Don’t make New Year’s Resolutions

New Year's Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions. Promises quickly made and easily forgotten. Here’s a new way to think about your goals for the New Year.

The word “resolution” is problematic. It assumes completion, an iron resolve to achieve, perhaps even overconfidence that something as complicated as change might be as easy as writing down what you intend to do.

If you feel compelled to create a list of New Year’s Resolutions, let’s break down how lasting change actually happens.

Every action begins with Intention.

We create that new reality we hope to manifest in our brain. Anthon St. Maarten, Author of Divine Living, writes, “There is no limitation on what you can potentially achieve, except for the limitation you choose to impose on your own imagination.” People who stop at that point are called dreamers. Intention is taking the next step; deciding to put an idea into action.

I vividly remember the turning point, early in my relationship with my future wife, when Colleen pointed out what these feelings were that we were experiencing together. “This is love, baby. You know that, don’t you? So what are your intentions?”

Infatuation leaps into bloom and just as quickly, like shiny New Year’s Resolutions, can fade when the imperfections both parties bring to the relationship become apparent. True love sneaks up on you. It’s built on the basis of friendship that grows into something deeper. You realize the issues that each individual brings to the table and make the conscious decision to create a committed partnership anyway, taking the risk that the two ever growing people involved will still prioritize the team, in good times and in bad.

Looking in the rear view mirror, forty two years later, I’m glad I didn’t know what lay ahead, or I would have been too terrified of failure to attempt any permanent union.

When we stated our intention to create a marriage, the real work began.

Every intention requires an agile game plan.

New Year’s Resolutions that stick are clearly planned. You look at your tool box and start aligning the steps you intend to take to get where you want to go. Like any game plan, this one goes out the window when you encounter the first unexpected bump in the road.

The end goal remains solidly at the front of your priorities

You learn from experience, adjust course and keep moving, even if that movement includes a few steps backward.

We never expected cancer, troubled souls intent on hurting us or Down syndrome. Each of these experiences came with unexpected dimensions. Without intention, it’s easy to descend into angry victimhood, to blame others, the universe or bad luck and give up.

Good intentions don’t always yield the good results you hope for.

But they are the foundation of the ever evolving definition of good character.

When carefully crafted, aligned with your life’s purpose and connected with an agile game plan, we can evolve as persons.

How do you intend to evolve in the coming year? This how things like becoming a kinder person, a better listener, finding ways to be more helpful, seeking to understand others with lives that differ dramatically from your own find their way on to your list of Intentions for the New Year.

So think of New Year’s Resolutions as New Year’s Evolutions.

Evolution happens in every atom of your being, beginning with your brain. The late Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”

We start any new race with a set of skills and paradigms built upon past experience. It takes time to reconfigure them for what’s important now. You will develop new skills, strengthen rarely used muscles, ponder ideas from a fresh point of view. All of these elements mix to form the definition of wisdom. And wisdom often leads to the balance between patience and persistence that is essential to form the habits required to move from intention to completion.

And there’s a funny thing about that word, “completion.” The game is never over. We may allow ourselves moments of celebration. That’s why birthdays are important. We need to look back occasionally on how far we’ve come. But what’s in the past is less important than what lies ahead.

Learn from the past, but keep your eye on the future.

The quote attributed to Nelson Mandela, “I never lose. I win or I learn,” is the true mindset of a champion. And you will discover that there is a lot more learning in life than there is winning. Just as the joy exists in the journey and not the destination, the best New Year’s Resolutions are not about what you hope to accomplish in the year ahead.

It’s all about what you intend to learn.