The tradition of New Year’s resolutions is, at least in theory, a noble one. This annual ritual of self-reflection is designed to give us a moment of much-needed pause – a moment of inquiry, perhaps, into the nature of our personal potential.
The trouble, of course, lies in our practice, or to be more precise, our lack thereof. Too often, we don’t actually get around to doing a whole lot with our resolutions, and part of that has to do with the way we construct them in the first place. In many cases, this potentially illuminating ritual of self-reflection is reduced to little more than a laundry list of fix-it items, a litany of barked orders, a quickly scrawled testament to our own self-loathing.
Crafting good resolutions takes some time and thought. It also takes a willingness to look beyond our areas of dissatisfaction and into the very heart of our deepest desires. Moreover, it requires a willingness to embrace new skills, new information, new sources of support. Because resolutions are, at their foundation, about choices. And for us creatures of habit, making choices different from those we’ve made habitually can be challenging indeed.
So how can you predispose yourself to success? We’ve rounded up three inspiring experts to get you started down the right track. They’ve guided thousands of folks through the process of making choices that lead them to happier, more fulfilling, less mundane lives. These experts are here to help you get into the right frame of mind, and to help you chart a pragmatic and rewarding plan of action.
Perhaps more important, they are also here to equip you with the tools you’ll need to stick with that plan, and to both enjoy and benefit from that process.
Each expert works in a different tradition and offers a different perspective. But what unites them is their decades-long focus on helping individuals create authentic lives that are honest, satisfying and deeply rewarding – lives that get better with each passing year.
Sound good? Get ready for some proven resolution-crafting pointers from:
Cheri Huber, on awareness. Cheri Huber is the founder of the Zen Monastery Practice Center in Murphys, Calif. She has been a student and teacher in the Soto Zen tradition for more than 30 years and has authored 17 books, including How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be (Hay House, 2000). She travels widely to lead workshops and retreats, and she’s skilled at helping establish the foundation of self-awareness from which you can choose your focus for the year ahead. She’s back on our Resolutions Workshop “dream team” for the third year in a row.
Jinny Ditzler, on charting your course. Jinny Ditzler is the founder and creator of the “Best Year Yet” system and author of the best-selling book, Your Best Year Yet! (Warner Books, 1999). Ditzler’s simple, 10-question process has worked for thousands (including her), in part because it puts special emphasis on helping individuals decide which goals in their wish-list arsenal are likely to be the most rewarding and energizing for them to pursue now. Ditzler lends her expertise on prioritizing goals, choosing what to do first and crafting an individual plan of action.
George Leonard, on moving toward mastery. George Leonard is the president of the Esalen Institute and the cofounder of the martial arts school Aikido of Tamalpais, both based in northern California. A prolific author and editor, Leonard has written a variety of books. His articles have appeared in magazines from Esquire to The Nation. Leonard is a noted expert on mastery, and he advises goal-seekers on how to raise their game by constantly refining both their approach and their perspective.
OK, so there’s some great guidance here. But you still have to show up for your part. Doing this type of resolutions work will probably require a few hours of your time to begin with, and it’s fine to spread that over a few sessions. You’ll also want to block out time (perhaps quarterly) for some additional plan updates later in the year. After all, as you move toward goal mastery, you’re bound to make some major progress, so it’s likely that by spring, your now lived-in Resolutions Plan will require some refining. Practice, after all, makes perfect.
Begin With Awareness by Cheri Huber
Conventional resolutions often fail to do us much good because they were never really designed for us in the first place. The best resolutions are based on thoughtful, heartfelt consideration of what would make us happy. But all too often, we assign ourselves instead to accomplishments or self-improvement tasks approved by other people. We end up working hard (at least for a little while) on things our friends, bosses, partners, parents or our culture at large say are right for us. As well intended as such resolutions might be, they lack the natural appeal and profound meaning that self-generated resolutions can hold. So our first step in the resolutions process is to take a compassionate, nonjudgmental look at ourselves and ask what we really value. Where are we truly energized to focus our energy in the coming months and beyond?
Consider the difference between the following two scenarios: In the first, someone strides up to you and blurts out, “What’s wrong with you, anyway?” Depending on your personal style, you might feel angry, confused, upset, scared, defensive or some combination of these. Now imagine that another person approaches you and asks in a kind voice, “How are you doing?” When you respond, this person listens, nods and shows interest. How do you feel now? Clearly, the second interaction would be far more pleasant, and you would be more willing to share your true thoughts and feelings with this person than with the first.
It is this attitude of open-minded acceptance that you will need to maintain – no matter what you unearth during the “discovery” phase of your resolutions work. Your goal is simply to become keenly aware of those sometimes-faint internal voices that speak your truth.
For example, there is little purpose in following someone else’s advice (directly stated or implied) that you climb the corporate ladder “to provide for your family” if your inner wisdom tells you that what your family needs is more time (than money) spent together. So begin by listening only to your own inner voices, to what resonates as true in your heart and mind, to what your soul tells you is meaningful and right.
Hearing these voices clearly amidst all the external voices we’ve listened to throughout our lives can be difficult, but it’s a little like dealing with a bunch of socks that have been jumbled together in a washer: Initially, those socks are so snarled and intertwined that they’re impossible to sort out. But as you separate them and lay them out, it becomes easier to see what goes with what.
Begin by removing all distractions, sitting down, closing your eyes and listening to your quiet inner voice. At first, you may hear only murmurs, or you may hear an enthusiastic, overeager chorus, each voice trying to out-shout the others. Invite the voices to settle down, and visualize yourself separating them and laying them out neatly in front of you. What have they been telling you that you haven’t yet heard? As you consider the following questions, remember to keep your focus on awareness and observation rather than criticism and judgment.
- How do I define myself? Does this match how others see me?
- What parts of me (good or bad) am I ignoring or denying?
- What values are most important to me?
- Are those values and parts of my life being honored by the way I am currently living?
- Am I “stuck” somehow? Where, and why?
- What internal or external obstacles stand in my way?Once you have gathered your thoughts, ready yourself for action with the following idea: There is virtually no discrepancy or limitation in your life that can’t be transformed by conscious choice. Life presents challenges to everyone. But it also presents us with the capacity to handle whatever comes our way. All it takes is practice, patience and the willingness to discern what’s right for us, right now.
- More from Cheri Huber: There Is Nothing Wrong with You (Keep It Simple Books, 2001), How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be (Hay House, 2000), www.CheriHuber.com – The site provides articles written by Huber, as well as email-based classes that she teaches. Audio clips of Huber’s teachings can be found at www.livingcompassion.org/openairarchives.html.
Draft Your Plan by Jinny Ditzler
It’s the middle of winter – the days are short, nights are long, and you might feel like hibernating until the spring bulbs come up. While this can be a difficult season to throw yourself into a new, high-energy routine, the long winter evenings naturally lend themselves to spending a few hours focusing on your life and reviewing the highs and lows of the past year. By reviewing the past year objectively, you’ll learn what worked and what didn’t. Then, you’ll be ready to create a concrete action plan for making the coming year better than you ever imagined it could be.
Laying the groundwork for your best year yet starts by answering 10 questions. You can go through all 10 in one sitting or break down the process into two or more sessions – you’ll know when your brain is full and you need a break.
As you answer the questions, write down whatever responses feel the truest to you. Don’t judge or censor yourself. Listen for the big “aha!” moments. The degree to which you are honest and compassionate in your responses will directly correlate with your ability to make your life a true reflection of your highest choices.
1. What did I accomplish in the past year? Did you show up for an important relationship? Achieve a body breakthrough? Conquer a fear? Complete an important task? Establish a healthy new habit? List them all!
2. What were my biggest disappointments? Perhaps a friendship fell apart, or you were passed over for a promotion. Perhaps you didn’t manage to pay off your debts or work out as much as you hoped to. List all of the places life didn’t live up to your hopes and expectations.
3. What did I learn? What three personal guidelines would help most in the next year? Look over your lists from the first two questions. Ask yourself: What worked? How did I manage to accomplish all the things I accomplished? What didn’t work so well, and why? What did I learn from that? Choose your top three lessons and turn them into guidelines for the coming year, such as: “Do the important stuff first,” “Communicate my desires,” or simply, “Relax.”
4. How do I limit myself, and how can I stop? All of us entertain limiting beliefs about who we are and what we can or cannot do. Identify a limiting belief you carry (perhaps one related to an area of challenge identified above), and then try expressing that attitude as a positive personal statement. For example, if one of your limiting beliefs is “I’m not athletic,” your new statement might be: “I really enjoy training, and I look forward to getting stronger each week.”
5. What are my personal values? What do you value in life? What matters most? You get to choose how you spend your energy. Define what you value and which values are – or are not – currently getting the benefit of your attention.
6. What roles do I play? Friend, partner, manager, cook, poet, firefighter, homeowner, parent, husband, aunt, caregiver? Boil these down to eight major roles you play.
7. Which role is my major focus for next year? In which role do you want a breakthrough? Select just one role that will receive special, increased focus for the next 12 months.
8. What are my goals for each role? Your role-based goals don’t need to be terribly ambitious; they just need to feel energizing and purposeful and reflect your values. State your goals in the positive (“start” vs. “stop,” “do” vs. “don’t”) and as verbs. The best goals are also specific and measurable. For example, “Meditate for 15 minutes each morning” is preferable to the more vague “Reduce stress and increase peace of mind.”
9. What are my top 10 goals for next year? Check these goals against your answers to the previous questions. Is there a good balance between values, roles and goals? Do the goals reflect what’s most important to you? Which ones really “pop” and get you excited? Choose your most compelling goal and write it at the top of your list. Continue choosing your next most important goal until your prioritized list is complete.
10. How can I make sure I achieve my goals? As you work toward your goals, keep asking yourself, “What’s the next step? What skills or support do I need now? Do I need a mentor? A personal trainer? A nutritionist? A coach? A ‘buddy’?”
Write Your Plan
At the end of your personal workshop, gather your answers and summarize them onto a single page if possible. This encapsulated plan should include your three guidelines (from question 3), your personal statement (question 4), your major focus (question 7) and your top 10 goals (question 9). Keep this concise plan someplace where you can see it daily to keep yourself moving in the direction of your dreams.
Reaching your top 10 goals will require that you make this a yearlong project, so don’t let your list get dusty! Set aside a little time each weekend to review and refine your plan, and to harvest the insights that emerge along the way:
- Set monthly progress benchmarks for your most important goals, and decide in advance what “Plan B” actions you’ll take in the event that progress is not forthcoming.
- If you get stalled or stuck, reach out for support and skills that can help you get moving again.
- More from Jinny Ditzler: Your Best Year Yet: Ten Questions for Making the Next Twelve Months Your Most Successful Ever (Warner Books, 1999)
www.BestYearYet.com– Jinny Ditzler’s site offers a free “Best Year Yet” online workshop and a directory of “Best Year Yet” coaches.
Move Toward Mastery by George Leonard
So you’ve spent some time developing your self-awareness, taken stock of your choices and decided to make some changes in your life. Maybe you’ve even already started incorporating some of these new choices into your daily activities or interactions. And maybe you’ve hit a few snags.
Initially, new habits and choices may feel a little halting, awkward or unreliable. To solidify and become completely comfortable with them, you’ll want to move toward mastery.
Mastery is as much a process as it is a goal. And typically, the journey toward mastery teaches us as much or more about ourselves as it does about the specific skill we are attempting to master. In essence, what we are learning when we work toward mastery is how to follow through reliably on the choices we have made for ourselves, and how to support those choices with consistent behaviors.
Mastery is about living and acting according to high (but possible) standards, and it isn’t reserved for the super-talented or expertly trained. Mastery is available to anyone willing to get on the path and stay on it – regardless of age, gender or previous experience.
Take the Keys
There are five keys to mastery. Staying aware of these principles will maximize your chances for success and minimize your vulnerability to delays and distractions.
No. 1: Instruction. Be willing to be taught by others who have had experience and success in the areas where you desire progress. Find a good instructor with credentials you respect and whose students also reflect high standards of quality.
No. 2: Practice. Every master spends countless hours practicing the fundamentals of his or her “game.” From Marion Jones’s speed, to Lance Armstrong’s cardiovascular endurance, to Mariah Carey’s vocal range, every master knows that excellence has a lot less to do with the climactic clips shown in the media than it has to do with endless, repetitive hours of practice. Take pride and pleasure in the journey; worry less about the goal.
No. 3: Surrender. In order to learn something new, you first need to recognize that you don’t already know all the answers. You must be willing to risk appearing foolish and clumsy at times. Learning almost any significant new skill involves a few indignities and a “beginner’s mind.” Pick your teachers wisely, then trust them to teach you well.
No. 4: Intentionality. Know what you are doing and why. Keep your chosen vision of success always in mind, especially when you are practicing your new skill or habit. And consider this: Not all practice makes perfect. Correct, mindful practice makes perfect – or at least moves you in the right direction.
No. 5: The Edge. Be willing to challenge yourself – and to acknowledge when you are pushing yourself beyond safe or productive limits. Learn to recognize the exhilarating feeling you get as you approach your edge, and the problematic results you get when you cross over. With instruction and practice, you will eventually find that, with careful attention, you can safely push yourself beyond your self-imposed limits. You can expand your comfort range. When you do, you will redefine the limits of what is possible. And you’ll keep refining it as your practice evolves.
The path toward mastery requires discernment and discipline. So, keep these suggestions in mind as you put your plans into action:
Guideline No. 1: Expect resistance and, possibly, even backlash. Be conscious of the fact that you are part of a larger system: your family, your circle of friends, your colleagues. And know that when you change, the whole system changes. Some individuals in that larger circle might not be ready for, or entirely on board with, the changes you’ve decided to make.
Guideline No. 2: Be willing to negotiate with your own resistance to change. Stay alert to subtle signs of resistance, and be prepared to take one step back for every two steps forward. Don’t quit, and don’t try to power your way through all obstacles. In some cases, going around an obstacle might be a better approach.
Guideline No. 3: Let go of your “I can do it all myself” tendencies. Be willing to enlist the support of friends, family, colleagues, master-level experts and others who have walked this path before you.
Guideline No. 4: Follow a regular practice – a conscious, consistent way of doing things that becomes almost ritual and, eventually, habitual. Once you establish a successful practice in one area, you can translate that approach to other areas.
Guideline No. 5: Dedicate yourself to lifelong learning. As I often remind my own students, the path of mastery is the path that never ends. Every good master is also a perennial student.
Concerned that you won’t be able to do it all? Don’t worry, and don’t allow yourself to get overwhelmed by the steps you see ahead. Just start where you are. Choose your priorities, make a commitment and begin taking action in a deliberate way. Once you are on the path to mastery, you’ll find that it’s the willingness to go on the journey that matters most of all.
More From George Leonard
Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment (Penguin Books, 1992)
The Ultimate Athlete (North Atlantic Books, 2001)
www.itp-life.com – The site explains the Integral Transformative Practice cofounded by George Leonard.
Make It Happen
Think this seems like an awful lot of work? You’re right. It’s the work of creating a life – and a self – that reflects your highest choices. But it’s nowhere near as difficult or painful as living a life that isn’t “you” at all.
The wonderful thing is, just by being willing to engage in this sort of exploration, by pausing to even consider this collection of questions, you’ve already come a long way from the hasty fix-it lists of the past. You’re moving in the right direction.
Perhaps you’ve discovered that the real point of issue isn’t the extra 10 pounds, the credit-card bill, the dead-end job or the embarrassing bad habit – that these are just blinking indicators of where your life and your life choices are a little off course. Perhaps you’ve perceived that by making one change in one area of your life, you could easily set in motion a chain of events that would make many other areas easier and more rewarding.
But even if you make no other resolutions this year, resolve to listen more closely to the inner voice that points you in the direction of your happiness. Create some moments of reflection where that voice can be heard. Then listen to – and be willing to act on – the wisdom that’s been with you all along.