As the New Year’s Holiday approaches every year, the subject of New Year’s Resolutions crops up, and there comes a flurry of opinions about it. Is it a good idea or a bad idea to make resolutions?
Most of us have a history of making resolutions, most having to do with diets and exercise. Then we promptly fail to keep them and we feel like defeated failures in the very first week of the new year. It’s an awful feeling I know too well from the 25 years I struggled against obesity, until I finally discovered the solution, lost 140 pounds and kept it off for over 25 years now.
So, here’s my take: don’t make resolutions, which are promises to do or not do something, ever, that you’ll most likely be unable keep. Sticking perfectly to your resolution is unlikely, and with most of us, the failure causes us to say “the heck with it” and give up trying all together. Instead, sit down and write out some hopes and goals for your life, and then for the year. What have you got to lose? You won’t be any worse off if they don’t happen.
I personally know of and teach the incredible, almost mystical power of having written goals. I talk about this in my book The Anderson Method, and I lead counseling clients through a detailed training process in goals orientation that yields almost miraculous results.
I was pretty much an undisciplined wreck as a young person, constantly making vows in the morning to do one thing or another, then losing my motivation and belief by noon most days. I often could not follow through on just about anything that didn’t feel good, whether it was writing a letter, starting a diet, applying for a job or even doing something as simple as making a phone call. By the time I was 30, I was over 300 lbs., smoking like a chimney, in terrible health, without a college degree, a successful career or the financial means to live a nice life.
However, I was a good (though painfully pokey) student of psychology. I had become a self-trained scholar in behaviorism, the psychology that studies how we acquire and dismiss habit, experience motivation and shape the behavior that produces the results of our lives. Among the many lessons I learned is that we are naturally goal-seeking, goal-oriented creatures. This is why I want to encourage you to embrace your hopes and dreams and write down your goals. You see, it is our nature to select goals to attain and work to attain them. If we don’t do this consciously, we do it unconsciously. If we haven’t consciously chosen goals to attain, we unconsciously select from those that are suggested to us, like those that our parents, bosses, peers and the advertisers suggest, or we simply act to satisfy the call of our pleasure-seeking reward systems and do what feels good, avoiding what doesn’t. If we are not acting on attaining the goals we’ve chosen to aspire to, we end up acting on other impulses, seeking toys and treats that seem to promise the satisfaction we need in life. We end up working, watching, texting, spending and eating our lives away as if those things will fulfill us. The problem is that they don’t. The satisfaction is short-lived, and we end up needing more, overworked, overweight and poorer for it.
I had to hear the advice to write down my goals for years before I started actually doing it, but when I did (together with using other Therapeutic Psychogenic technique) my life completely changed. I solved my lifetime obesity problem and lost 140 pounds permanently. I not only completed a college education, but I completed graduate school training in clinical counseling and psychotherapy. I obtained the Florida Medical Quality Assurance license to be a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and established a successful private practice. I wrote a successful book. I created a rewarding lifestyle of living, boating and fishing in one of the most beautiful places on earth. All of these things were only pipedreams when I first summoned up the courage to admit to myself that I would actually want those things to happen. That happened when I wrote them down.
When I first wrote them down, I actually thought they were too unrealistic to think of as goals, but I was encouraged to admit my dreams and goals. What would I like to have happen in my life, if by some miracle they could happen? There was nothing to lose in confessing my dreams.
I don’t want to suggest that this was all I did to succeed at weight loss and the other accomplishments. There are lots of other pieces of the Therapeutic Psychogenic mechanism that I used and teach. Like the parts of a car, you need them all assembled to be able to get anywhere. Leave important parts out and you go nowhere. But writing down your goals is one of the most important, the foundation and starting point that everything else grows from.
I make this point today because you will hear over and over again that you should not make resolutions, and some people will hear “don’t set goals.” That would be a tragedy. A friend’s mother thought that if you didn’t hope for too much, you wouldn’t be disappointed. However, she didn’t hope for much, didn’t get much, and she was still disappointed! I agree that making resolutions is a bad idea, but I think writing down your goals is absolutely neccessary if you want your life to get better.
I also make this point today because you’ll also hear that it’s a good idea to make resolutions. But that sets you up for an almost certain sense of failure when you break your vow, which results in a loss of hope and a reluctance to try again to make things better. Again, I agree that making resolutions is a bad idea, but I think writing down your goals is absolutely neccessary if you want your life to get better.
Take the time this week to go off by yourself with a pad of paper and make some lists.
Make a dreams list. If all things were possible, what would you like to have happen in your life? Then make a five year goals list. Five years from now, where would you like to be? Make a one year goals list. If you were on your way to the five year goals, where would you be and what would you have done at the end of this coming year? What do you want to make sure you do this year? Want to lose weight? Eat healthier? Take a vacation? Write them all down. Things that take effort and initiative don’t happen by accident. Accidents happen by accident. So be deliberate in telling your mind what you want it to do. Don’t leave it up to chance, and certainly don’t leave it up to what others want of it.
When I wrote down my goals, it’s not like they all came true overnight. I would write out what to do this month, this week and today. Most days, weeks and months I only made a little progress, sometimes none. Most years I made only a bit of progress on some. But I started getting better. And look what happened! The year I started writing out goals, things got better, and one year has been better than the last. What if that started happenning for you?
So, forget about making resolutions, especially to stick to a diet. If your goal is to be a certain weight at the end of the year or to lose a certain amount of weight, what do you think your goal for next week should be? Everybody says “I know what I need to do, I just can’t do it.” I guarantee you you don’t know. What you need to know is not about diets and exercise routines. It’s about your mind and how to retrain it. So, if your goal for the year is to lose weight and keep it off, your goal for this coming week should be to read my book!
You can make your life better. It starts with a vision of what you’d like it to be, a picture with the details described. Start using written goals. You’ll be surprised what can happen.