Action Plan 2004: Resolutions Reconsidered

For this year’s Resolutions Workshop, we gathered up four of our favorite personal-development experts and asked them to weigh in with how — and how not — to go about crafting New Year’s resolutions. They wound up recasting the whole resolutions process and sketching out a more successful, sustainable course for personal change.

Welcome to the New Year. A clean slate. A fresh page. An opportunity to shake things up and switch stuff around. But you don’t want to go in there swinging without a plan, do you? We didn’t think so.

If you completed either of our last two Resolutions Workshops (see the January archives from 2002 and 2003 at lifetimefitness.com/magazine), you already know the drill: Forget the list of empty promises and get ready to do some serious self-exploration.

Whether or not you’ve done our workshops in the past, you are in for a treat. In keeping with our tradition of getting multiple takes on New Year planning, this winter we approached four experts and regular contributors whose opinions we respect. We asked them: What do you think of the New Year’s resolutions tradition? What, in your experience, are its limitations and liabilities? What are its opportunities and redeeming values?

We asked them about the approaches they like and use personally, and about the wisdom, tips, exercises and resources they’ve found most valuable in creating lasting change in their own lives.

The results of this inquiry are gathered here, in what we hope is an inspiring, compassionate guide to getting more out of your life – and your self – in the coming year. From advice on living with greater integrity to tips on dismantling self-sabotaging behaviors, our experts have thrown open their well-stocked thought cupboards and invited you to use whatever you like.

One thing they all agree on, though: The results you take away will reflect the energy and intent you put in. So schedule some quiet time – an evening or weekend when you can nab a few hours for yourself – and do the thinking-and-feeling work for real.

Create an action plan that makes you excited and proud. Your future will thank you.

Cheri HuberPersonal Transformation and Zen Expert

What I like about New Year’s resolutions: Anything that brings us to a place of reflection – that encourages us to consider our choices – is a good thing.

The downside: In the process of reviewing what you’d like to change, it’s very easy to fall into a self-hating session that ends up setting you back before you’ve even begun. Creating a simple laundry list of dissatisfactions is where too many people start and stop.

Favorite tool for positive change: Your Best Year Yet: 10 Questions for Making the Next Twelve Months Your Most Successful Ever by Jinny S. Ditzler (Warner Books, 2000)

Resolution Wisdom
It really helps to have a deeper process and formal exercises you can go through. But you have to watch which of your internal personalities you invite into that process. Who are you asking for guidance and information here? If it’s your “inner critic,” be prepared to hear from your most self-hating (and self-sabotaging) persona.

Unfortunately, when it comes to resolutions, the inner critic is usually the first aspect of our personality on the conference call, and consequently, he or she ends up running the show – generally with poor results. What you really want for this process is your “inner coach” or “wise mentor” personality. This is the smart but mature and kind part of you – someone who is on your side, who is an advocate for enhancing what is right about you and building on your talents and strengths.

The key to good resolutions is getting the constructive parts of your personality together and agreeing: “We are doing this not because there is anything wrong with you, but because there is so much possibility.”

Get-It-Right Tips
If you are making resolutions, approach them with the right attitude: “I have an entire year ahead of me – an entire year that is available for me, for the things that matter to me, and for enjoying myself. How can I get the most out of it?”

This is a great time of year to actually hire a personal coach, or to engage in co-coaching with someone whom you like and trust. For one thing, this can help you create a model for your inner coach. Many of us have never had much experience with that kind of positive, encouraging personality, so we don’t really know how to cultivate that voice internally. Once we do, it’s much easier to call on.

Don’t be afraid to try a multipronged or serial approach. I’m a firm believer in trying several different tacks until I find one or several that work. I might decide up front that this month I’m doing a workshop or class, next month I’m hiring a guide, and the month after that I’m going to a lecture or support group. All these approaches involve getting help and getting out there, meeting other people who have knowledge or experience or success in an area where I am seeking growth. That gives me a lot of opportunities to adjust my belief systems and to take in new information.

Big Picture
We all use such a tiny part of our potential. We go walking around searching for answers when we already have so much locked up inside. How much could be accomplished, and how much joy and discovery could we experience, if instead of using all our capacity in resistance and a desperate search for “self improvement” we simply asked ourselves: “How would I like to be? What contributions would I like to make?”

Favorite Exercise
If you get off course with a resolution, sit down and look closely at how you’ve gotten off track. Ask yourself: “How is it I ended up not doing this?” The point is, it’s probably not random. You are likely doing it the same way every time. Maybe you get too busy or tired. Or you get distracted. Maybe you decide you have nothing to wear or look too fat to work out. You get on track with your plan for a while but then lose interest, or you fall into some other behavior. Figure out your self-sabotaging pattern and you have a much better shot at shifting things for the better.

Find out more about Cheri Huber and her writings at www.cherihuber.com.

Bill Treasurer: Motivational and Personal-Risk Expert

What I like about New Year’s resolutions: Examining our lives gives us an opportunity to recognize where we are lacking integrity or underserving our priorities.

The downside: We tend to bite off much more than we can chew. We have too-high, too-immediate expectations of the entire process and of ourselves. We also set too many resolutions in too many areas, which dilutes the potency of any single one.

Favorite tool for positive change: The Acorn Principle: Discover, Explore and Grow the Seeds of Your Greatest Potential by Jim Cathcart (St. Martin’s Press, 1999)

Resolution Wisdom
The concept of personal integrity and fidelity is the most important one I know of for inspiring lasting, positive change. If you make a single resolution to cease betraying yourself, you quickly find out what that means: No more making yourself small or invisible just to avoid the tough stuff. No putting off or shying away from the decisions and risks that have the power to change your life. No putting off actions and tasks that you know are in the interest of your personal development. No tolerating your own undermining habits.

The result of these things may very well be that you lose weight, stop smoking, get out of debt and reform or end a destructive relationship, but those are simply the byproducts of a single resolution: to respect yourself more.

Get-It-Right Tips
Change equals risk. Build up to your biggest challenges by taking small steps. As a high diver, you don’t go out your first day and jump off a 100-foot diving board. You stretch your capabilities with small rehearsals. So instead of biting off a big chunk, give yourself something realistic to start with. Maybe it’s just: “I’ll do long walks with the dog twice a week.” See what excites you and what you can enthusiastically agree to do – even if it is small – and then commit to doing it.

Define your goals in positive terms: Instead of saying something like “I have to lose 30 pounds” and focusing on what you want to rid yourself of, reframe that thought as a loving commitment to yourself: “I commit myself to treating my body with respect and dignity.” Then you can gauge your success in a much more interesting and insightful way. The weight loss comes as a result of your commitment to loving choices versus self-loathing ones.

Expect setbacks, and don’t shy away from them when they happen. Use them as opportunities to engage your best self. When I run into trouble, I like to use this tip from Jim Cathcart: Ask yourself, “How would the person I want to become deal with this situation?”

Big Picture
Before you launch into any goal-oriented program, I think it’s important to very closely examine what you are going after and why. Many people exist with a constant low-level unhappiness because they know they aren’t getting what they want, but they don’t necessarily know what it is that would bring them happiness, either. That, or they know, but they’re unwilling to take the risks inherent in change, so they settle for goals that are safer but that don’t inspire them.

What would make you happy? Treat that as a holy question. Until you have an answer, most of the goals you set will be little more than distractions. It is not about creating a wish list of objects or even achievements; it’s about establishing what you want your life to be like, what you choose to experience. The New Year is a great time to really explore what would inspire you. Discovering that is an honorable goal in itself.

Favorite Exercise
Make a “Gotta Get” list: On one side of a sheet of paper, list the important things you already have in place in your life. That might include a good education, skills, decent health, good relationships, a steady job, a safe, solid home and food on the table. On the other side, list the things you feel you “gotta get” in order to feel more fulfilled and more fully expressed. Maybe that includes a more creative or rewarding job, richer relationships, better physical fitness, more personal integrity, or something entirely new and different you’ve never experienced before. Looking at the list, define the gaps and pick one or two that you want to make priorities for change this year. Also look for opportunities to leverage the things you already have in order to make that change. Work from your places of strength!

Find out more about Bill Treasurer and his writings at www.giantleapconsulting.com. Also see Insight for his article “Right Risk.”

Jane Alexander: Mind-Body Expert 

What I like about New Year’s resolutions: Winter is a great time to do self-reflection, and the start of a new calendar year is a natural time to review what’s been working and what hasn’t. It’s also one of the few recognized occasions when our culture actively supports that kind of introspection and personal planning.

The downside: In terms of natural seasonal cycles, January is hibernation time – a tough time for many people to actually embark on big changes, especially those that require a lot of energy. It’s the dead of winter in many climates, which makes starting stringent diets and exercise programs feel miserable. Plus some people get depressed and stressed around the holidays, so they aren’t necessarily in the best frame of mind.

Favorite tool for positive change: Spiritual Fitness: A Seven-Week Guide to Finding Meaning and Sacredness in Your Everyday Life by Caroline Reynolds (Thorsons Publishing, 2001)

Resolution Wisdom
People assume that if they’re going to make changes, they have to do it all at once starting January 1. My background in seasonal living tells me that’s all wrong. This really isn’t so much a season of action as a season of dreaming, imagining, examining and thinking. It’s a perfect time to curl up with books and journals, to explore options, to develop systems and lay the groundwork for changes we’ll embrace more fully in the spring.

The problem is, the New Year is so synonymous with resolutions that we all feel we have to make them, and make them now – that this is our one chance in the year to transform our lives. So we try to shift too much too soon. Then we become wildly demoralized when our resolutions fall by the wayside in the first week. If one part of the resolution package crumbles, the rest comes crashing down because there wasn’t enough support there to begin with.

The reality is, losing weight might feel hopeless to you in January, whereas shifting to a lighter diet in June or July could feel quite natural. A simple realization like this can be incredibly liberating and empowering. When I first got this insight, I had one of those “Aha!” moments. Instead of beating myself up for being a hopeless failure each time my resolutions failed, I realized that I was just doing the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Get-It-Right Tips
Recognize that winter is a time of withdrawal and soul-seeking. Don’t exhaust yourself trying to forge a new career or start a new, hardcore fitness program unless you are really motivated to do that now. Instead, start the year by nourishing and preparing yourself both physically and mentally. Ease yourself into things.

Use this New Year time to get organized. Think about what you want to achieve over the coming year and figure out how you’re going to do it. Spend time researching workshops or courses, finding helpful people, getting into the right mindset, reading books, meditating, making lists, etc.

Forget crash diets. If you want to lose weight, start gently shifting into healthier eating, cutting out junk food and switching to whole foods. If you want to start exercising and are new to it, begin with something gentle (and indoors!) like yoga or Pilates. These programs work with the energy of the body and the energy of the season so you won’t exhaust yourself before spring arrives.

Big Picture
You don’t have to follow the herd – you can make your own choices to change your life in positive ways when you want to. It’s an individual process: You might read this and think, “Well, actually, I do very well with New Year’s resolutions.” Fine, keep going. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! But if it’s not working for you, then give yourself permission to find something that does work. Invent your own ritual.

Favorite Exercise
Sit down with a calendar and make your overview plan for 2004. Make a general list of your major goals and objectives and decide which you’re committed to doing, and when. For example, you might decide to detox in April and September, take up running in June, start a career shift in March, etc. Build in real dates and times. Once you’ve got a plan, break it down into manageable chunks, setting aside monthly and weekly appointments for plan maintenance and review.

Find out more about Jane Alexander and her writings at www.smudging.com.

Resolution Enthusiasm

By Lynn Robinson

The word “enthusiasm” is derived from the word “entheos,” which means “God within” or “guidance within.” I would argue that enthusiasm is basically guidance telling us to move in a particular direction. So when it comes to setting resolutions, the very first thing I ask myself is, “What am I excited about?”

The moment that most people start with this question, they get inundated by “yes, buts.” Things like: “Yes, I’d love to have my own business, but I could never find the time while I am working this much.” Or, “Yes, I can see myself in this strong beautiful body completing a triathlon, but I’d never be able to find the time to train that much.” They talk themselves out of their joy before they’ve even dared to fully experience the excitement of it.

What a waste! Your intuition is the keeper of your deepest wisdom. It holds the keys to your highest potential! To help you make the most of it in planning your New Year, here are some intuitive-mastery tips to keep in mind:

Listen to your gut. Feeling dissatisfied, bored, frustrated, antsy or desperate is a clear message from your intuition that change is required. We need challenge to thrive, and our system always tells us when it is ready to grow.

Ask the right questions. Once, years ago, I was working on my fitness goals and I decided I wanted to lose 10 pounds. But no matter how many times I asked my intuition how I could do it, I just kept coming up blank. Then I got this strong insight that I was asking the wrong question. So I stepped back and instead asked my intuition what the question should be. That answer came to me almost immediately. The real question was: “How can I learn to love my body?” That changed my whole outlook and gave me a flood of solid answers that I could actually see working and about which I could be very enthusiastic.

Don’t settle. Your intuition is not interested in helping you critique yourself to death, and it’s not there to help you come up with solutions that look like indentured servitude. If you get an “I should” or “yes, but” message while working with your intuition, flush it. That’s not your intuition: More likely, it’s your guilt or doubt. Try again with a different question. Be open to getting unexpected answers – as words, pictures or gut-level feelings. If you start feeling giddy, excited or even a little nervous, you know you’ve struck pay dirt.

Engage your imagination. Ask yourself: “What would my ideal day, week and month look like? What is my ideal life?” In the absence of all the normal limitations (time, money, obligation, etc.), what would you be doing and how would that feel? Make a “mental movie” of your ideal existence. Once you’ve got that information, you’ve also got some good indications about what engages your enthusiasm, and about how – even in small ways – you might begin treating yourself better now.

Seed Your Success
One of the biggest hurdles most people need to overcome is their own impatience. People want overnight success, and, unfortunately, many books and magazines set them up to expect that. As a rule, it took a long time for your life to develop into the reality you’re experiencing now. You should be prepared for it to take some time and energy to change its course.

If you plant a flower from seed, water it a couple of times and then see a tiny sprout coming up a week or so later, you don’t walk away in disgust and give up on it because what you wanted was a flower, not a tiny sprout. You see the sprout as evidence that your plant is coming along, and that energizes you to keep watering, fertilizing and checking on it.

It’s important to see resolutions the same way. You want to set them up so you know, right from day one, that you are taking steps in the right direction. You need to be able to show and see evidence that you are changing things for the better, even if that means you become more observant of the stuff you’re doing that isn’t working. All of this is evidence of your goals unfolding. You just need to keep watering and watching and checking back.

Lynn Robinson, MEd, is one of the nation’s leading experts on intuition. She’s the best-selling author of Compass of the Soul: 52 Ways Intuition Can Guide You to the Life of Your Dreams (Andrews McMeel, 2003) and Divine Intuition: Your Guide to Creating a Life You Love (DK Publishing, 2001). Her “Intuition Newsletter” is available at her Web site, www.lynnrobinson.com.

Pilar Gerasimo is the founding editor of Experience Life.

Leave a Comment

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Weekly Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter
Special Promotions