It’s January again — the time when many of us feel expected to make promises to ourselves that we probably won’t keep. In fact, almost 60 percent of us don’t make resolutions. Of those who do, almost 80 percent break theirs within a month. That does raise the question of “why bother?”
Why do we put ourselves through it? Because our resolutions are a reflection of our best hope for ourselves. We want to lose weight, quit smoking, exercise more, spend less, give more time to our family or actually learn that something we’ve been intending to learn for years. They are all common and laudable goals. They are all worth working on. Nonetheless, most of us fail to follow through within weeks.
There are good reasons resolutions are difficult to keep. Often the goal is too big, too anxiety-producing or too absolute. Often the thing we want to change is the very thing that makes us feel most discouraged about ourselves. We’ve failed at it before and, deep inside, we’re convinced we’ll fail at it again. And we know that failing yet again will only make us feel worse.
It is possible to use the impulse toward self-improvement to make life a little happier and satisfying. Making a New Year’s resolution doesn’t have to be a set-up for another failure. The key is to keep the resolution simple and possible and rewarding.
For that reason, my suggestion is that you set just one goal: To be the partner, parent, friend, adult child, or employee you wish you had. Choose one role, one relationship that is important to you, and work at being better at nurturing it this year. You won’t succeed overnight. Being that kind of person does take effort. But you can do it by taking it a step at a time.
Here’s how: Find an attractive notebook, box, folder, or jar. Each day, set out to make the person you’ve chosen feel appreciated, understood, or helped in just one simple way. Maybe you say “good morning” and smile before giving instructions to your partner or child. Maybe you go a little out of your way to encourage an employee. Perhaps you thank a cashier and mean it. Or maybe you actually call that friend you’ve been meaning to call. Do just one small thing to improve that one role you want to work on.
At the end of the day, write it down in your notebook or on a slip of paper to file in that box, file or jar. Yes, write it down. There is something about the act of writing that affirms what we’ve done and makes it more likely we’ll do it again.
Stick to doing just one small thing a day to improve that one relationship in your life. Does it get to be midnight and you haven’t done it? It’s not too late. Just give your partner a big hug or gently tuck your child in one more time or dash off a thank-you email to a friend or coworker. The receiver will feel good and so will you. Be sure to write it down and file it.
If you plumb forget now and then, just treat it as another reminder that you are human and get back on board the next day. Slipups are normal. They can be temporary, not a reason to let go of the whole project.
At the end of each week, take a moment to read over what you’ve done so far. Give yourself credit, lots of credit, for doing that much. Write it down. Add that note to the collection. Being good to yourself by acknowledging your goodness is also important.
Why will this process help your stick to a resolution when other strategies haven’t worked in the past? First, the task is simple and small and doable. Second, the focus is on a process, not on a final result. Finally, the pay-off is more genuine connection with someone you are connected to.
Here’s the best part of all: Your self-esteem will go up a notch each day that you do a little good for a relationship. People who do good for others feel good. People who do good regularly feel even better. And feeling better may be just what you need to take on one of those other, more challenging goals.
There’s nothing particularly magical about making New Year’s resolutions. But January 1 can be as good a reason as any to start injecting more positivity into a relationship that is important to us. Connection is, after all, what most of us value the most.
Happy New Year.