Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Self-Delusion and Resolutions

"Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man." ~Benjamin Franklin

There are few concepts I find as maddeningly frustrating as New Year's resolutions.

Don't get me wrong, I love the idea in theory. With each year that passes, we set certain objectives that we then aim to achieve in the subsequent 12 months. It's definitely a well-intentioned phenomenon. But let's be brutally honest with ourselves for a moment.

You and I both know that the rate of success with New Year's resolutions is nearly non-existent. At this moment, you've probably convinced yourself that you will lose more weight, exercise more, save more money, etc. But beneath this veneer of self-righteousness, you know that you're not going to reach the goals you've set for yourself. In fact, you expect it.

And therein lies the real problem with New Year's resolutions. The very idea has become such a parody of itself that no one - not even those who make the resolutions themselves - really commits to making their goals a reality.

People so often are searching for that instant fix. Whether it's a lingering hope that they'll score millions in the state lottery or that they'll stumble across a magical pill that will shed those extra pounds for them, people by and large are unwilling to stick things out and work for what they want. And so each year, they make a New Year's resolution in the hopes that somehow their wish will be granted when that famous illuminated ball drops in Times Square on New Year's Eve.

We delude ourselves into believing that things will simply happen on their own, that simply wanting and wishing for something hard enough will grant it the power to manifest itself into reality. Then, when that inevitably doesn't come to pass, we view it as a personal failure, taking the disappointment onto ourselves and making ourselves even more powerless to incite any real, tangible changes in our lives.

It's probably pretty apparent in the previous paragraph that I'm speaking (as always) from personal experience here. For years, I used to pin all my hopes and dreams on the bogus notion that all I needed to do was be patient and everything I wanted would simply come to me when the time was right. Even reading that sentence now is a revelation. It's incredible how much we can change over the course of just a few years.

And that's precisely my point (oh yes, I do have one... lol). When we give ourselves a strict deadline of one year to accomplish our goals, we are already effectively shooting ourselves in the foot, so to speak. Jumping on the bandwagon of New Year's resolutions doesn't make you any closer to getting where you want to be in life.

Quite the opposite, in fact. You're setting yourself up for disappointment, often setting unrealistic goals and instilling in yourself from the get-go the self-fulfilling prophecy that you're going to fail.

So, how are you to go about seeking self-improvement without resorting to the useless tradition of making a New Year's resolution? Simple. Take another quick look at the quote I inserted in the top of this post.

Seriously, go ahead. I'll wait. Look, I'll even bold the next statement so you can find where you left off.

Done??? OK... Let's continue.

As Franklin suggests, we should constantly be looking to improve ourselves not for our family, friends or significant others... but for ourselves.

What is it about yourself, your life that you desperately want to change? There's no reason that you can't begin making positive steps towards achieving that this very minute (although I'd appreciate it if you finished reading this post first, hehe).

Goal-setting is a vital ingredient in a successful life. There's no denying that. But the idea of setting a New Year's resolution is too big-picture, and as I said earlier, it is accompanied by the understanding that your likelihood of success is nill. Instead, focus on what you can do today to get the ball rolling and create a list of steps you can tackle over the coming weeks, with a vague outline for a long-term plan.

Don't bother setting any concrete plans at this point because the important thing is simply to shift your focus into one of self-improvement or what Maslow called self-actualization. With every day, every month and yes, every year of our lives, we should always be looking to become the very best version of ourselves.

Granted, we may not be exactly where we want to be at the end of the year. Life has a way of creating an ebb and flow that can sometimes delay progress. As I mentioned in a previous post, the commonly used excuse that "Life got in the way" is definitely a valid point. But this shouldn't stop your focus on self-improvement.

Even if you have to put your personal goals on the backburner for a bit, never forget that life is a journey, and we all want to be able to say, when we look back on our lives, that through it all we've continued to evolve into better, wiser, more developed versions of ourselves.

If you can look back on 2010 feeling like you've emerged a stronger person and have inched ever closer to the life you want and the person you wish to become, then it was a successful year, and you should feel pride in the fact that you're that much nearer to making your dreams a reality, regardless of whether or not you've achieved last year's resolutions.

Good luck out there... and of course, happy writing!


1 comment:

  1. As a big fan of quotes, I am pleased you referenced one by a great idol.
    Resolutions should not be for one year; it should be the constant change of the person along the way. The reflection of that in this post is good reminder.
    I also love the title of the blog. Great headline!