By Sondra L. Shapiro
Making a New Year’s resolution is an exercise in temporary happiness. At its heart, a resolution is a practice in self-delusion, doomed to failure. Right? So, why should we set ourselves up to fail? Aren’t our lives challenging enough without adding to the burden of having to live up to something?
Every Jan. 1, echoes of looming disappointment can be heard from near and far. I’m going to:
•Spend more time with family and friends.
•Enjoy life more.
•Get out of debt.
•Learn something new.
•Get more organized.
When I hear friends proclaim they are throwing out their cigarettes or dusting the cobwebs from their treadmills I shake my head, convinced such grandiose proclamations are not enough to jumpstart change.
I speak from experience, cringing when I recall all the broken promises I made to myself — a failing that smacked me right in the face as I did research for this column. Shortly after New Year’s I took an online test, compliments of psychologist and author Richard Wiseman.
Wiseman’s little exercise is designed to help assess whether the techniques we intend to use to achieve a goal will succeed. The lowest score is between eight and 11, a mid score is 12 to 20 and a high score is 21 to 24.
With an embarrassing score of 14, I have a lot to learn, although I’m in good company. According to a 2007 survey conducted by Wiseman, 88 percent of the 3,000 participants failed in attaining their New Year’s resolutions.
Lest we think too badly of Dr. Wiseman for pointing out our all too human foibles, he followed up with 10 ways to help us succeed in the future:
•Make only one resolution — The chance for success is greater when we direct energy into changing one aspect of our lives.
•Be reflective, not impulsive — We should begin thinking about the changes we want to make a few days before New Year’s Eve.
•Avoid previous resolutions — Why should we begin the year by setting ourselves up for failure and disappointment.
•Don’t run with the crowd and go with the usual resolutions — Instead think about what you really want out of life.
•Breakdown a goal into a series of steps — Focus on creating sub-goals that are concrete, measurable and time-based.
•Share resolutions with friends and family — A cheering gallery should increase the fear of failure and elicit support.
•Regularly think about the benefits of achieving a goal — Create a checklist of how life would be better once an objective is met.
•Allow for small rewards for sub-goals — Recognizing milestones create a sense of progress.
•Make plans and progress concrete — Keep a handwritten journal, a computer spreadsheet or cover a notice board with graphs or pictures.
•Expect to revert to your old habits occasionally — Treat any failure as a temporary setback rather than a reason to give up.
So much of what happens around us is disconcerting and out of our control: The bad economy, rising gas prices, shaky governments in the Mideast, famine in East Africa, our sons and daughters dying in the war in Afghanistan. The setting of some attainable goals can establish a sense of empowerment and pride of accomplishment, says the good doctor.
My New Year’s resolution is to give Dr. Wiseman’s suggestions for success serious consideration. The problem is, I’ve already flunked one of the rules. I didn’t start considering his suggestions until after New Year’s.
See, I’m already being too hard on myself, setting myself up for failure. So, I guess my resolution is to begin his exercise of contemplation next Dec. 27.
Did I mention fighting procrastination is one of the resolutions I have been making every New Year’s for as long as I can remember? Has it occurred to any of you readers that this column is appearing in the February edition of this paper?
Case in point.