I’ve been humming the tune to Billy Joel’s ‘New York State of Mind’ this afternoon and didn’t really wonder why, until I sat down to write. Apparently, one side of my brain was quicker than the other, because as soon as I started writing this post, this title magically appeared on my screen. It’s true, that I have been a little anxious lately and have occasionally thought “I’ll clear it up after the Christmas holiday.” I tend to over-think things, twisting them this way and that in my mind until I have pinned down their pros and cons. Thankfully, my coach training has given me the tools to recognize when I am in that space, to step back and assign the troublesome issue a value and decide where to go with it from there. Still, when it comes to December, whether it was largely a great, good or disappointing year, I want to push on to January and my New Year state of mind. I know I am not the only one.
Many of us use the last few weeks of December to do an inventory of what we have achieved, what we have put on a high shelf and what we have not managed successfully during the past year. It’s a mental review that sets the stage for how we approach the New Year. I have become quite practiced at reviewing the ups and downs, setting the stage for new goals. However, I have a long memory and know that in other years I did not use the end-of-year review in a positive way. I fretted about the weight I hadn’t lost, the financial goals that were not met and the friendship that wasn’t repaired, and for a few difficult years, the baby I didn’t have. No matter how many goals appeared in the Success column, I beat myself up for the ones that glared at me from the Failure column. Does that sound at all like you?
If this is a familiar scenario to you, carry on. First of all, reframe the failures as “actions that didn’t work,” or “missed opportunities to take action.” Don’t let Failure settle over you like a heavy blanket. It’s been said: There are no failures, only unexpected results. Second, do a spreadsheet: Take large (A4 or A5) pieces of paper and make 6 vertical columns from left to right and one header line across the top from one side to the other. At the top, label each of the 6 columns with these headings: Issue, How the Issue Affects You, Desired Resolution, What Action(s) You Took, Why the Actions Worked or Didn’t Work and Where it Stands Right Now. Then, in the left column begin writing and carry through each issue, then draw a horizontal line under your writing and repeat from left to right until the pages are full. Be honest with yourself and assign responsibility, rather than blame, for those issues that haven’t been resolved.
I have heard many people bemoan what they didn’t accomplish this year, using the nearly-universal excuse of the recession to justify it. I'll put my hand up here too. So, the tatty chair I haven’t recovered, because I got used to seeing it tatty, rips and all, is really due to the recession. The reason I am not as fit as I should be isn’t down to laziness, it’s down to the recession: I can’t justify the annual membership to the health club (even though walking is free). The reason I ... well, you get the point.
Blame is unproductive. If you aim it at yourself, you are wasting time and energy that could have been used to achieve your goal. If it is aimed at someone else, it temporarily diverts attention away from you, but won’t actually change the outcome.
I've got two examples here of people struggling with resolutions that haven't worked in the past, but which, if tweaked a bit, could succeed this year.
Ex. Issue – Melanie has a cluttered, messy house.
How the issue affects Mel:
- She often can’t find things (receipts, To-Do Lists, mobile phone, glasses, etc...),
- Her husband nags her to tidy up and
- She feels embarrassed, guilty and resentful.
Her desired resolution is a neater house, fewer possessions and less friction between her and her husband.
The actions she took included the purging of 6 bags of magazines, old letters and other papers, the purchase of a shoe rack for her front hall and donating bundles of old clothes, books, toys and videos to charity.
The reason the actions didn’t work is that they weren’t repeated consistently throughout the year, allowing excess to build up again.
Where it stands now is that the house is cluttered, her husband is still unhappy with it and the problem needs to be carried over to 2011.
So, New Year, new you? To ensure that this year isn’t a repeat of the last, some changes may have to be made. One reason a lot of New Year’s Resolutions don’t work is that they are too big and free-form, making them overwhelming. Also, in order to find enough motivation to follow through on a resolution, you must have a reason. Part of Melanie’s difficulty is that she doesn’t place as high a value on neatness as her husband does. For that reason, she has to find her motivation in the relationship and self-esteem issues that the clutter causes.
Goal: For Melanie to create and maintain a neat, uncluttered house by 1st December 2011.
Actions: Take an inventory of every room in the house, then go through the lists and highlight everything that she and her husband don’t like, need or ever use. Decide how to get rid of those objects: including sale, swap or donate. Then, determine how and when to do that. If she starts this process on her own, by boxing and bagging some of the items, she may feel her husband’s stress over the clutter ease up.
Obstacles: Once Melanie begins to go through her possessions, she may run into the old problem of not being able to let go of them.
Support: She could ask for help from someone with no emotional attachment to her possessions.
Motivation: A house she is proud to show.
Motivation: tangible rewards she sets herself. Since Melanie cannot control or count on her husband’s satisfaction or praise, she must set some rewards for achievement.
Rewards: Weekly - Fresh flowers. Monthly - Having friends over for lunch. End of year – A new rug or piece of furniture for the house.
Another example is “Phil,”
The issue is that Phil is increasingly stressed.
The issue affects Phil through poor time management, overworked, late nights, poor eating habits, a sedentary lifestyle and unsettled sleep
The desired resolution is a better life/work balance, wants to feel better and begin a relationship
The action(s) Phil took were going to the pub with the guys from work more frequently, to be more sociable and help him unwind.
The actions didn’t work because Phil’s efforts were lackadaisical and sometimes, at cross-purposes. The pub became very same-y, there were few women there, he gained weight from drinking and his time management is no better.
Where it stands right now - Phil is in the same place he was when he started.
Why didn’t Phil’s resolution work last year? He didn’t really believe he needed to make the changes, therefore he wasn’t committed. Also, he didn’t build in any support to help him get through the tough times. What is different this year? He is a year older, a little lonelier, less fit and unfulfilled. His need is greater, therefore he has more motivation and commitment.
Phil’s 2011 New Year’s Resolution can succeed with this new plan.
Goal: Phil has reduced his stress substantially and achieved better work/life balance by 30th April, 2011.
Measurement: (How will he know his stress is reduced?) He will have more stamina, focus and concentration at work, feel more relaxed outside of work, be consistently getting more sleep and is back to his normal weight.
Actions: Plan 15 minutes relaxation/leisure activity for every hour that he works, including an exercise plan, stop working on the computer at least 2 hours before bedtime and write in a journal. These actions must be repeated frequently enough to imprint them as habit.
- External - His boss is used to him staying at work late, so expects that now.
- Internal: Denial of the lasting health repercussions of his lifestyle.
Motivation: Phil wants to meet a woman, get married and start a family, incentive enough to make some positive changes and stick to them.
Support: In January, he will consult a nutritionist and a personal trainer to construct healthy plans for him and supervise him for the first 4 weeks. In February, he will find a friend to exercise with him so that he is motivated to go to the health club.
Action: Leave work 10 minutes earlier every day, so that gradually Phil finds himself leaving at a more acceptable hour and his boss becomes used to the new schedule.
Action: Go to the GP for a health check (weight, blood pressure, heart) and to the Health Club for a fitness assessment.
Reward: Go for a meal/drink with a friend once a week, after a session at the gym.
Reward: Once goals have been achieved in April, get a membership in e-harmony dating website.
This formula can be used successfully for any goal; however, the goal itself has to mean something to you, to ensure your commitment. It’s not enough for someone else to tell you that you need to lose weight, tidy your house or get more fit. The other essential element is that you need to believe that you can succeed. A lack of confidence in your own efforts will kill off any resolution. So, do a little work in December, approach January with a positive mindset and keep re-visiting your plan. This year’s non-starters are sure to be next year’s successes.