serene ambition™

transforming the culture of aging

New Year’s Resolutions

Posted by Jim Selman on 12/29/06

I’ve been making New Year’s resolutions for more than 50 years now, and you’d think I would have learned something about how to do it well by now. Unfortunately, I am still a beginner at making resolutions—I continue to “make ’em and break ’em” with more precision and predictability than the blooming of flowers in Spring or leaves falling in Autumn.

The lull between Christmas and New Year’s Eve certainly is a great time to reflect on the year past and the year to come. I sometimes wonder why I do this over and over again, even when I suspect I probably won’t keep this year’s resolutions any more than I kept those from previous years. I suppose it is a kind of annual ritual where I acknowledge my good intentions and accept my human failings. I don’t really feel guilty. I learned long ago that guilt is a way to justify doing what we think we shouldn’t be doing—a sort of psychic balancing of the ‘moral’ scales.

No, it’s more like I feel foolish for pretending I am committed to something I am not. The problem, of course, is that I have kept a few of these promises to myself, just enough to think this year might be another exception. This is the same principle, I think, that keeps lots of people playing golf. They hit just enough great shots to keep hope alive that they will become ‘real’ golfers.

For example, there are a few ‘keepable’ resolutions, such as cleaning the garage, writing thank you notes, updating my address book, and so forth. There are others that ‘might’ be kept, such as reading some things I have been stacking up in the ‘to read’ pile or finally taking a long talked about vacation. Then there are the ‘I want to, but…’ resolutions, which include losing weight, doing more regular exercise, finishing my book and learning to play the piano. It is this latter category that leaves me feeling foolish. I can’t quite bring myself to say “I will NEVER learn the piano”, in spite of having spent thousands on missed lessons and it having been at the top of my failed New Year’s resolution list since 1981!

So here is my list again for 2007:

• Learn to play the piano
• Learn Spanish (next level)
• Lose 15 pounds
• Exercise daily (go to the gym)
• Finish my book manuscript
• Stop making resolutions I suspect I won’t keep, but really want to

What it comes down to is whether I am really committed to change something and, specifically, if I am willing to change my ‘self-talk’ about myself. You see, for me to accomplish these goals requires that:

a) I believe it is possible for me
b) I am willing to give up many years of failing at accomplishing these things, and
c) I can be responsible for what it will mean in terms of real changes to my life regarding schedule and day-to-day practices.

For example, I know that if I go to the gym every day for a month or two, it will become a new habit … and that is that on failing to exercise. All I need to “do” is go the gym. I also know that if I get into the habit of going to the gym then I will probably lose the weight and have the time to listen to my Spanish lessons on my iPod, which might at least help in the matter of ‘learning’ Spanish. It all makes sense and sounds so easy a few days before New Year’s Eve. So what is the source of my failure to do so? Why do I procrastinate?

Why does anyone procrastinate?

My thinking here is that it is because our resolutions are ‘open-ended’ … more like intentions than commitments. It is hard to hold an open-ended commitment. This is why AA doesn’t expect people to promise never to drink again—just not to drink today. By focusing on “one day at a time”, the individual can concentrate on what they can manage and not get lost in their idealism in a matter where they have failed over and over again.

I think this year I am going to amend my resolutions and focus on taking action just “one day at a time”. Perhaps by focusing on short-term actions, I will be surprised at how far I have come in fulfilling my intentions by the end of the year.

I will say more on procrastination tomorrow.

Today I am going to the gym.

© 2006 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.

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One Response to “New Year’s Resolutions”

  1. Rhea said

    If I make five or six resolutions I can usually keep one or two.

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