‘I’m gonna go on a diet at exactly 12:01am January 1!’
‘I’m gonna join a health club, first thing on New Year’s Day!’
‘I’m gonna get myself organized for the New Year!’
‘I’m gonna’I’m gonna’.’
How many New Year’s resolutions have you actually kept over the years? (Now, ‘fess up—it’s just between you and me, and I won’t say anything’) Truth be told, most New Year’s resolutions fail. They fail because they’re artificial. You can’t resolve to do something just because it happens to be January 1. You resolve to do something because you’re prepared to follow it through NOW, not some time in the future. ‘It’s January 1, so it makes sense to do such and such,’ has to make sense for reasons other than what the date happens to be. If not, why bother? On January 2, you’ll be right back where you started.
Another reason why New Year’s resolutions crash and burn is that they’re often too broad, lofty and unrealistic. For example, ‘I’m going to be a better person.’ Or, ‘I need to get myself together.’ Or, ‘Something’s got to be done about this gut.’ What do ‘better,’ or ‘together,’ and ‘something’ mean, anyway? And in what precise way will you be better or together this year? How will you identify and measure your progress? Such a resolution is nothing more than a vague, albeit well-meaning intention, perhaps made during, or shortly after, the application of eggnog.
Any of us, especially when we’re caught up in the holiday spirit, can intend to do all kinds of things, but it doesn’t mean we’re going to follow through. Following through simply means to know, in clear and concrete terms, what our intentions actually signify in practice. It requires goals that are concrete, specific, and realistic in the short term. I call these ‘bite-size’ goals. Just as you wouldn’t try to eat an entire steak in one bite, you shouldn’t try to take on a goal that’s too massive all at once.
Though ‘bite-size’ objectives, in and of themselves, are no guarantee that you’ll ultimately follow through, they will, at least, give you a more realistic shot at it. So, that being said, it all comes down to this: People are successful in their resolutions primarily because (1) they are realistic in their goals, and (2) they possess integrity. Integrity is, essentially (and at the risk of sounding like a clich, an overriding determination to say what one means and mean what one says. Integrity becomes a part of a person’s conscious outlook and basic psychological make-up. Integrity can’t be faked, and it can’t be picked up once or twice, only to be discarded at will. It’s an all-encompassing part of a person—the part that makes all other virtues possible. Integrity, by definition, cannot be practiced for the sake of others. It is a byproduct of one’s respect for, and love for, one’s own life.
Fine-Tuning your Integrity
Integrity can be developed and perfected if there is an overriding desire to do so. Interestingly enough, if this overriding desire exists in a person (as it does in most people), then some aspect of integrity must have been present all along. People who don’t have integrity tend to sneer at the idea, or to rationalize it away. On the other hand, people who do have integrity are bothered by the possibility that they don’t have it. The actual feeling of being bothered by the possibility that one may lack integrity, proves something is already fundamentally right about a person.
Failing to follow through on a New Year’s resolution is not, of course, an indication that one does not possess integrity, but there is a lot more to a New Year’s resolution than meets the eye. Though it may make you feel good about yourself to engage in a spirited round of the ‘I’m gonnas,’ while merrily toasting the season, you will feel a lot better about yourself if you skip the posturing and the bluster. Instead, look deeper into the pursuit of perfecting and refining your integrity. Be constantly vigilant that you ‘say what you mean and mean what you say.’ Your family and friends will respect you for it, and, most importantly, you will respect yourself even more. This vigilance, combined with a careful analysis of the feasibility and achievability of your goals and intentions, will keep you busy and psychologically fit, long after the festive glow of New Year’s Day has faded back into your day-to-day routine.
On that note, I’d like to wish all of you, particularly the many delightful people who have responded to this column with their thoughts and suggestions, a Happy New Year, filled with confidence, self-esteem and psychological health. Life is, after all, a beach!