Better Than New Year’s Resolutions

January 17.

Willpower around cookies

That’s the most common day for people to give up their New Year’s resolutions.

January 1 feels like a new start.  We think, “OK, this year is going to be different.  I’ll lose weight, save money, spend time with my family, watch less TV . . . “

We’re motivated.  We’re working from a clean slate.

It’s easy to make that list of resolutions.  All we have to do is grab last year’s list and dust it off.  It’s the same one we’ve had for years, so it’s still fresh.

The dictionary says that a “resolution” is “a serious decision to do something.”  That sounds easy enough.

All it takes is willpower, right?

Willpower around cookiesSo we do well for a few days.  Then it gets tough, but we hang in there.  Then we slip a little – then a little more.  We beat ourselves up for slipping — and finally, on January 17, we give up.

Here’s the problem: Willpower is limited.

According to research, it’s like we have a “willpower” tank.  When it’s full, we can resist temptation.  But when it’s empty, we can’t.  That’s why we resist the box of doughnuts someone brought into work all day, then stop at Baskin-Robbins on the way home.

In Dan and Chip Heath’s book “Switch,” they use the analogy of riding an elephant.  The rider represents logic, making specific decisions about where he wants to go.

But the elephant represents emotions.  The rider might be able to yank on the reins and move the elephant by logic for a while, but he soon becomes tired from the effort.  Then the elephant simply goes wherever he wants.

Most of the time, the elephant trumps the rider – emotions trump logic. For us, the only time the rider wins is when we have a crystal-clear picture of who we want to be and make conscious, deliberate choices in that direction.

So, what if, instead of making resolutions, we carefully thought through this one question:

What one thing could I do this year — that I’m not doing now – that would make the biggest difference in my life?

The answer would help us make decisions throughout the year.  That “one thing” would be so impactful, that we can clearly see the value of achieving it.

It takes more than a casual response like “get in shape.” (There are lots of shapes . . .)  It needs to be carefully crafted – something that’s specific, measurable and motivating.

A better answer might be, “I want to walk 1,000 miles by December 31, 2013.”  That’s about three miles each day.  So we would make a chart and put it in a place we would see it daily and mark off the miles.

If we normally watch two hours of television each night, we realize that by skipping one program, we could knock out three miles.  Or we could make a commitment to only watch TV while walking on a treadmill.

A year from now, a lot of stuff will be unchanged (probably the things we were going to make resolutions about).

But how would you – and your world – be different if this one thing came to pass?

It could genuinely give us a “new” year – instead of another edition of the “old” one.

So, what one thing would make the greatest difference for you?