For the resolute and determined, there is time and opportunity. —Ralph Waldo Emerson
What is a resolution? At its most basic definition, a resolution is the decision to do or not do something. For purposes of our new year, we typically look at ways to improve or fix something about us or our lives. Often this means replacing ‘bad” habits with “good” habits. Our objectives likely cross a number of categories: health, attitude, education, relationships, spirituality, and so on. The change of the new year invites us to assess where we are and seek ways to improve ourselves.
The base word for resolution is resolute which means “purposefully determined and unwavering.” Resolute stems from the Latin word resolvere. When we make a resolution, we resolve to make a change or accomplish something. A few years ago, I wrote a post entitled Channel Your Amazing Will. In it, I contend that to channel your will is to make a decision, assess the price, and then discipline yourself to action. The same is true for our New Year’s Resolutions. To what end have we resolved ourselves? What price are we willing to pay? Will we show up every day and pay that price?
Much literature exists discussing habits, breaking habits, establishing new habits, and generally playing mind games with ourselves to overcome our worst tendencies. Most of it strives to help us overcome our resistance to change and general inability to stay the course as it relates to resolutions and personal change. The expanse of literature exists because we continue to search for the answer to the riddle of sustained change. We keep looking for an easy fix because most of us fail on our way to following through on our resolutions. Why do we fail? Because it is so incredibly hard to stay the course when things get difficult, painful, or inconvenient.
In his famous book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey writes that “it’s easier to say ‘no’ when there is a deeper ‘yes’ burning within.” More recent authors and success stories express the same idea in terms of “first principles” – the notion of distilling the essence of our priorities and working relentlessly toward our objectives. In other words, it’s easier to achieve our aims when our principles are clear and we continually return to them when making choices.
The motivational platitudes and rah-rah pieces make sense intellectually and emotionally, however, they continue to be really, really difficult to sustain. We all want to be better. We all want to live healthy, active, fulfilling lives. The biggest problem with our resolutions is not that we identify goals that we can’t achieve or that we don’t have the will to achieve them. The problem is that we are compartmentalizing aspects of our lives by taking a “fix it” approach to whatever ails us. We feel that we are overweight so we go on a diet. The diet approach makes a short term adjustment in what we eat so we achieve the weight loss as quickly as possible. We approach it as a project and then it’s done. Soon after, we are back in the same situation because we don’t sustain the changes. The “fix it” mentality goes on and on – relationships, work, education – we look for short term ways to address things we want improved.
The secret to being resolute is longer term thinking. Long term thinking focuses on the small steps that create new patterns of behavior, slowly. The goal is sustainability. If the change is important enough to work towards, why not make it permanent? Most habits don’t form quickly, they occur in small, daily doses that evolve to a point where the thought of changing them becomes overwhelming or disruptive. Reversing or replacing them also takes time. Applying small amounts of pressure can achieve amazing results given time.
Want to be resolute? Then resolve to make lifestyle, attitude, relationship, work, or whatever other changes and give yourself a long horizon in which to make them. Mastering a subject takes effort over time. Changing your body composition takes effort over time. Changing relationships takes efforts over time. Your biggest challenge will be finding the patience to wait for results. We all want immediate gratification. The key for this kind of resolution is to enjoy the journey. Sprinting toward the goal will only wear you out; you need to walk steadily toward and appreciate everything you see and experience along the way.
In 2018, resolve to be better: one interaction at a time, one bite at a time, one smile at a time, one touch at a time, one choice at a time, one step at a time. Ultimately, you will find joy in the small acts of change as they become habits and outer reflections of your internal progress. Your resolutions will become changes that will be attained quietly, and permanently, as a matter of course rather than in an exhausting burst that makes them temporary. Focus on fostering the patience to enjoy the process of subtle adjustments rather than the pain of sudden change and you’ll not only avoid resolution dissolution, you’ll find a peacefully organic approach to happiness and continuous self-improvement. Small steps lead to mindfulness, which will enable you to live more fully in the present moment and enjoy the journey along the way to any change.