Happy New Year to you, my dear readers! I wish for each of you a wonderful 2017.
Like any year, 2016 brought much personal happiness to some individuals and great sorrow to others – or, possibly, some of both.
Social media indicators show most people feel that in terms of the collective American experience, 2016 was a stinker – social unrest, an utterly loathsome presidential campaign season, and the loss of numerous cultural icons whose contributions to the arts over the decades broke new ground, broke down barriers, and helped define us.
As for me? Well, 2016 held some wonderful experiences for me, but I also fell short of several important goals, and in fact regressed in some areas. I’m not particularly pleased with me.
But you know what? 2016 is in the rearview mirror.
(I have no idea where that expression came from but it makes me laugh.)
So. Now what? My friend Tim posted a comment on his Facebook page earlier today and I asked his permission to share it, because he’s absolutely right.
Time to refill the glass.
A recent study on www.statisticbrain.com shows that just under half of all Americans make New Year’s resolutions, and of those who do, about eight percent of those succeed in achieving them. But it also states that people who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than those who never set any goals in the first place.
I’ve found two completely different approaches to making New Year’s resolutions, and have found both methods to be effective. Sometimes circumstances allow for the more thorough method, but sometimes life demands the other, more succinct approach.
Right after I moved to Nashville in October 1990 I answered an ad for a job interview. When I got there, I learned I was one of about 30 people at the “interview.” It turned out to be a sales pitch for a company trying to recruit sales staff for time shares.
I almost walked out, but I didn’t, and I’m glad. Because from that unlikely source – the modern-day snake oil salesman who led the meeting – I gleaned a bit of very practical advice that has stood me in good stead over the years: a simple three-step process that helps you define what you want out of life, and clarify how to get it.
- Write down five goals you want to achieve in three months’ time.
- Write down five goals you want to achieve in one year’s time.
- Write down five goals you want to achieve in five years’ time.
He encouraged us to take our list home with us and write down specific steps under each goal to help us achieve that goal. He wanted us to understand that without specifics and without a realistic plan, you can’t reach your goals.
I never became a time share salesperson, but I did set some goals and define some steps I wanted to take. That proved helpful for me at a time in my life when I was living in a new town, looking for a new job and new friends and a new life.
There is something powerful in forcing yourself to take your vague longings and look at them to see what, exactly, it is you want and need – out of life, out of your job, out of your spouse, out of yourself – and to say so in very specific terms, and to verbalize explicit steps you can take to get wherever it is you want to go.
The beauty of this three-step, incremental goal-setting strategy is that you can have 15 completely different goals, OR you can use the short-term goals to help make more realistic, reachable, incremental marks toward achieving the longer-term goals.
You can do whatever you want to. They’re your goals.
But you know what? Sometimes life runs over you like a freight train.
You have a health crisis, a marital crisis, a period of anxiety or depression, or even a spurt of increased business that makes you work 60-hour weeks or longer, where you barely have time to do your laundry and get your garbage to the curb, much less have meaningful conversations or read a book. Much less get to the gym, or have a quiet time for meditation and centering yourself. Much less plan a healthy diet or grocery shop for diet-friendly fresh fruits and vegetables that will survive until you have time to cook them. It’s all you can do to keep your mail sorted and make sure you’ve got clean underwear.
Those three sets of five goals? You just sort of wave to them in passing.
And in those times, when you’re frazzled, overworked, overwhelmed, despairing, when you can’t see the way forward, that’s when my other approach to New Year’s resolutions kicks in.
Do the next thing. Ancient words from an anonymous Saxon poet, with a simplicity and a wisdom that struck a chord with Christian writer Elisabeth Elliot, who in turn passed it on to her readers, one of which was me.
When you can’t see your way forward, when you can only see the step immediately in front of you, just take that one step. Do the next thing. And then you can see what to do next. You do that next thing. And then the next. And the next, for as long as it takes to get out of the fog.
Here’s the thing about New Year’s resolutions. People think that if you’ve stopped doing them by the third week of January, you’ve failed. But you’ve not failed. You didn’t set a new January resolution. You set a new year’s resolution. You’ve got all year to try. And you’ll need it. Because most of us start and stop, and have to start all over again. The key is to keep trying.
My friend Tim is right. It matters not whether the glass is half empty or half full. The point is, the glass is refillable.
Bottoms up, and Happy New Year.