Resolution Recovery

Remember those resolutions you made six months ago? Maybe you’d rather not. But why forgive and forget when you can fix and forge ahead? We’ll show you how.

That’s it, just relax on the black leather couch and breathe slowly. Let your eyes follow the swinging pendulum. Your eyes are getting heavier . . . and heavier . . . We’re going back in time now, way back. Okay, not that far back. The time is six months ago. It’s January and you’re sitting by a window, writing. The winter light is spilling across the page and you are engaged in deep thought. Now you’re looking down at the paper, reading what you’ve written there. Why, it looks like some New Year’s resolutions. Look closely — can you read what they say?

Beep! Beep! Recovered-memory alert! Gasp! Yes, it’s all coming back now! The weight-loss and fitness goals, the plans to stop smoking, to get out of debt, to become less of a stress-case. All those promises you made, and then slowly, gingerly backed out of. There they are, in black and white. How could you have forgotten? Gads, you’re turning pale — for Pete’s sake, snap out of it!

Reality Check

Yes, we know, seeing all those long-forgotten resolutions is enough to snap anybody out of his or her hypnotic reverie, but if it takes something bordering on regression therapy to get you to reflect on this year’s goals, you’re probably long overdue for a review session. Of course, if you followed the suggestions offered in the “Resolution Workshop” article we printed in the January/February issue of Experience Life, you wisely scheduled regular review sessions as part of your plan. Okay, so you never did them, but that was 26 weeks ago. Who can keep track? Bygones.

Whoa, Mr. (or Ms.) Short-Term Memory! Not so fast. Sure, it might be more comfortable to let the grass grow over the burial mound and let those resolutions rest in peace, but you’ve still got a perfectly good half a year left! Rather than letting your resolutions lie there and rot, why not revive them — or at least re-evaluate them?

Chances are, the promises you made to yourself last winter still have a pulse. They may just need a little fresh air and exercise to put the color back in their cheeks. Then again, they may need some radical surgery and an intravenous drip. But even if you ultimately decide to put your 2003 resolutions out of their misery, the simple act of reviewing them — before you give them last rights — can teach you a lot.

You might find out that some of your resolutions were doomed from the beginning. You might ferret out some pesky loopholes in your resolutions-planning process that keep setting you up for failure year after year. You might even find that there are some important goals you’ve never even bothered (or dared) to set. Best of all, you might just come up with some brilliant ways to revise and rekindle your current resolutions so that they really work this time.

The key to giving your old resolutions new life — and your new resolutions a fighting chance — is simple: You’ve got to be willing to learn from your mistakes. A six-month resolution checkup can help you do that.

The timing is perfect. It’s been long enough since January that you can’t justifiably harbor any illusions about “not having gotten around to it yet,” but it’s been a short enough time that you can still remember (with some prodding) what you had planned, and where you might have gone wrong.

The very best part is, you’ve still got plenty of time to relaunch your resolutions with full gusto! With six months of the year yet to go, you can make major strides in virtually any area of your life. You can learn new skills and reform old habits. You can rescue yourself from backslides and reclaim your vision of how you wanted this year to go. It’s not too late — so let’s get going!

Digging Up the Past

First things first: Where are those resolutions and goals? You did write them down, didn’t you? If you did, pull those bad boys out and dust ‘em off. If you didn’t, well hey, then you’ve already learned one very important lesson to carry forward from here: Goal planning is best done in writing.

As goals expert Brian Tracy noted in last January’s “Resolution Workshop,” until you’ve written out a goal in vivid and minute detail, it’s really just a wish.

A brief refresher: The act of writing out your goals is an essential component of the planning process, both because it embeds the idea in your deeper consciousness and because it gives you a written record of your own commitment. Having a written goal and goal plan — something you can return to — gives you physical evidence you can refer to and amend during subsequent review sessions (like the one you’re about to do).

Also, as Zen teacher Cheri Huber pointed out, beyond just writing down your goals, you should write regularly about the challenges you face in meeting them. When you take time to write down the urges, emotions, excuses and sabotaging mechanisms that rise up in the wake of your goal setting, you become much more starkly aware of them. And awareness is most often the first step toward transformation.

Another of the key points raised in January’s “Resolution Workshop” concerned the fact that goal planning and execu- tion is a cyclical, repetitive, four-phase process: Assessment, Commitment, Feedback and Follow-Through. You are always moving through one stage or toward another, and each pass through the cycle brings you closer to your goal. Keeping a written record of your progress through these stages makes it easier to know where you are at any given time, where you’ve gotten stalled, and what you need to do to propel yourself forward.

Now, if you don’t have written resolutions or goals, and you don’t have a written record of your action plan that you can use to evaluate your method and progress, don’t berate yourself. First of all, you may be one of those one-in-a-million types who can get good results with the paperless method. If you can remember exactly what resolutions you committed to in January and why, and you’ve already made great, satisfying strides toward achieving them, way to go!

If, on the other hand, you’re the more typical sort — meaning you established some goals for yourself but didn’t write them down, didn’t make a plan, and/or didn’t make good progress — we’re happy to report that you’re still ahead of the game. At least you now know where you stand! You are firmly in the Feedback stage, and the first feedback you are getting from your lack of success thus far is: If you want the next six months to go differently, you need to write this stuff down.

More good news: We’re going to take you full circle. Make no mistake, handled properly, this momentary pause that the uninitiated call “failure” is really just an essential part of the feedback process that leads, eventually, to success. So as you read this article, take time to physically note the other pieces of feedback that come your way and jot down answers to the questions that arise. That alone will qualify as a form of Follow-Through (where you take action based on the feedback you’ve gotten to date).

The rest of this article will focus on the phases that come next: Assessment (where you take stock of what’s going on now and decide what to do next) and Commitment (where you throw your energy, intent and resources fully behind your ingenious revised plan).

Taking Stock

For advice on resolution rescue and revival, we once again consulted two experts: Cheri Huber, our favorite Zen teacher/author and a regular Experience Life contributor, and Charles Stuart Platkin, an expert goal planner, speaker, and author of Breaking the Pattern: The Five Principles You Need to Remodel Your Life. We drew from both their works in developing the 6-Month Resolution Checkup below. Both Huber and Platkin agree that even before you begin assessing your progress toward your goals, it makes sense to evaluate the goals themselves. There’s simply no point, they say, in dumping time and energy into a goal you’re not completely, enthusiastically committed to. But evaluating that commitment can be trickier than you might think.

“One of the great difficulties in goal and resolution setting,” notes Huber, “is that none of us is just one person. Each of us has a whole bunch of personalities running around inside us. Some of those personalities are very excited about goal setting and planning, and some of them aren’t the least bit interested. That can cause problems, because the personality who makes a given goal — the go-getter with the daytimer, the motivation, and the desire to see this to-do item checked off — is often not the same personality who is going to have to do the dirty work of accomplishing it.”

In fact, says Huber, one or more of the personalities whose energy and effort are required for carrying out a goal may not even be aware that the goal exists! So before you begin taking stock of your goals and your success in meeting them, Huber suggests taking attendance. Stop and ask yourself, “Which part of me set this goal, which parts are involved in carrying it out, and which parts might be ambivalent or opposed to it?” Getting input from all these viewpoints will help you determine the most accurate and complete evaluation of how your goals are faring, and why.

Equally important, says Huber, is inviting a supportive internal “coach” or mentoring personality to conduct and facilitate the “team proceedings” in a positive way. She encourages you to mentally uninvite any internal judging voices whose primary job it is to criticize, shame or guilt-trip your other personalities into submission.

Of course, even when all your personalities are on board with a particular goal, disconnects can still occur. As Platkin notes, by July, a goal you were genuinely enthused about in January may have dropped significantly in your priority list, perhaps as a result of shifts or events outside your immediate sphere of control. “Let’s say you had a goal to lose 10 pounds,” he explains. “At the time, that goal may have seemed like the most important thing in the world to you, but six months later, if a family member has recently passed on or some other crisis has occurred, you may be rethinking your priorities.”

The point is, he says, you need to look at the reasons why you are still interested in the goal or not. If the “why” simply isn’t strong enough anymore, then there’s no reason to force the goal. If there is still a strong desire there, but you’ve lost momentum or focus, you may need to reconnect with your goal’s larger purpose and the values it serves. “Maybe your weight-loss goal is less about appearance now,” suggests Platkin, “and more about health and energy and enjoying a long, full life with the people you love.”

Once you’ve decided the goal is important, you need to give yourself permission to get back into the goal-planning process, taking your current circumstances into consideration. And if weight loss isn’t important to you anymore, then your next step is figuring out what is.

This, emphasizes Platkin, is why formal goal planning and written documentation of goals are so important. “Going through the planning process helps you identify the values, beliefs and desires that ultimately bring your goal toward fruition. Revisiting that same process through regular reviews is what keeps you on track.”

Starting Back In

Once you’ve taken a crack at answering the previous questions, you should have a fairly good idea of what you might need to do differently in the second half of 2003. Maybe you need to adjust your goals, reconnect with your values, develop a more detailed action plan, or enhance your accountability.

Regardless, start by giving yourself a pat on the back for having tracked this far, and for having done all that you did do during the first half of this year. Next, assess and revive your commitment to the goals you’ve established. As Cheri Huber notes, “The final two questions in any goal-review process are: 1) ‘Am I willing to give myself a break and start this process over?’ and 2) ‘What would inspire me now?’”

If you don’t have answers to those questions right now, make it your interim goal to find out, and then set aside some quality time for that exploration. And remember, completing a goal-planning or goal-review process is a significant and worthwhile goal in itself.

Most importantly, don’t allow yourself to become discouraged by any plans that may have fizzled or flopped. They are just visceral forms of feedback designed to carry you for- ward. And don’t be afraid to aim high — as of right now, you’ve still got six long months to make good.

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