End-of-the-year magazines, web sites and television shows always amuse me with their features about New Year resolutions. Full of strategies for how-to, when-to and ought-to, the crescendo gets as loud as Times Square on December 31st. Then there’s a short silence, followed by all of the same voices reminding you that over 88% of all New Year resolutions fail by the end of January.
The prompt that resolutions are predestined to fail bugs me. Subject to the power of hypnotic suggestion, when you frequently hear that you’re not going to succeed your brain picks up on that programming in both conscious and unconscious ways. Trained to find proof of what you tell it, the brain then starts looking for proof that by the end of January you will have given up on your resolutions. Lo and behold, you won’t be surprised to find that you do. But…
How would your resolutions turn out if you went into the new year saying 100% of them will be achieved?
In order to put myself in the right frame of mind, I’ve made a big change away from resolutions and toward commitments. Here’s why:
First, it’s a matter of language. Resolution means the act of determining upon an action. That’s nice, but there’s no real, er, action. The act of determining is sedentary. To determine means to ‘settle’ or ‘decide’. It doesn’t require any actual involvement. You make the determination and then….. You’re done. No wonder resolutions get dropped―you don’t do anything.
Commitment, on the other hand, means the act of engaging oneself; you become involved. To engage means to occupy oneself; this implies a full focus. Focus is what gets things done. Focus is a ‘central point’. Keeping an idea as a central point in your mind keeps it fresh, a part of your daily thought process, and offers an image onto which your brain can latch. Almost by magic, achieving goals becomes more easily accomplished.
Second, we have a long history of being raised to keep commitments and release resolutions. Take a look at your life: When you make a commitment to show up for work, a date, a family function, an event, a get together with a friend, you keep it (barring extenuating circumstances). Furthermore, you’re grown from childhood to commit to school, extra-curricular activities and other forms of personal growth and development. Only, you don’t call it ‘personal growth and development’. You call it a commitment to education and stick to it.
New Year’s Eve aside, how often are you asked to make a resolution? Resolutions are specialty items geared toward personal growth: You resolve to eat less, drink less, watch less television; spend less money. Or, exercise more, work harder or be more punctual. All too often resolutions are about giving up something you enjoy, or taking on more of something you don’t really want. In a word, resolutions are no fun. When the specialness of the holidays wears off so, too, does the shine of any resolution. Still, you show up for work, family gatherings and friendly get-togethers. Commitment. Resolution.
This year, however, can be different. You can make a list of New Year commitments. Choosing things that are meaningful, will improve your life, and make you feel good about yourself you can elicit excitement to engage in the follow-through process. Especially rephrasing the plan can increase results. For example, an old resolution might have been, “I’ll go to the gym more often.” A new commitment might be, “I am increasing my metabolism so that my body burns fat more efficiently.” The gym becomes a means to an end versus a prison sentence. Simply shifting from the ‘I will’ of a resolution to the ‘I am’ of a commitment dramatically increases the stickiness of the idea.
Since we’re trained to keep commitments, I believe the brain categorizes such thoughts in the sturdy file of ‘things at which I know how to succeed.’ Alternatively, resolutions are like the flimsy holiday blow-up lawn decorations that deflate in a strong breeze; by the end of January they get packed away to be hauled out again next year. In this type of environment, the question of the season isn’t, “What resolutions should I make?” but, “What commitments do I want to keep?”