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New Years Resolutions…Yes or No?

A brand new year. What a great time to renew our vows to do all the things we were going to do to make our lives better last year…and the year before…and …

The turning of the year is the perfect time to take stock of where you are trying to go. That part of the old “new year’s resolutions” idea is definitely worth keeping. But the resolutions themselves? Well, maybe we need to take a closer look at that.

It’s easy to make a list of how you want to be better. But is it going to motivate you to do anything more than writing it? A list concentrates all that stuff you think you need to “fix” into one massive dose of self-improvement. That’s a good way to feel pretty inadequate in a hurry.

There’s room to question the whole negative motivation thing, too. Negative motivation is only as strong as the negative consequence. So if you aren’t feeling any real pain because you haven’t gotten to it, committing anew to getting it done is pretty likely to give you more of the same.

Still, it would be nice to get on with some of this stuff—all of this stuff, actually. What’s a good way to use the new year to motivate yourself?

Figure out what usually makes you get things done. If making a list and checking off completed tasks works for you, then that list is a fine idea. But if you get things done by someone else’s deadline, committing to a buddy, or dealing with one change at a time, something other than a list as your New Year’s plan might be wiser.

Be clear about what you can change. It’s so tempting to “want it all” but that can ruin the whole effort. Choose things you value that you truly want to make happen. And be realistic. You are not going to overhaul your personality, your financial situation, and your love life in one twelve month period. In fact some things are never going to change.

Accept that change often comes from messy beginnings. There are times when the change you need to make arrives as an ill-defined, disconcerting restlessness. We’ve all been encouraged to write those measurable, achievable goals. But we don’t always evolve as humans in that orderly, concise manner. If what you need to do is muck around, get on with it instead of trying to jump over the messy part by setting a bunch of easy-to-assess but irrelevant goals.

When you don’t know where you are going, writing a bunch of instructions for getting there (i.e. “New Year’s resolutions”) is a waste of time. In that situation, trying to do one thing every day that addresses what you believe in or want more of in your life might work better. Make it small, doable, and something that you can get done in the time you have each day. It might be as small as spending two minutes (literally) thinking about where you want to take your life. But do something.

New Year’s resolutions too easily become “big deals” that are impossible to accomplish in the crush of everyday life. Then they are de-motivators instead of positive tools for helping yourself change. Using this time of year to assess what you’re doing with your life is a great idea. Limiting yourself to a list of “resolutions” as the outcome? Not so much.

Go beyond the tradition and incorporate an awareness of what it takes to help yourself succeed in how you go about it and what you choose at all. Maybe this year, see what happens if you make the commitment more flexible. When you get off track–and we all do, just pick up the process again once you notice you’re not doing it. (If it’s important enough to want to change in the first place, you will notice.)

That which isn’t growing is dying. Working toward creating something more than what you currently have in your life is wise and good. But don’t set yourself up to fail—and feel like a failure–by making an impressive list of things you don’t really need to do, want to do, or know how to do.

Yeah, baby! We’re looking at a brand new year again. What do you want to do with it?

This article originally appeared in the Januray 2012 edition of Barbara Morris’s online newlsetter Put Old on Hold.

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Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love. She’s just released an e-book collection of her articles for Put Old on Hold titled 39 Bites of Wisdom: Little Lessons on Getting Life Right (exclusively on Kindle until March). For more, please see her website.

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