Why I Gave Up New Year’s Resolutions
"Just think of all those women on the Titanic who said, 'No thank you' to desert that night. And for what?!” Erma Bombeck
Years ago, I realized that my New Year’s Resolutions were pretty much the same January after January. There was always something associated with physical health (lose weight, exercise, eat better). I always had a goal related to spirituality (be more kind, honest, loving). I also wanted to grow and increase my knowledge and skills (get a degree, learn to use the computer, be a better employee). There was a constant desire to improve my relationships (be a better wife, mother, daughter, friend).
I began to wonder if I would be stretching for the same goals at the end of my life that I had carried around for the first half of it. Would I never be ideally healthy, an indispensable employee, or an exemplary friend?
I laughed it off at first. OK, so I was still working on the same faults over and over, at least I was trying. That’s a type of progress, right? Then I decided to make a dedicated effort to change myself. I read books and articles about setting and reaching goals. “Set attainable goals. Seek measurable results. Write it down. Graph your progress. Reward yourself for incremental achievements…” I mapped out my plan on charts and graphs: One for home, another for work, one for relationships, one for spirituality, etc. All together I had ten charts, a half dozen graphs, and pages and pages of goals. When I’d pulled it together, I was proud of myself for what I’d done. And then it hit me. I hadn’t actually done anything. I had spent an inordinate amount of time planning what to do. I still had all the actual work ahead of me, and it didn’t look remotely appealing.
I was trying to slug my way through my master change plan, when life stepped in and changed everything. My mother was given a terminal diagnosis. She had battled cancer off and on for over 15 years, losing a leg, having numerous surgeries, but she had been well for a long time—until, suddenly, she wasn’t any more. The cancer had come back with a vengeance. “You have a month,” the doctor told her.
A week later she and my father told me the news. “I want you to know that I don’t feel cheated,” my mother said. “I have had a good life. I have been very happy. What more can you ask for?”
In six weeks, she was gone.
A year or more passed and I ran across my charts, graphs and goal sheets, forgotten while I was mourning. They now seemed petty and boring. I realized that trying to compartmentalize life hadn’t worked for me. The systems I had studied and tried to implement were not right for me. I didn’t need more lists of things to do at work and at home. I needed (and still need) to become a better person. On top of which, I wanted to have more fun doing it. So what should be my ultimate resolution? If this year were my last year, how would I want to spend my days? What would I want people to remember about me? Conversely, if it were not my last year, what memories would I want to have?
Finally, I figured it out in two words: Live Joyfully. Choose happiness at every turn. Enjoy my loved ones, enjoy giving to others. Try to make my little corner of the world a better place. Laugh at life’s little ironies, the funny things that happen every day. Learn as much as I can. Give my best. Try to do the things that give me no cause for guilt or regret.
Over the years, I have seen more interest in life mission statements, starting with Stephen Covey and his 7 Habits books. I am the type of person who is better off using an all-encompassing life statement rather than a complicated goal plan. Not everybody is. The important thing is to find what works for you. If you are the kind of person who loves detailed structure, embrace it. Then, just for fun, try condensing your life goal into a single thought. It may give you a whole new plan to graph out.