‘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 in the New Year!’ ‘I’m gonna ‘ I’m gonna’.’
How many New Year’s resolutions have you actually kept over the years? (‘Fess up, now — it’s just between you and me, and I promise 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 happens to be printed on your calendar. 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 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,’ ‘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, a Happy Holiday dose of eggnog.
Anybody, especially when caught up in the enthusiasm of the holiday spirit, can intend to do all kinds of things, but it doesn’t mean they’re going to follow through. Following through simply means to know, in clear and concrete terms, what your intentions actually are. It requires goals that are specific for the long term, 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 are, in and of themselves, no guarantee that you’ll ultimately follow through, they will at least provide a more sensible shot at it. So, that being said, it all comes down to this: People are successful in their resolutions (including the New Year’s variety) 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, a steadfast determination to say what you mean and mean what you say. Integrity is an essential part of a person’s conscious outlook and basic psychological make-up. It 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 and love for one’s own life.
Integrity can be developed and perfected if there is an overriding desire to do so. Interestingly enough, if this desire exists in a person (as it does in most people), then some element 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 might not 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.
Of course, failing to follow through on a New Year’s resolution is not an indication that one doesn’t possess integrity, but there’s 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’ll feel a lot better about yourself afterwards if you skip the posturing and the bluster. Instead, look deeper into perfecting and refining your integrity by being constantly vigilant that you ‘say what you mean and mean what you say.’ Your family and friends will respect you for it, and, far more importantly, you’ll respect yourself even more. This vigilance, combined with a careful analysis of the practicality and achievability of your goals will keep you busy and psychologically fit long after the festive glow of New Year’s Eve has faded back into the day-to-day routine.
On that note, I’d like to wish all of you, particularly the many delightful people who respond to this column with their thoughts and suggestions, a Happy New Year filled with confidence, self-esteem and psychological health. After all, life is still — and always will be — a beach!