Beyond New Year’s Resolutions

Updated: May 6

Welcome to the New Year!

I hope you were able to take some time to reflect on the past year--your accomplishments, the various challenges you faced--and bring it to a good close, so that you're now ready to begin a new year, ready for new adventures, new accomplishments, and new possibilities.

Today, we will explore how to set ourselves up for success in the coming year. Data has shown that the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions does not work so well, and I have a theory about why. We often make these resolutions because they seem to be a good idea. We've heard about it; other people do it. Often, I think we make them out of guilt, as a way to force ourselves to relate to aspects of our lives that we are unhappy with or have been neglecting--things we feel bad about or feel we are lacking. We don't often make them out of a sense of, wow, I feel really great about myself and I want to go to the next level, right? They are seldom made from that positive, self-empowering place.

We've also probably had many experiences of not following through on our New Year's resolutions. I think what happens is that, after we make our New Year's resolutions, we unconsciously work very hard to forget them as soon as possible, because we know that we might be setting ourselves up for failure. We are afraid that we won’t be able to keep these resolutions and don't want to feel the shame that will inevitably accompany our inability to stick to them. And who can blame us? Shame is one of the most toxic human emotions and we've all experienced too much of it already!

So how can we do this differently? How can we make commitments about the kind of year we wish to have and what we would like to accomplish, but do so from a place of strength, and from the recognition of our unconditional innate goodness? I’m proposing to replace the New Year’s resolutions with the more thoughtful and realistic approach of creating a life plan.

There's an often-quoted statement from the great Zen master Suzuki Roshi: "You are all perfect just as you are, and you could use a little improvement." So it's kind of that two-fold situation.

On the ultimate level, we are really completely fine the way we are, perfect, even! At the depth of our being, we are fundamentally wholesome, just as we are. We all have this innate basic goodness or, what some traditions refer to as, Buddha-nature or divine nature. And that's a really helpful view to base our lives upon, because it's very difficult to have any kind of positive outlook if we think the core of our being is fundamentally flawed, evil, or basically bad.

We're also well aware that, on a relative level, we are all evolving and can continue to grow and improve in different ways. We can do so, without feeling bad about where we are now.

There may be areas of your life where you want to make improvements, maybe connected to your livelihood, your career, your overall financial security. Maybe you have some short-term debt that you'd like to get out of. Perhaps you have some health concerns or you would just like to improve the quality of your relationship with your spouse. Or, maybe you've had the aspiration to get more engaged in your community.

Rather than make a list of New Year's resolutions that you're most likely to put away and ignore the rest of the year, I would encourage you to consider doing a life plan and using what is sometimes called the “life plan wheel”. There are a number of good resources online.

The basic idea is to draw a circle and divide it into sections, like a pie chart. These represent important domains of your life. So, for example, we could have a section for our health, our career, our financial security, our relationships, and our social life. It's also good to have one category around the spiritual dimension, and you could also include leisure and creativity. You can come up with your own domains for your life wheel, ones that are important and meaningful to you.

Then from the center of the circle out to the circumference of the circle, along the rays or lines of the chart, you create some kind of ruler, from 0 to 10. 10 is out on the circumference of the circle and indicates the ideal situation, and zero is at the center. And then you take a particular section, and you say, "Okay, in this dimension ... " 10 is our highest aspiration of fulfillment in this area of our life, zero is zero, and everything else in between. So, where am I? Am I at an eight a six, a four, a three, a two? Where am I? You evaluate where you are relative to where you want to be, and in that one piece of pie, you draw a line there. You can then color that in, if you like, maybe a different color for each section of the life wheel chart.

You end up with the life wheel diagram, where some parts are more filled in, some parts are barely filled in, and this gives you an accurate visual depiction of where you are in relation to where you aspire to be in these different dimensions of your life.

Next, you set some objectives for each section. How can you make progress on a monthly, or even weekly basis this year? In the health dimension, for example, you could have a target weight you want to reach, or it could be getting your cholesterol level or your blood pressure down. Once you have clarified your goals, you create a timeline describing how much weight per week you need to lose to get to that target weight.

In addition to having a life wheel chart, you could also use a dry erase board, or a written document, or any kind of digital spreadsheet and structure it horizontally, placing all the various dimensions in a column on the left, and then putting the goals across, in rows, on a quarterly basis. For some areas, you can use numeric measurements, like with weight or financial goals. In other areas, like the quality of your relationships, you might want to use letters (a 10 = A+). Keep the charts in a visible place in your office so that you can keep reflecting on them.

Remember to set reasonable goals for yourself, and at first, identify priorities to focus on. You come up with a plan to make a reasonable improvement in these areas and that's where you are going to focus on for the first quarter. It does not mean you just forget about the rest of your life, but you choose one or two dimensions to work on, with clear reachable goals. By starting gradually, you can learn this methodology, get comfortable with it, experience some success with it, and then go on with more. It’s better to do that than try to do too much and then give up on it, right? This is what I mean by setting ourselves up for success.

Another thing that helps a lot is having reminders. These can be visual representations in your office, or could also be alarm reminders on your smartphone. For example, if working at your computer all day, once an hour, you could set an alarm to remember to stand up and stretch and go drink a glass of water.

Another source of support is to develop a relationship with a buddy and support each other with your commitments. Or, if you're interested in optimal performance in different areas of your life, you could consider getting a coach or even a supportive community in which you can make your commitments transparent, it's really important to get support.

I hope this life-plan-wheel method will be helpful to you. The really important thing is to make it doable. Set yourself up for success. Don't bite off too much. And do it in the spirit of “we are completely okay just the way we are, we're not broken, we're not missing anything.”

It is inspiring to operate from a place of what's possible and find ways to think bigger about our lives. Like… What am I doing here on the planet? Am I alive just to go through the grind of daily life and then die? Is that all I'm here for? Just survive, just consume stuff, pay my bills, keep a job, pay my taxes? What is my life really about? Can we develop a vision and a mission for our life that is inspiring enough for us to get out of bed every day with excitement?

I would encourage you all to take the opportunity to create that kind of excitement for yourself this year, to set a vision that is grounded in your personal mission and purpose in life. Create a vision and a plan for this year, and some possibilities for this year that truly excite you and that are doable, reachable, attainable.

Wishing you all the best, and Happy New Year.

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