I think pretty much everyone will admit that most new year’s resolutions fail. In spite of the best of intentions, most are destined for disaster. Why? Because they’re artificial. You can’t resolve to do something just because it happens to be January 1 – or any date, for that matter. You resolve to do something because you’re prepared to follow through – now. Not tomorrow or next week. A resolution has to make sense for reasons other than what’s printed on the calendar. If not, why bother? A few days later, 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.” What do “better” and “together” mean? And in what precise way will you be better or together this year? How will you identify and measure it? Such a resolution is nothing more than a vague, albeit well-meaning intention, perhaps made shortly after a holiday dose of eggnog.
So how can we make a resolution work? We can intend to do all kinds of things, but it doesn’t mean we’re going to follow through. Following through means to know what your intentions actually are. It requires “bite-size” goals that are specific for the long term, and realistic in the short term. Just as you wouldn’t eat an entire steak in one bite, you shouldn’t try to take on a goal that’s too massive.
Though bite-size objectives alone are no guarantee that you’ll follow through, they’ll at least provide a more sensible shot at it. It all comes down to this: People are successful in their resolutions primarily because, (1) they’re realistic in their goals, and (2) they possess integrity. At the risk of sounding like a cliché, integrity is the steadfast determination to say what you mean and mean what you say. It’s an essential part of a person’s outlook and basic psychological make-up. It can’t be faked, and it can’t be picked up once, only to be discarded at will. It’s an all-encompassing part of a person; the part that makes all other virtues possible.
Integrity cannot be practiced for the sake of others. It’s a byproduct of one’s respect and love for one’s self. Integrity can be developed and perfected if there is an overriding desire to do so. In fact, if this desire exists in a person, then some element of integrity must have been present all along. People who don’t have integrity tend to sneer at the idea or rationalize it away. People who do have integrity are bothered by the possibility that they might not have it. The feeling of being bothered by the possibility that one may lack integrity proves something is already fundamentally right about that 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 resolution than meets the eye. Though it may make you feel good about yourself the night before, you’ll feel a lot better on New Year’s Day if you skip the posturing and the bluster. Instead, look deeper into refining your integrity by being vigilant that you say what you mean and mean what you say. Your family and friends will respect you for it, and, more importantly, you’ll respect yourself more. This vigilance, combined with a careful analysis of the practicality of your goals, will keep you psychologically fit long after the festive glow of New Year’s Eve has faded 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 continues to be — a beach!
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