To Hell with them!
It’s that time of year AGAIN. We usually start the annual self-review and make the mental list of things that we want to change or improve. Typically, these plans have a life span that’s measured in weeks and then they are quietly forgotten – until next year.
This article is for those who would like to succeed, but don’t know what to do differently than they’ve done in the past. What are resolutions? Why do they frequently fail? How can I make them work this time? How can I feel successful while I’m at it?
In my typical take-no-prisoners approach, these are the issues that I will cover here. If you’re already a perfect person this article isn’t for you. If you’re an all-talk and no-action kind of guy, save your time. This isn’t for you, either. Move on to something else.
WHAT ARE NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS?
Typically, they are decisions about changing behavior. Make no mistake: long term behavior change is one of life’s toughest challenges. Anyone who says otherwise is either a liar or very ignorant.
We may understand from a logical standpoint that a planned change is good. We may even be under external pressure to make a change. We may consider a change to relieve guilt or other emotional pressure from a spouse, a parent, or our kids. Here are some of the typical examples of New Year’s Resolutions.
- I’m going to quit smoking.
- I’m going to lose weight.
- I’m going to workout.
- I’m going to be a better parent.
- I’m going to go to church.
- I’m going to be more patient.
- I’m going to improve my shooting and go to the range more often.
WHY DO RESOLUTIONS USUALLY FAIL?
There are too many of them –AND- we don’t write them down.
The total challenge is too great for one human to accomplish. Imagine that as a one-man unit, you are dispatched to a disturbance. On arrival, you discover it’s a bar fight involving fifty or more people. Would you wade in alone? Hardly. Without a realistic regard for our own capacity, we humans bite off more than we can chew regarding New Year’s Resolutions.
I knew a person who resolved to lose weight and quit smoking. By April, it was clear that she was failing at both. With some encouragement, she focused her effort on her weight and decided to attack the smoking at another time. By year’s end, she had lost about 75 pounds. Her doctor proclaimed that this one change saved her life.
The resolutions are not actionable. What does, “I’m going to workout,” mean? Is that daily for two hours, or twice a week for thirty minutes? Is it weights, cardio, running or something else? If the resolution is not articulated in a way that you can act on it and measure it, you won’t know exactly how to achieve the goal in the days ahead or measure how you are doing along the way.
You adopted the resolution from a sense of pressure or guilt. Saying that, “I have to quit smoking because my wife says I smell like an ashtray,” just doesn’t cut it. It won’t survive the test of time. You’ll find yourself cheating when you are out with the boys for a beer. You will mistakenly believe that your wife won’t know what you are up to. Wrong. You never owned that resolution, so it is just not gonna stick.
HOW CAN YOU MAKE RESOLUTIONS WORK FOR YOU?
In private, with no one else looking on, write down the areas in your life that you want to tune-up. Write them on a scrap piece of paper because you will shortly be throwing it away.
Once you’re done, pick one or two (no more) from the list of what you believe you really want to (or believe you must) accomplish. I will lead you through an exercise as an example. You will need to do this for yourself with your own list of goals.
Let’s take two of the resolutions seen most often: losing weight and working out.
While some freaks (like me) love to workout and lift weights, I know that I’m the odd man out. However, I’ve never met anyone who wants to lose weight – or diet. Losing weight means not having as much food as you’d like. It means often skipping the favorites and the comfort foods as you’ve enjoyed them in the past. It means the added work of planning your eating, which is never easy.
Internally, we generally think of it this way – NO YOU CAN’T:
NO ONE WANTS TO LOSE WEIGHT.
However, people do want to be thin and or be in shape. So, that’s the essence of the resolution. The resolution when I embarked on a fitness regimen was this: I wanted to go to the pool or beach the next summer, take off my shirt, not be embarrassed. I secretly hoped I might even draw an admiring glance or comment about my appearance. THAT was my resolution. I would use diet and exercise to achieve it.
Once you know what you want and what strategies or techniques you will use to get there, WRITE THEM DOWN – in pencil. (You may change your mind in the future.) Having the goal(s) in writing creates a sense of accountability. VERY IMPORTANT: don’t show anyone what you’ve written. Don’t tell them, either. If you do, you will be driven to choose goals that are “right” or “wholesome” or that meets the expectations of someone else. Bullshit! Do this only for you. Be selfish.
Defining success is vital. When I started, I had a 48 inch waist. I concluded that success would be to get my waist down to 32 inches. When I got to my goal weight, my wife bought me a brand new pair of Levis – with a 32” waist. I cannot fully express the joy of pulling those Levis on my frame for the first time and finding just a tad of extra room. Success was at hand! You need to know in your heart where the “finish line” is located.
Compartmentalize the steps which allows you to keep the goal achievable. It is proven that putting an unachievable goal in front of a person actually acts as a deterrent to achieving it. When I started losing weight, I was told that I needed to lose a hundred pounds. “Are you nuts?” I thought, “that’s not possible.”
This is a picture of me when I needed to lose 100 lbs.
The Weight Watcher leader shared a valuable concept. “You only have ONE pound to lose – the next one. Always know how many ounces you’ve lost (it sounds so much more than when it’s expressed as pounds), but only be concerned with the NEXT POUND.” That made all the difference in the world.
I will go to the gym twice weekly, on Tuesday and Friday. I will only have dessert on Saturday. I will only grab a beer with the guys after the shift on Wednesdays and Fridays – and then, I’ll limit it to three. Get the point?
By compartmentalizing the goals, you can set a date by which it will be achieved. Example: I will find a partner who will go to the range with me twice monthly. I will have that done by the end of next week.
Success breeds success and failure feeds on itself.
I’ve caught myself thinking, “Well, I’ve really blown my eating plan today by eating two pieces of cherry pie. I might as well pig-out for the rest of the day.”
Every time your hand brings food to your mouth, it’s a decision, unaffected by what preceded it. Every mouthful is a choice.
If you made a poor choice that you’ve come to regret, acknowledge it. Admit that you enjoyed it, too. Think of how you might handle a similar situation differently in the future. Then, close the matter in your mind and put it behind you. Don’t allow one poor choice turn an entire day or week into failure.
Success breeds success. Visualization is very powerful. Mentally imagine how you want to look when you attain your goal:
This picture was taken at my last bodybuilding contest. It’s the me I envisioned throughout my journey.
When faced with an eating decision, frame it like this, “I can eat those French fries –OR- I can be one step closer to looking the way I want.” Then, do what you want.
Celebrate every success. If you’re getting in shape, losing pounds or taking your gun belt in a notch is reason for celebration. No, don’t do it with a banana split. Do it with a new tee shirt that shows off your new physique in the gym or locker room. Suggest to your wife that the two of you have a private celebration behind closed doors. Whatever way you choose, CELEBRATE SUCCESS.
Find success everywhere – even in seeming failures. While in my weight loss mode, we took a family vacation. On my return weigh-in, the Weight Watcher leader sadly announced that I had gained two pounds. “Yippee,” I proclaimed. Puzzled, she asked me to explain.
On last year’s vacation, I had gained ten pounds. This year was only two. In my mind that is an EIGHT POUND SUCCESS. Always look for the sliver lining. It’s there (I promise). You may just have to look extra hard to find it.
As with all of life’s endeavors, you aren’t defeated until you quit. So, DON’T QUIT.
Behavior changes are a human’s greatest challenge. How often are crack-heads successful at becoming clean? How often are gun-toting, gang-member, street thugs able to join the bright side of society? Do not underestimate the enormity of the challenge this will be for you.
Keep the list of changes very, very short. Ensure that each one is based on something you WANT. On Valentine’s Day you can witness young guys lined up to spend $75 for a dozen roses. Do you think even one of them actually wants flowers?
Many times in life, we must pay a price, endure a burden, or do something we’d rather not in order to get something we really want. So it is with roses on Valentine’s Day. Diet and exercise may be the path you need to travel to attract females or reinvigorate interest in the one you already have. The reward is a better sex life. How hard are you willing to work to get that? Think about it.
Stay focused on a short list. PUT YOUR DESIRES ON PAPER. Put the other items aside to tackle later.
Make resolutions actionable in short, clear, precise terms so you will know when you are done.
Celebrate every success. Manufacture one, if needed. Feeling successful feeds the mind and the motivation. Feeling successful is probably the most important component of maintaining the new behavior on the long term.
As you move through the process, you will be tempted. “Would you like dessert?” can be mentally compared to how it will feel when a pretty young girl says, “you’ve been working out, haven’t you?” You can then choose whichever one you WANT the most at the moment.
Life becomes very livable when at each turn, you are getting what you want the most. Think about that for a minute.
Most New Years Resolutions are a complete waste of time and only contribute to the feelings of failure. That’s why I often say, “To Hell with New Years Resolutions.”
Drop me an email if you have a question, or if I can help: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please have a safe and happy New Year!
Above all, it comes down to saving just ONE life.