This year, in developing our annual Resolution Workshop, we thought to ourselves: Hmmm, what would be the most useful support system we could offer readers to help them knock their resolutions out of the park this time around? The answer we came up with was: coaching.
You’ve probably heard of life coaching. For some people, it’s a way of turbocharging their goals process. For others, it’s a way of getting one-on-one career guidance, and for still others, it’s a way of working through life challenges or transitions.
At core, life coaches are personal guides who help people become their best, most authentic selves. Good coaches help their clients identify and accomplish their most important dreams and goals. They also help them clarify and pursue their most important priorities, warding off procrastination, distraction and avoidance so they can get more satisfaction from the experience of daily living.
Most important, the best, most insightful coaches can be incredibly helpful in assisting people to overcome their internal barriers: those destructive thought processes and limiting belief systems that tend to hold us back, sometimes sabotaging our goals before they even get off the ground, and sometimes launching a series of crushing “sneak attacks” just as the rewards come into sight.
Sound like the fate of any New Year’s resolutions you know? Well, if you’ve had little or no luck working through a resolutions process in the past, this would be a good time to let those experiences go. Prepare to start fresh.
First, we’re not going to be preparing any long lists of “to do” or “to fix” items here, so you won’t end up with a string of broken promises and reasons to feel lousy.
Second, the whole focus of this workshop is less on achieving an external set of accomplishments than it is on making progress toward your own New Year’s vision, and then drafting a set of “internal resolutions” that will help support that vision. These are new structures and new ways of thinking that augment your integrity, courage, discipline and conscious choice.
The purpose of the information and accompanying exercises we’ve included on the following pages is to provide you with some new tools. They’re designed to reinforce your existing inner framework so that it can support any dream or decision you decide to undertake, whether that’s creating a strong, healthy body, improving your relationships, setting off on an entirely new career path or just getting more pleasure out of the life you are living now.
To get you the best, most insightful help available, we’ve enlisted two of the country’s leading life coaches: Cheryl Richardson and Debbie Ford. Both are master coaches (meaning they teach the coaching craft to others), and each has a long string of professional honors and accomplishments attached to her name. Both are best-selling authors of numerous books (see sidebars), and both are frequent guests on national TV shows. Twice, they’ve appeared together on The Oprah Winfrey Show, where (as part of Oprah’s special “Lifestyle Makeover” episodes) they took a tag-team approach in coaching audience members through their biggest areas of personal challenge.
Both Richardson and Ford take an empowering, compassionate, “no victims” attitude toward coaching, and both emphasize the importance of placing your goals in a whole-person, whole-life perspective.
Like coaching in general, they assert, the process of setting New Year’s resolutions should not be an attempt to “fix” yourself. Rather, it centers on seizing the opportunity to become your best self, and to enjoy your best life – the one that brings you the most discovery, pleasure and pride.
So, with that, let’s get started. On the following pages, you’ll get wise counsel from Richardson and Ford, along with some intriguing explorations that – if you’re willing to do the work – are guaranteed to bring you rewarding results.
For additional support and deeper insight, look into the sidebar listings of Richardson’s and Ford’s books, Web sites, and other tools at the end of each section. But for now, set aside a few moments to seize the opportunity that’s in front of you. This is your launch pad. Step right up.
Crafting Inner Resolutions
When we asked Cheryl Richardson for advice on the smartest, most powerful way to go about developing New Year’s resolutions, her advice was simple: “Work with Inner Resolutions.”
Virtually all the outer changes we might want to accomplish, Richardson explains, including classic resolutions like getting into better shape, getting out of debt and stopping smoking, are largely determined by our inner qualities: things like integrity, discipline, courage and self-respect. So why not develop resolutions that challenge us to work directly with these qualities of character?
“Most of us need to strengthen these qualities in order to achieve our external goals,” Richardson notes, “but instead, we tend to focus exclusively on the outcomes, and since we haven’t put any new behaviors in place to support us in developing these traits, often those outcomes are disappointing.”
Worse, notes Richardson, if we try to implement external changes, and we fail, we beat ourselves up about it. As a result, we may wind up feeling less worthy and less likely to go after the rewards we were seeking in the first place.
The way to turn this problem around, she asserts, is to trace your outward desires back to their links with the most essential parts of your identity. “On some level,” explains Richardson, “most of our deeply felt desires have their roots in our values, and they also symbolize some aspect of our Divine assignment – the gift we are here to develop and share. Realigning with this sense of purpose and authenticity is where we get the ‘juice’ to fuel real, meaningful change.”
While it can be useful to start a process of personal exploration by examining your values, says Richardson, it can be equally useful to examine your current desires and use those as “clues” to the qualities you most need to begin developing right now.
Look at the changes you’d like to make in your life, suggests Richardson, then begin deducing the qualities required to achieve them. Consider how strengthening those qualities would allow you to more fully express the best aspects of yourself. Starting with new behaviors that build you up from the inside out is the highest-impact place to begin your Inner Resolutions process, she notes, but it also connects you to a much deeper sense of motivation.
“Let’s say you want to author a book,” she offers. “Rather than simply resolving to write the book, you would start by asking ‘What kinds of inner qualities would I need to possess in order to accomplish that?’ Your answer might be ‘discipline, determination.’ Perhaps, to develop discipline, what you really need to do is focus purely on the act of writing for 10 minutes a day, notes Richardson. And maybe, at first, the writing doesn’t even have anything to do with ‘The Book’ – it’s just the act of writing, of building the quality of discipline through conscious exercise. Over time, though, as you complete the discipline-building exercise of writing for 10 minutes a day, something in you shifts. You realize you can do this, and you suddenly get energized to work on the book. And, should you find that the book no longer holds your interest, you can still begin applying your newfound discipline to other areas of your life.
“By focusing on developing the internal quality of self-discipline, as opposed to the external outcome of the finished book,” notes Richardson, “you lay the groundwork for the book, and also for a lot of other rewards.”
That’s important, Richardson notes, because if what you’re struggling with is an underdeveloped skill set around discipline (an inner quality), the chances are good that this shortfall is showing up in a lot of other areas of your life. It might be your food choices, or your use of time, or your follow-through on other goals. You could set resolutions in any, or even all, of those areas, but by developing discipline, you address all three.
“Once you’ve successfully committed to writing 10 minutes a day, you’ve also moved forward toward the more important goal of becoming a more disciplined person,” says Richardson. “That gives you more confidence and energy for other parts of your life, and it also makes it much easier to direct that quality toward your original goal.”
While it’s a good idea to make clear, actionable commitments about how you intend to develop or exercise your desired Inner Resolution, notes Richardson, it’s also important that you don’t get caught up in a plan so complex that it distracts you from the real task at hand. Or so rigid that it falls apart at the first tremor of an unanticipated circumstance.
Some people really enjoy creating a long, flowing to-do list, Richardson notes, but in many cases, it’s far more important to start out by changing one behavior at a time. Working the Inner Resolutions process gets at that – even if your outer resolution doesn’t go precisely as planned.
In most cases, notes Richardson, Inner Resolutions fall into one of four overlapping categories: discipline (executing your choices), integrity (aligning your life with your highest values), courage (being willing to take risks and stand up for yourself in order to achieve your dreams) and self-respect (being able to say no, differentiating between your own and other people’s needs).
Richardson addresses each of these areas in depth in her books and CDs. Her top tip, though, is to keep it simple. “If you want to become more courageous,” she advises, “decide to face one small fear each week. Or, if you want to set better boundaries, which will increase your level of self-respect, start saying no to those requests you’d normally fulfill out of guilt or obligation.”
The following excerpt, from Life Makeovers, outlines the importance of developing integrity, a “master quality” that engenders many other desirable traits. Use the reading and the associated “Take Action Challenge” as a preparatory exercise in developing your Inner Resolutions plan. Then read on for more resolutions-crafting advice.
To determine how well you’re living with integrity, answer the following questions:
1. What internal rules have I set for myself?
2. How am I honoring these standards in my everyday life?
3. Where am I not being true to these standards?
Once you have the answers, take action to do something about it. I need to make adjustments to the following three situations: