Making (and Keeping)
New Year's Resolutions

tom walsh


In many ways, I believe that resolutions for the new year suffer from quite a bit of hype and a great deal of misunderstanding.  They seem to be throw-away promises to ourselves for many people, and it's nothing for most people to resolve to eat fewer sweets during the year, break the resolution a week or two later, then forget that they ever made it.  We joke about how quickly we break our resolutions, completely ignoring the fact that we are, indeed, breaking a promise to ourselves when we do so.

Of course, if you don't take the promise seriously when you first make it, there's no real reason to continue to try to keep that promise.  If it's done just for fun on the spur of the moment some New Year's Eve, then why would you or should you expect yourself to hold to that promise for an entire year?

But there is another type of New Year's Resolution, the kind that we definitely should pay close attention to and do our best to stick to.  These are the kinds of resolutions that come as the result of introspection and reflection, the result of deep thought concerning who we are as people and how that person compares to who we wish to be.  We all have certain character traits or habits that keep us from being that person we would be, and our resolutions can be a way to help us to break certain habits or slightly modify the ways we do certain things.

Maybe we can resolve to read books that will help us deal with our anger or depression or feelings of alienation.  Perhaps we can even resolve to get counseling for certain things that we've been trying hard to deal with on our own, but haven't been quite successful in doing so.

There are other resolutions, too, that deserve to be stuck to.  We may resolve to write more letters to friends, and if we stick to that, more of our friends will know the pleasure of receiving a letter from us.  We may resolve to do more kind acts throughout the year, and again, others will benefit greatly from what we do.

But how do we stick to these resolutions?  There are a few keys that can help us to make resolutions that are realistic and workable:

1.  Be Specific.  Instead of saying "I'm going to eat fewer sweets this year," say "I'm going to limit myself to eight servings per week of foods that are sweets, especially candy bars, snack foods, and desserts."  Instead of "I'm going to lose weight this year," "I'm going to lose a pound every two weeks" will be manageable and verifiable--plus, you'll have lost 26 pounds over the next year if you stick to it.  If you say that you're going to write more letters to friends you may or may not do so, but if you say that you're going to write at least two letters a week to friends, you have a specific goal that you can measure and verify, and you'll have written over 100 letters in 2001.  Make your resolutions quantifiable and verifiable.

2.   Be Realistic.  Don't promise to lose ten pounds by February first if you can't do it.  Very few people can safely lose that much weight that quickly.  Don't promise to read a classic novel a day in the new year.  Don't promise to give 50% of your earnings to charity if you can't afford it.  The more realistic you are, the more likely you'll be to stick to your resolutions, and the more pride you'll get out of having accomplished something valuable.

3.   Be Others-focused.  If all of your resolutions focus on yourself and what you want, you'll be ignoring one of the great truths in life--we find happiness and self-satisfaction in doing things for others.  Do you want to be happier?  Then don't resolve to become happier--resolve instead to do a good deed every day for someone else, with no recognition or reward.  These can be simple deeds such as helping a stranger carry something from the store to his or her car, or donating a dollar when the person in front of you in the check-out line comes up 95 cents short.  These things are simple, they don't hurt us, and they do make us happier.

4.   Remind Yourself Constantly.  Write them down and post them where you'll see them many times every day.  Remind yourself constantly that you have a goal or three this year, and that you're working to reach those goals.  Post them on the bathroom mirror, on the refrigerator door, on your car's steering wheel.  Remind yourself.

5.   Limit the Number.  Don't make a hundred resolutions so that by the end of the year you'll have two or three that you really did accomplish ("Look, I resolved not to throw any litter on the floor of the Taj Mahal this year, and I kept that one!).  Make two or three that are very special to you, and that you know will make you a fuller, happier person by year's end if you stick to them.  Then work to keep them.

Your resolutions are promises to yourself.  Respect yourself--do your best to keep those promises.  And if you break them, don't give up--dedicate yourself anew to them in March or July.  And remember as the year goes on that there's nothing wrong with Easter resolutions or first-day-of-spring resolutions!

May you have a beautiful year full of love and peace and hope!


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Yes, life can be mysterious and confusing--but there's much of life that's actually rather dependable and reliable.  Some principles apply to life in so many different contexts that they can truly be called universal--and learning what they are and how to approach them and use them can teach us some of the most important lessons that we've ever learned.
My doctorate is in Teaching and Learning.  I use it a lot when I teach at school, but I also do my best to apply what I've learned to the life I'm living, and to observe how others live their lives.  What makes them happy or unhappy, stressed or peaceful, selfish or generous, compassionate or arrogant?  In this book, I've done my best to pass on to you what I've learned from people in my life, writers whose works I've read, and stories that I've heard.  Perhaps these principles can be a positive part of your life, too!
Universal Principles of Living Life Fully.  Awareness of these principles can explain a lot and take much of the frustration out of the lives we lead.