something that seems too difficult or that you are avoiding around that matter?
It could also be that while we have a strong desire to achieve this goal, we get “stuck” somewhere along the line, falling back into old habits, and at that point it is easier to put it off for another day (or year). Whether it is a health-related achievement like weight-loss, or a resolution to improve how you manage conflict in the office or at home, what seems simple and straight-forward can get frustrating during the course of the year.
One last trap: Making resolutions that require someone else to change. Hmm. If you think it’s hard to make changes in yourself, can you imagine how hard it will be to make someone else change?
So What Can You Do About It?
The Big Picture
One thing you can do to check if the resolution you have set is truly important to you is to take a holistic look at your life. Many coaches work with the Wheel of Life, a simple tool is a snapshot your current satisfaction with the various dimensions of your life. The coach can then work with you to identify what it would take to move one of those dimensions from let’s say a satisfaction level of 3 to something more like a 9. Not all dimensions in our life need to be at a 10 right now. What’s important here is to understand what increases your fulfillment and what specific actions can you take to achieve it.
Why look at all the dimensions at the same time? Simple. Think of a time when something at work prevented you from being able to meet a commitment that you made to your partner or your child? (or vice versa!) Another example: are you in the office from 8 am to 10 pm each day, or traveling 180 days out of the year? If you are, when was the last time you spoke to that person you really cherish as a friend (and have been meaning to call for the past year)? As much as we believe that we are well-trained to compartmentalize the different dimensions of our lives, we can readily see that they affect each other all the time. We live our lives as a part of an ecosystem, with the dimensions of our own life and consisting of the people in our lives, our workplace, our environment. Taking a broader view of the Wheel while making resolutions, as well as realizing that our actions have an affect beyond our own lives, may help us approach our goals in a smarter way that can set us up for a better chance of success.
A Change of Perspective
Sometimes we really are too close to our current situation, and it is really difficult to see the forest through the trees. My own personal expression is that we have the bark-mark imprinted on our foreheads from banging our heads into the trees! Fast-forward. If you could interview yourself at the age 95, and the 95 year-old you is reflecting on the things that he/she wanted to do and never did, what would that be? Why don’t you take a look at starting on that now? It’s a question posed in a webinar I attended last year by Marshall Goldsmith, a leading Executive Coach in the USA. By shifting our perspective far ahead and having a candid conversation with the 95 year-old you, sometimes the things that really matter are easier to see.
Breaking it Down
Breaking down the goal into smaller steps can be a useful step in achieving your objective. Small successes can fuel the motivation to keep going towards reaching your objective. It also can help you understand the time and resources that may be required to achieve it. Sound simple? Well, actually it can be.
A Deeper Level of Understanding
The thing that is commonly overlooked may be an assessment on whether or not you have the skills and behaviors to allow you to succeed in making those steps. Sometimes we can cognitively describe skills, traits, and behaviors that are needed, but we are not honest with ourselves on whether or not we can consistently demonstrate them.
Another situation is that we receive feedback from our colleagues, 360 degree surveys, or our friends and family. Actually, oftentimes we have received this feedback repeatedly from multiple sources. Why does it feel so hard to do something about it? There is a quote that I particularly like from Pema Chöndrön:
“The truth you believe and cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything new.”
- Pema Chöndron, a Western Buddhist Nun, Professor and Author
A coach can work with you to help you identify and focus on the behaviors you may need to adopt (or drop) to help you make the changes you desire. Behavioral change often occurs through awareness of the underlying beliefs that are driving these behaviors. Sometimes these beliefs can be out-dated scripts that were once very useful to you, but perhaps could use a re-write at this point in your life. Sometimes you just don’t really believe or accept the feedback, thinking that you cannot possibly have made it this far if those things they said about you are really true. With the clarity and awareness of what is driving our behavior, changes are not as difficult as they might seem when you start down this journey. Sometimes it is about letting go of the things that no longer serve us very well at this point in our life.
You Can’t Change Other People
Check your resolutions to see if they state of the actions you will take or the behaviors you will exhibit. You, not someone else. Decide actions for yourself, without making resolutions that rely on someone else to change. When you catch yourself including how other people will behave in your resolutions, just erase those lines. You can change your own actions that may in turn have some effect on how others interact with you. But, there is no guarantee. Hoping for more will probably not make your resolution more likely to succeed.
Writing Down Your New Year’s Resolutions
Just like setting goals, take a look at the language that you use to write down your resolution(s). Write yourself an affirmation of the things you will do, and by when. Use the active voice wherever you can. Avoid using phrases like “hope to” or “try to” or the passive voice – this is almost like building a disclaimer into your resolution that it may not actually happen or that you don’t really own this action. Be descriptive and use positive terms – What are the types you will be doing or saying? (rather than what you won’t be doing or saying). Describing a goal as an emotion is tricky, so aim for a specific behavior that you exhibit when you are feeling that emotion instead. Also, it helps to spend some time now to think of how you will measure success, and also the resources you will need to get there.
Don’t Be Afraid to Adjust Your Plan
During the course of the year, take stock of where you are at relative to your resolutions. Perhaps you can put a reminder in your diary now at set intervals to check in on yourself. If things are not moving as you thought, you have a chance to take a new course of action to help you get there, even if in a different way or time.
What Else Might be Missing Here?
If you look at your resolutions, are they all focused on things that you want to get done? Have you taken a look at who you are as a person, and how do you want to be? Something I was reading over the holidays really made me think about this. I read an interesting concept in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche (which actually speaks about living your life) that I would like to share with you. He speaks of the Buddhist concept of impermanence, and uses this quote to bring about his point:
“This existence of ours is as transient as autumn clouds. To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movements of a dance. A lifetime is like a flash of lightning in the sky. Rushing by, like a torrent down a steep mountain.” - Buddha
Is there anything in your resolutions to contemplate what you may leave behind when you are gone? Have you contemplated what can give you fulfillment in your life or how you can leave something to other people in our lives long after the goals that seem so important to you today no longer matter?
Sogyal Rinpoche also speaks about people passing through the stage of death having a panoramic life review, often not only re-living their own lives, but also feeling and experiencing their actions through the persons they have affected during their lifetime. Interestingly enough, this concept has also been echoed in the research of near-death-experiences (regardless of their spiritual or religious beliefs). These cases show a common thread, where the person views their life not as a movie, but re-lives it; not only as themselves but also becoming everyone that they came into contact with in their life: feeling their emotions, thinking their thoughts, living their experiences as a result of even the smallest actions that seemed inconsequential. It makes me think oft he quote I have used by Leo Buscaglia:
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” - Leo Buscaglia, Author, Professor and Motivational Speaker
So whether it is from Buddha, Mother Theresa, Leo Buscaglia or from watching the news unfolding each day, there is something there about compassion. Not just feeling sorrow or pity for someone else, but actively doing something to make a difference in other people’s lives, whether it is someone you know, whether it is a stranger you meet, or a cause that you feel passionate about.
What Does This All Mean?
Well, in the end, it all comes down to choices. We have the ability and the power to do things to change our lives. We can learn from the things that have occurred in the past, and reflection can help us see ourselves more clearly. Regrets don’t usually serve us well, as that often leads to beating ourselves up which can in turn decrease our motivation further. By taking a look at the New Year as an opportunity to do something going forward, we can make progress.
“The best day of your life is the one on which you decide your life is your own. No apologies or excuses. No one to lean on, rely on, or blame. The gift is yours – it is an amazing journey – and you alone are responsible for the quality of it. This is the day your life really begins.” - Bob Moawad, American Author
I hope some of the thoughts I have shared above may help you as you embark on your journey for 2011. And for those of you who follow it, it is the year of the Rabbit in the Chinese calendar. Happy New Year!