I have been keeping a journal since before I could write (my first few diaries are filled with squiggly lines and loops), and from the beginning, I have always made a point of writing on New Year’s Eve. In the last few moments of the outgoing year, I jot down memories, accomplishments, and lessons learned. After toasts and kisses to ring in the new year, I write a list of resolutions. And then, a few weeks later, I forget all about them (that’s also part of the tradition).
Over the years, my resolutions have ranged from the mundane (floss daily) to the meaningful (develop a deeper relationship with my sister) to the unrealistic (stop biting my nails – it still hasn’t happened in 20 years) to the irrelevant (learn to hula hoop). Even when I make a conscious effort to stick with them, I almost invariably fail to see a resolution through for a whole year (although in 2014 I did manage to do yoga at least 3 times a month until September, when I opted to quit rather than seek out a prenatal class). When it came time to brainstorm resolutions this year, I couldn’t help thinking – why bother?
First I considered keeping my goals for the new year small and realistic, to make them more achievable. But resolving to “go to bed earlier,” or “eat more vegetables” seemed too vague to be measurable or motivating. Then I threw around the idea of having my husband and I write resolutions for each other. I thought I could ask him to resolve to put his clothes away after taking them off, and he could ask me to do something he’d rather not have to nag me about. It didn’t take long for me to realize that that idea could seriously backfire ….
Not for the first time, Oprah (by way of this month’s O Magazine), had the answer to my resolution reservations. Rather than think of things we want to do or stop doing, Oprah dared her readers to identify, articulate, and make a plan for pursuing our true desires. I have often undertaken a similar exercise, asking myself what I would do if money was no object (that question led me to return to South Africa after eight years to visit my first true love; the $2,000 flight was well worth reconnecting with my soul mate and now husband). Now that I am financially stable, however, money is less of an obstacle than my own fears and insecurities.
The challenge Oprah poses is: “If I were truly brave, I would ______________. But I’ve been telling myself I can’t because _______________. Really, though, the worst thing that could happen is __________________________. My bravest friend, _________, would tell me to ______________________________. But I’m afraid other people, like _______, will say _________________________________. If that happens, I’ll respond by ____________________. If I want to pursue this, first I must __________________________. Then, over the next few months I can ______________________ and ___________________ and __________________________. Even if ____________________ happens, I won’t give up because ________________________________.”
All I had to do was fill in the blanks and cut and paste the magazine page into my diary. Easiest resolution-setting ever! But even though I am brave enough to write down my deepest desire and create a plan for making it a reality, I am not yet ready to share it with the world. Greater than my own doubts is the fear of public failure, the potential shame of quitting halfway, and most of all, the legitimate concern that I might achieve my goal only to discover that it wasn’t what I really wanted after all. Still, even if I never get beyond step one or two, I think this is a more useful exercise than writing down aspirations without any specific plan to achieve them. So … what would you do if you weren’t afraid?
Happy New Year – I wish you and yours the very best in 2015!