A new year is about to begin. Is your life vision? Is it 20-20? Can you clearly see where you are headed? Often, we get so caught up in the mundane activities of life that we don’t see which way we are moving. What’s the point of traveling if we don’t know where we’re going? That’s why there’s a need for reflection. We pause to ask ourselves questions like: “Where am I heading? Did I accomplish everything I set out to do last year? What did I do that was right? What did I do wrong? What do I need to do differently this year? Awareness of problems leads to a desire for change and is the first step in getting back on track.
Not often enough, we make them. Too often, we break them. And rarely do we keep them. By “them,” I mean New Year’s Resolutions. This year, let our first resolution be to keep the ones we make. Why? Because they will transform ourselves into the person we want to become. If wine does it, why shouldn’t we also improve with age? Why shouldn’t we have something to look forward to?
Resolutions are promises we make to ourselves. When we keep them, we benefit in three ways. First, we prove that we have the power to change. Second, we prove that we can depend on ourselves by keeping our word. Third, we benefit from the positive changes the resolutions bring into our lives.
To help us keep our New Year’s Resolutions, I’m including a few ideas that may be helpful.
Are we created by our thoughts or do we create our thoughts? The answer is both. You see, by default, the daily ebb and flow of events automatically generate our thoughts. These thoughts then automatically lead to feelings, behaviour, and consequences. However, if we remain aware of our thoughts, we can interrupt them and change them. Once we do so, our feelings, behaviour, and outcomes also change.
When we fail to control our thoughts, they control us, and we are reduced to mere automatons, robots, or zombies. Most people, however, are neither zombies nor masters of their fate. They are somewhere in-between, controlling their thoughts at one moment and being controlled by them at another moment. The degree of success we experience in life is directly proportional to the amount of control we have over our thoughts.
For this reason, our second resolution for the New Year should be to increase our awareness and control of our thoughts. Let’s get a bit more specific. Our thoughts generally fall into two categories: positive or negative. They inspire us or diminish us, enslave us or set us free, empower us or weaken us. Moreover, since our mind, body, and spirit are integrated, what happens in one area of our lives affects the other areas as well. So, a negative thinker can end up with a broken spirit, sick body, and shattered dreams.
Now, let’s move on to another, but related, area. Let’s consider how the words and sentences we use can color or shape our perception. Our perceptions are important because they play a major role in the decisions we make. I’ll begin with an example. Mortimer is middle-aged and plump. So, he made the following resolution, “I need to lose weight, so I’m going to use this one-month free pass and work out several times a week at the fitness club.”
Although well-intentioned, his resolution fizzled out in less than a month. He quit exercising. What went wrong? Well, the words and phrases he used were self-defeating. He started by saying, “I need to lose some weight.” His statement may be factual, but the trouble is that words like I need to, must, have to, should, or ought to automatically trigger a response of resistance. After all, we don’t like to do what we have to. We don’t like to be bossed around and told what to do, even if we are the ones giving the orders! So, rule number one, drop need to and its variants from your self-talk because they are lead weights that hold you back.
Even if Mortimer had said, “I’m going to lose weight,” that also would have been self-defeating. Why is that? That’s because he would be focusing on the problem rather than the solution. Instead of thinking of what you are now (overweight), think of what you wish to become (slim). Suppose you wanted to quit smoking and decided to repeat several times a day, “I will quit smoking! I will quit smoking! I will quit smoking!” What would that accomplish? The only thing it would do is make you think more about smoking and increase your desire to smoke.
So, rule number two is, rather than focusing on what you don’t want, focus on what you do want. The importance of this rule cannot be overstated, for the only things we do are the things we want to do. It’s not about willpower, it’s about want-power. So, what is it that Mortimer wants? Did you say he wants to lose weight? No, that’s the wrong answer. He doesn’t want to lose weight because that involves the perception of losing the pleasure of eating. It also brings up an image of the effort (ugh!) we have to make in order to lose weight.
Well, then, what is it that he wants? He wants to become more physically attractive, gain confidence, and increase his health, well-being, and longevity. Now, those are things to get excited about. Those are things to want. Now that Mortimer is thinking correctly, he decides to go a step further by dropping the word workout from his resolution. After all, no one wants to exert effort or do work.
Compare his original resolution with his new one. His original resolution was, “I need to lose weight, so I’m going to work out several times a week.” Mortimer changed it to, “I want to enjoy life to the fullest, so I’m going to take a few health (or fitness or longevity) breaks each week at the gym.” Can you see the dramatic difference? Can you see the change in perception?
Did you see what else Mortimer did? He replaced “several” times a week with “a few” times. Don’t you think repeating something a few times is easier than doing it several times? Many people mistakenly overreach in their resolutions. This leads to failure. It is not realistic to expect go from zero workouts a week to many a week. Going from zero to many is HARD. Going from zero to a few is easier. And the great news is, as Mortimer discovers how wonderful it feels to take “fitness breaks,” he will automatically be motivated to increase his visits to the gym.
After revamping his perception and thoughts, Mortimer is now in charge of his life. He even changes uncomfortable bodily sensations into positive thoughts. For example, although some newcomers get discouraged and give up because of the aches and pains that follow long, grueling ‘fitness breaks’ on the treadmill or Stairmaster, not Mortimer. He relishes the discomfort because it is a signal that his body is being re-sculptured, muscles are toning up, blood vessels are widening, his heart is growing stronger, and his general well-being is improving. He even rejoices when he has to slosh through a rain or snowstorm to get to the gym. “Wow,” he says, “the nasty weather will keep half the people away, so I’ll have all the equipment to myself. Besides, only the dedicated members will attend, so by joining them, I prove that I have just as much self-discipline as they do.”
When we make New Year’s resolutions and stick to them, we grow stronger. We mature. We develop self-discipline and lift ourselves by our own bootstraps. The result is greater self-confidence, peace of mind, and control over our lives. On the other hand, when we break our resolutions, we grow weaker. After all, we have demonstrated to ourselves that we are not resolute; we lack self-discipline, and we have given up on improving ourselves. Don’t allow the negative effects of the broken resolutions of others deter you from making your own. Instead, use that information as motivation to stick to the promises you have made to yourself and enjoy the benefits that will follow.
What Goals to Focus on First
I know someone who feels guilty when he spends a good part of the day sitting on a park bench, soaking in the world of nature. He’s equally uncomfortable about lying in bed for several hours while listening to classical music. Even when engaging in small talk with friends he’s embarrassed. How can one feel guilty about enjoying life? Well, we have been brainwashed by society to believe that we are worthless unless we pursue a ‘worthwhile’ goal.
No goal is more worthwhile than the pursuit of one’s own happiness. You see, helping those in need may appear to be a noble goal, but it’s not a wise thing to do if it depresses you. After all, who wants to be helped by a gloomy, moody person? If you begrudgingly ‘help’ others, all you will succeed in doing is spreading more unhappiness. No, it is far better to look after your own happiness before considering the happiness of others. For when you allow yourself to be happy, you become a beacon, brightening the lives of everyone you meet.
After taking care of our own happiness, we can then branch out and start tackling some challenging goals. But here, too, be cautious. For although we need to focus on our goals to reach them, if we become too consumed by them, there is the danger of neglecting the present moment. We can become so wrapped up in the future that the present slips by unnoticed. Yet, it is only in the present that we are alive. The future is but a dream and the past, but a graveyard. We are here to experience life and add to it. But how can we add to it if we don’t experience it?
Another pitfall of focusing on our goals too intently is that we may unwittingly extinguish spontaneity. By allowing ourselves to be blown about by the winds of the present moment, we experience the adventure of life, the unexpected, and the unplanned. When we willingly let go of the rigid confines of our goals, we can take part in the dance of life in which we neither seek to control it nor seek to be controlled by it. That is, we become dancing partners, not quite sure who is doing the leading.
To illustrate my point, let’s look at the actions of two men. Ray and Ismail attended a seminar and became interested in a book the speaker mentioned. After the seminar, Ray walked into a bookstore and asked for the book. In moments he had it and proudly left the store, marveling at his efficiency and happy that he reached his goal.
Ismail also went to a bookstore. But once he found the book, he didn’t stop there. He thought to himself, “Now that I’m here, I might as well browse.” Ismail leisurely browsed with nothing specific in mind. He left himself open to whatever the present moment had in store for him. After a while, he came across a remarkable book, a work that has the potential to change his life. It deals with a subject he never heard about. He smiled to himself as he realized that he never would have asked or searched for the book because it deals with a subject new to him. Like Ray, Ismail achieved his goal, but by remaining in the present and leaving himself open to the unlimited possibilities that surround us, he did a great deal more.
Ray focused on his goal and reached it. But he is oblivious to the great opportunity he lost. It may be years before he catches up to Ismail (if he ever catches up with him at all). Ismail, on the other hand, is more attuned to life. He understands the give and take. Through the practice of goal-setting, he guides life in bringing him the outcomes he wants. Yet, he remains balanced by spending just as much time open to the unexpected gifts that life brings.
Trying too hard to reach a goal can be a formula for failure. It is like the engine of your automobile freezing because of excessive heat. And it is what Émile Coué called the “Law of Reversed Effect.” This law did not escape the attention of one of the Rabbinic sages known as Rabbi Pinhas, for it is written in the Mishnah, “What you pursue, you don’t get. But what you allow to grow slowly in its own way, comes to you.” Besides, gritting one’s teeth and trying with all one’s might can be a source of stress. And stress depletes one’s energy and clouds one’s thinking, thereby lessening one’s chances of success. So, this is another reason for loosening your grip on your goals and allowing life to play a part in deciding what you can do, be, and have.
Goals are important in life. But we will become much more successful by delaying our personal goals until we have set the following ones as a foundation.
1. Balance is the ultimate goal. Don’t be like Ray, so focused on your goal that you grow blind to the opportunities that surround you in the present. As Euripides taught “Slight not what’s near while aiming at what’s far.” Be cautious, for a life without balance is a life half lived.
2. Live with awareness. “Life is denied by lack of attention, whether it be to cleaning windows or trying to write a masterpiece.” (−Nadia Boulanger).
3. Vision. What is your reason for being or purpose? After you create your life purpose, you will be ready to work on your personal goals. For as Henry J. Golding said, “What our deepest self craves is not mere enjoyment, but some supreme purpose that will enlist all our powers and give unity and direction to our life.”
4. Appreciation and gratitude. He who appreciates what he has is rich; he who lives without gratitude is poor.
5. Appreciation of what is. Don’t merely appreciate what you have, but appreciate what is. When you learn to appreciate nature, art, beauty, music, poetry, literature, sculpture, painting, and photography, you will lead a joyful life.
6. Learn to think before you act. By controlling your emotions, you will retain the power of choice, which is the rudder that will guide your ship.
7. Personal growth. Besides enjoying what is, get excited about what can be. This is the arena in which we strive to reach our potential and where we leave our mark on the world.
Additional Points to Consider
If we make a resolution, we are resolving to do something we are not yet doing. Why aren’t we doing it? There must be reasons. It may be difficult to do, involve some effort we have to make, or sacrifices we have to carry out. So, expect resistance. Prepare for it. Accept the short-term pain for the long-term gain. After sticking to our resolution for a month or two, it will become a habit and much easier to carry out. So, it will no longer be a matter of working harder, but of developing good habits which will propel you forward. Keep your eyes on the goal and anticipate the success that is yours.
Don’t become unrealistically ambitious. True, it may be great to improve your golf game, lose weight, hang out more with your friends, take a computer course to improve your productivity, learn ballroom dancing, make a rec room in the basement, and design a flower garden for your backyard. But wait a minute! Do you have the time? Don’t engage in wishful thinking. Instead schedule each activity so you know exactly how much time is available. And don’t forget to include extra time for emergencies.
Here is a powerful technique. At the same time you make your New Year’s resolutions, change your routine. For instance, take a different route to work, have lunch at another place, open the door to your office with your left instead of your right hand, and so on. Why do so? Because each time you act out of character, you are forcing yourself to remember that you are living in a new way. It is easy to change your routine, and the changes will act as powerful cues, reminding you that you have resolutions to follow.
Make your goals as specific as possible. Don’t say, “I’m going to lose some weight” but say “I’m going to become 10 lb. lighter by May 30, 2020 by drinking more water, cutting out junk food, eating balanced meals, and exercising.”
Monitor your progress weekly. What are you doing right? Keep doing it! What are you doing wrong? What is the cause of the problem? How can you correct it? Also, set milestones. For example, if you’re going to become 10 lb. lighter by the end of May, that works out to 2 lb. per month. Confirm your standing every month. By keeping a watchful eye on your progress, you’ll be able to make corrections as you go along.
Do it for yourself. Don’t be pressured into anything. Remember, to succeed, your plan must be a passionate one. How can you be passionate about something you don’t want to do? Decide on what you want from life and focus on those goals. Granted, there may be things you should be doing, but don’t want to. That’s fine; it simply means you’re a human being. The good news is that as we accomplish goals we want, we develop self-discipline. In other words, you’ll have the strength to work on bigger goals later.
Because we cannot accomplish everything at once, we need patience, focus, and persistence. As we monitor our progress and see the progress we are making, no matter how small, it will be enough to motivate us to continue. If you come across bumps in the road, don’t be discouraged. Just pick yourself up and continue. How can you develop your skills if it’s smooth sailing all the way? You need to experience a few storms before you can become the Captain of your ship.
1. Conviction. Now that we want to change, it’s time to acknowledge that we can change. Reflect on the many accomplishments you have already attained. Remind yourself of your personal power. Use your achievements to inspire you to add new attainments to your list of accomplishments.
2. Resolution. After accepting that you can change, you’re ready to resolve that you will change. Focus on your determination and get your adrenaline running. Determination is the key to releasing your power. For as William Ellery Channing wrote, “A man in earnest finds means, or, if he cannot find, creates them. A vigorous purpose makes much out of little, breathes power into weak instruments, disarms difficulties, and even turns them into assistances. Every condition has means of progress, if we have spirit enough to use them.”
3. Commitment. You are resolved to act, so now make a commitment. That is, make a plan and take your first action steps. For example, if you’re planning to start an exercise program, take a tour of some facilities; select one, and sign up. Congratulations! Your exercise program will not only firm your body, but will make you firm and resolute. And when you are firm and resolute, you mold the world and shape your destiny.
4. Get excited. Turbo charge your emotions. Resolve is the poker that stokes the fires of enthusiasm and passion. When you’re burning with enthusiasm, you’ll find the way to succeed. The fire that lights your heart, lights the way. Someone else described it this way, “Paths clear before those who know where they’re going and are determined to get there.”
5. No pain, no gain. Don’t be afraid of ‘pain.’ The more you experience, the more you will delight in your accomplishment. Don’t let a little pain stop you, for as the Scottish Theologian William Barclay said, “All life is based on the fact that anything worth getting is hard to get. There is a price to be paid for anything. Scholarship can only be bought at the price of study, skill in any craft or technique can only be bought at the price of practice, eminence in any sport can only be bought at the price of training and discipline. The world is full of people who have missed their destiny because they would not pay the price. No one can take the easy way and enter into any kind of glory or greatness.”
6. Persist. Simple persistence and perseverance are golden keys. Those who unfalteringly remain on target are assured of success. When Muhammad was told to give up his unpopular crusade, he said, “O uncle! I swear that if they put the sun on my right hand and the moon on my left, I will not renounce the career I have entered upon until God gives me success, or I perish.” That was determination. Such determination is unstoppable.
7. Change your viewpoint. Positive change is positive. So, your viewpoint must also be positive. For instance, let’s say you plan to give up cigarettes. Don’t say, “I will quit smoking.” Why? Because that’s a negative viewpoint. You see, all it does is bring up thoughts of loss. Each time you think about quitting, you’ll think about being deprived of the pleasure and comfort of smoking. No wonder it’s hard to quit. Instead say, “From today I will lead a healthier lifestyle.” That statement brings up thoughts of gain. You will gain stamina, well-being, a heightened sense of taste, a longer life span, and so on. By focusing on the positive, you’ll have a reason to persist.
Here are some parting words given by Benjamin E. Mayes, “It must be borne in mind that the tragedy of life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. It isn’t a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream. It is not a disaster to be unable to capture your ideal, but it is a disaster to have no ideal to capture. It is not a disgrace not to reach the stars, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach for. Not failure, but low aim is a sin.”
Yes, reach for the stars, but while doing so, keep your feet firmly planted on the ground, and don’t let your dreams of tomorrow veil the opportunities of today.
Goals: How to Get the Most Out of Your Life by Zig Ziglar
Goal-Free Living: How to Have the Life You Want NOW! by Stephen M. Shapiro
Changeology: 5 Steps to Realizing Your Goals and Resolutions By John C. Norcross Ph.D.
Burn Your Goals: The Counter Cultural Approach to Achieving Your Greatest Potential By Joshua Medcalf and Jamie Gilbert
PLANNERS for Goal Achievement
John Assaraf: How to Set and Achieve any Goal you Have in Your Life
Chuck Gallozzi lived, studied, and worked in Japan for 15 years, immersing himself in the wisdom of the Far East and graduating with B.A. and M.A. degrees in Asian Studies. He is a Certified NLP Practitioner, speaker, seminar leader, and coach. Corporations, church groups, teachers, counselors, and caregivers use his more than 400 articles as a resource to help others. Among his diverse accomplishments, he is also the Grand Prix Winner of a Ricoh International Photo Competition, the Canadian National Champion of a Toastmasters International Humorous Speech Contest, and the Founder and Head of the Positive Thinkers Group that has been meeting at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto since 1999. His articles are published in books, newsletters, magazines, and newspapers. He was interviewed on CBC’s “Steven and Chris Show,” appearing nationally on Canadian TV. Chuck can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. View his photography at https://500px.com/chuckgallozzi. This article cannot be re-published without permission.