Making Our Resolutions Real

“[S]he who breaks a resolution is a weakling; [s]he who makes one is a fool,” writes the artist F.M. Knowles. Thanks to Knowles’ wisdom, we can all raise a glass to complacency, knowing that, contrary to new year’s tradition, we had best avoid self-reflection altogether. With the heavy majority of new year’s resolutions statistically bound to fail, what’s the point of this ritual anyway?

For many of us, a resolution, new year’s or otherwise, is like the whispered fortune cookie message of the soul. It may be a deep intention, but it’s often expressed as a pithy response to a cocktail party question; a vague open-ended desire to “be healthier” or “invest more time in my relationships” or “find my passion.” While it may come from a true and hopeful place, a resolution feels like a wish exhaled onto birthday candles, lacking any kind of substantial plan for making it happen.

The ritual of projecting our loftiest visions onto the unspoiled year ahead may seem rather detached from the flow of modern life. Our personal life events are far more likely to inspire self-reflection than the always certain dawning of a new year. In wintery parts of the world, where introducing change can feel incompatible with a season of shorter days, heavy boots and chronic vitamin D deficiency, our resolutions may seem particularly bound to fail.

So, if the squeaky clean newness of a fresh calendar year is not filling you with resolve, I get it. And, no, I don’t think you should adopt a new year’s resolution. As far as life changes go, when the time is right, the moment will make itself glaringly obvious.

Whenever a personal resolution does present itself, consider that your newfound intention is not just a fleeting wish, but the beginning of a much larger project. And despite your probable desire for newness, that large project involves nothing new. Just the opposite—it involves working on your relationship with your oldest and, oftentimes, most stubborn friend: you.

Regardless of the goal, no matter how large or small, concrete or abstract, any kind of meaningful resolution requires that we learn more about ourselves. Why is this change calling to you? What’s not working right now? What doesn’t feel right? Every time you create a personal intention, you are tapping into an exploration of your own potential.

In order to transform your intention into something more lasting than the greasy piece of paper you extracted from your fortune cookie, we have to talk about something else: life design. Instead of forgetting your resolution by February, or avoiding one altogether, design your days, weeks, months and years with purpose.

Over five weeks, for 30 minutes per week, I invite you to commit to the following steps:

Week One:
Begin by expressing your intention “out loud.” Write in a journal, create a vision board, record yourself speaking, or use any other creative medium. Begin with the vision, itself, and imagine what it could look like. Let that vision rest for one week.

Week Two:
Record your answers to some important questions. Where in your life are you now? What sorts of things need to change to fulfill your intention? Try to sum up your resolution in one brief line. Write it on your bathroom mirror or stick it to your computer screen and read it aloud to yourself. All. The. Time.

Week Three:
Do one thing that works toward your goal. It should be small and achievable. In the meantime, sit down with a supportive person in your life to share your intention and tell them how you’re feeling about this project.

Week Four:
Reflect on how things are going so far. Write down your next steps. Perhaps contact an acquaintance who can keep you accountable and move along your plan or idea.

Week Five:
Think about a long-term challenge related to your intention. Scribble down some ideas, or draft a step-by-step plan for bringing that to fruition, and follow it over the coming months.

As you adopt the habit of weekly check-ins, notice how the practice of consciously expressing your dreams guides you into action.

Perhaps your resolution practice follows a different sequence than the one outlined. The central kernel of wisdom lies in the deliberate, ongoing practice of setting aside time to sit down with yourself and be purposeful about your direction. Re-assessing on a regular basis allows you the flexibility to reorient or adjust your plan.

Cheers to a new year of discovering what has been there all along.