Okay. It has been one month since many of us made New Year’s Resolutions, and it’s time for a reality check. How are they going?
If you’re like most people, your answer is somewhere between “they’re going okay” and “ugh.” New Year’s Resolutions are a psychological minefield. The idea of a New Year’s Resolution is incredibly alluring. Once the new year is here, things will be different, we think to ourselves. We believe that when we wake up on January 1, it will somehow be easier to find the motivation to exercise, eat right, keep to a budget, and banish clutter from the house. Meanwhile, before that shiny new year gets here, we implicitly give ourselves the excuse to party like it’s 1999. After all, it’s not the new year yet, right?
When you think about it, making New Year’s Resolutions has as much chance of making your life worse as it does of making your life better. The resolutions are psychologically set up to fail, and if they do fail, we heap on the guilt and self-recriminations. What a disaster.
So now that the New Year’s hoopla has died down and we’re back to reality, what do we do with our good intentions, our desire to change our lives for the better? I propose that we start thinking about our New Year’s Resolutions not as challenges to be achieved but as drafts to be revised. Beginning today, you can revise your New Year’s Resolutions using the same standards you’d use for any other sentence, particularly a thesis sentence. By revising the way you think about your resolutions, you will change the way you act in response to them, and they can begin to serve the function for which they were intended: to enrich your life.
I am a prime example of shoddy resolution drafting. I make New Year’s Resolutions every year, with varying success. Considered as statements, my resolutions fall into two camps: they are either vague, clichéd wishes like “get organized” or “lose weight” or narrow, forbidding commands like “save $5000” or “exercise five times each week.” In fact, most resolutions tend to fall into these two categories, which primes them for failure. However, using skills from the world of writing, you can get back on track, whether it’s January 5, February 2, or October 16.
Let’s consider the first type of resolution: the loosey-goosey, I-want-to-be-a-better-me resolution. This resolution implies a state of being you want to reach (in the examples above, the state of being well organized and the state of weighing less, respectively). The problem with this type of resolution is that it’s too nebulous to be measurable. Statements like these are just as uninspiring as any other vague piece of writing.
To revise these resolutions, make them doable. What habits do you need to adopt in order to achieve the desired state of being? What action or actions would signal that you had reached your goal? Brainstorm these just as you brainstorm ideas for a writing project.
The second type of resolution suffers from a lack of vision, kind of like a mediocre thesis statement. Sure, you can put money in a savings account or run on a treadmill, but without a clear sense of why you’re doing it, your old habits may take over at any time.
Good thesis statements answer the questions what, how, and why: what the claim is, how you’re going to prove it, and why anyone should care about it. Revise this resolution to be more like a thesis statement. What do you want to do? (Answer: save $5000.) How are you going to do it? (Automatically deduct $300 each month from my paycheck and look for ways to trim expenses to come up with the remaining $1400.) Most importantly, why do you want to do it? This answer is unique to each person. You may say, “I want to be financially independent,” “I want to have an emergency fund,” or “I want to take a trip around the world.” The “why” is the vision of a better life, the inspiration that was missing from the resolution’s earlier draft.
The examples of problematic New Year’s Resolutions I provided are essentially the inverse of each other: the first has vision but lacks specifics, while the second has measurability but lacks significance. For both, once you have articulated a clear, measurable, inspiring goal, you can employ planning strategies just as you would plan a writing project: what monthly or weekly benchmarks will you need to meet in order to verify your progress? Outline them. What can you do today, right now, to move your goal forward a few inches? Can you research a high-interest online banking service? Can you take a 10-minute brisk walk? Can you go through this week’s mail and recycle what you don’t need?
By viewing resolutions as drafts rather than edicts, and by employing invention and planning strategies from the writing process to revise them, you can increase your chance of ending this year with a great feeling of accomplishment.
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