As we gather with friends and family, raise glasses in toasts, and sing Auld Lang Syne, many of us are likely to pursue another year end ritual – the New Year's resolution. Without a doubt, many of us have great plans for 2017, and we'll begin the year resolutely intending to follow through.
Okay, you probably know where this is going. Unfortunately, if it's like the typical New Year's resolution, that will be "nowhere". I've seen reports that no more than 8% of New Year's resolutions are ever kept, meaning more than 9 in 10 get absolutely nowhere. Well, actually, that isn't always true, for many broken New Year's resolutions complete their journeys at a place called "Disappointment and Frustration".
As you might expect, I have a different, and possibly unexpected perspective on this subject. Recently I saw a great posting by a fellow named Ben Hardy. Ben told his readers they shouldn't be making resolutions for 2017, they should be for 2018, maybe beyond. You can read what Ben has to say at https://medium.com/the-mission/why-you-should-be-planning-for-2018-not-2017-7c8fea3e2e52?inf_contact_key=731fa0711f8dd6b9946eed9fba12b245192ace21e19a34469eff7458a4705271#.sldvofl2k.
I think Ben is right, but his timeframe maybe even a little to short: planning a year out may simply be too brief a time horizon. Huh?
Seriously, your planning horizon for your New Year's resolution should probably be much more than one or two years out. This is because, like Ben Hardy, I think your plans for New Year's resolutions should actually be based upon life goals – things you want to make sure you achieve sometime in your life. Hardy provides some excellent examples, one being the Harry Potter series author, J.K. Rowling, and Star Wars creator, George Lucas. In the case of Rowling, it was to write about seven years at Hogwarts School, not simply a single story. In the case of Lucas, it was to start with a plan for six films in series, and start the story at episode four.
Unlike J.K. Rowling or George Lucas, you don't need to plan for a multi-volume book series, or multi-movie project spanning 15 or more years. But what Hardy is proposing is something all of us can do.
Stephen Covey, the renowned author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, as well as numerous other books, said the first habit we should all develop is to "Begin With the End in Mind." Covey wasn't just being figurative in his phrasing, he actually said you should think about what you might want someone to say at your eulogy. Of course, the purpose of a eulogy is to help the living to remember to deceased. Covey's point was simply this: if you want to be remembered for something, you ought to make sure you're taking steps to be that person, or to act like that person. So ask yourself, are you the person you want to be remembered in that way in the eulogy? For pretty much all of us, the answer isn't just "no", it's a "resounding no"!
So for Covey, and others like him, the starting point is either what you might want someone to say during your eulogy, or some specific lifetime goals. A number of people have created what's called a "Bucket List". Usually, it's a set of things they want to accomplish before they die. Quite often, however, the proverbial bucket list is not quite the same as Covey's eulogy. After all, do you want your eulogist to recite what you checked off your bucket list? One of my personal bucket list items is to attend a game at every one of the 30 Major League Baseball parks around the country. I'm about half way to the goal, and I have a very good chance of accomplishing the goal, but I rather doubt I want my future eulogist to remember me for accomplishing the goal if I do!
But here's one I really do hope the eulogist can mention. One of my lifetime goals is to gather on the 6th of June in 2046 with my wife, Lina, and our family and friends so Lina and I can celebrate our 65th wedding anniversary. I've read that only about 1% of marriages ever make it 65 years. God willing, that's the one percent of which I wish to be part. Of course, getting to that day will require a number of things: a) we both have to live until then (we'll be in our 90's); b) we'll have to stay married; and c) happily at that if there is to be any sort of celebration.
This, obviously, isn't a whimsical goal. In my mind, it's very worthwhile, but it will take a lot of concerted effort. Which brings me back to those New Year's resolutions. The point that Ben Hardy, Stephen Covey, and I are making is that the perspective of the resolution is not so much "from today forward", it's "from the goal back to today". Thus, before making any type of resolution, one should ask oneself, what's truly important to me; what could I work on that might really make a difference to me, and the people about whom I care? Don't even think about a resolution, or trying to make some type of change, until you answer that type of question. In other words, don't focus your improvement efforts from the perspective of where you stand today, focus them from where you want to be at a future point, then work backwards.
Anyone who has ever undertaken a "change program", or tried to improve himself/herself, knows how tough it can be, especially about a month or two into the program. Someone once described it as the "drying out" period: your initial surge of enthusiasm has ended, now all you can look at is a tough road. No wonder most New Year's resolutions never see a page of the February calendar. The reversed perspective, I believe, is key. Instead of looking forward, focus on the real goal, and what the real goal will mean, then work backwards to determine what you need to be doing today to help get there.
Here's a simple example. Lots of people make a New Year's resolution to quit smoking. It's a tough thing to accomplish, particularly because tobacco is highly addictive. Of course, it can definitely be done, as millions have successfully quit smoking. I'm fond of telling people that if they'll quit smoking the day their child, or grandchild, is born, and if they'll just put the money they spent on smoking in the bank, they'll end up with a lot of money. How much? Well, if the smoker has a pack a day habit and quits the day his child or her grandchild is born, and deposits the money for one pack each day in the bank, by the time the child graduates from high school, the bank account should have over $ 40,000! That's enough to give that child a quality four year education at a public university. Is the thought of providing your child or grandchild a college education motivating? Could it help get you through the "dog days" of withdrawal? The image of your child or grandchild standing on stage, receiving the diploma that your action made possible, should be highly motivating!
Now you might need an intermediate goal, too. The intermediate goal should be something related to your real goal, but something to achieve this calendar year. In other words, if your real goal is a long ways way, say 31 years from now like mine is, you need an intermediate goal, probably 31 December 2017. You might break that down even further. Once you have that December, 2017 goal, you're ready to make your New Year's resolution. Actually, it won't really be a resolution, it will be your New Year's plan to achieve your 2017 goal, which will bring you one step closer to your real goal.
Of course, this is truly all easier said that done. But if you don't ever take the time to stop and think it through, you're likely never to get to another destination than "Disappointment and Frustration." Once you get there, your frustration will be magnified as the turnstiles are backed up because the station is incredibly crowded!
So instead of making a resolution this New Year's, don't plan anything until you've taken time to think more deeply about this, particularly by looking at what's really important to you, then working backwards. Take the unexpected perspective.
Now, back to your celebration! May the year 2017 bring you and your loved ones many blessings and much happiness.