Screw Resolutions – Give Your Year a Theme
Every year after Christmas, people sit down and review the past year. They look ahead and come up with an improbable list of to-do items for the coming year. You’re going to run four times a week, not eat fast food, do a monthly budget you live and die by, put 20 percent of your paycheck into savings, spend more time with family, learn to knit, take a Spanish class, get to work on time, get 8 hours of sleep… essentially, you’re going to become perfect.
And then you don’t do one of them. And they all go down the drain because if you’re not going to be perfect, well then why do a bunch of stuff that’s no fun?
At least, that’s been my experience. Every year, I got swept up in the spirit of self-improvement and made ridiculously long lists of things I was going to do differently, learn or stop doing. I made calendars and schedules and stuck to them for about… oh, maybe three weeks.
Which makes me average it turns out. According to time management firm FranklinCovey, only a third of people will even make it to the end of January.
The end of JANUARY.
The cure is supposedly to make a specific resolution. Perhaps pick just one of the resolutions I listed in the first paragraph and go with that.
But that hasn’t worked for me. I have that Gen Y disease of ambition. Just one of those resolutions feels so… flimsy.
Why you need a theme
Here’s my problem with these specific resolutions: they may not be the right answer. Maybe you find that putting 20 percent of your paycheck into savings isn’t going to work because you can’t stop over-drafting your bank account. Or, you find out your knees can’t handle running. Or, you find it impossible to get 8 hours of sleep. And then you just give up.
What you need is a theme, something that sets the tone for your year, and gives you a banner to work under. In the end, what is your overall goal? Is it to be fit and healthy, to have good finances, to feel rested? Make it the Year of Finances, or the Year of Fitness, or the Year of Relaxation.
For the past three years, I’ve picked a theme for my year. And it’s worked.
2007 was the Year of Survival. I got sober in April (a late start to the year, I know), and basically just learned how to live all over again. This theme was more or less picked for me. I can’t take credit for that one.
2008 was the Year of Relationships, as you can clearly see in my blog (here, here, here and here). Having learned to survive, I went about learning how to survive with others. My relationships with men were all over the board as I tried to figure out what I wanted and who I was. My relationships with family and friends got some work also. I think this was a subconscious theme.
2009 was the Year of Finances. Honestly, this was the first year I set a resolute theme at the beginning of the year with an earnest desire to tackle it. I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I fumbled around with Quicken Online and heard about Mint.com and read I Will Teach You To Be Rich, but what ended up working for me was Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover. I didn’t get on board with it until May. But I didn’t give up on my finances because that theme hung over my head all year. I knew that there was an answer and having a theme, and not a specific resolution, helped me gather the research, feedback and experimentation I needed to find my answer.
How to pick a theme
The more my life becomes calm and healthy, the more the areas that need work seem to stick out. I’m not blessed with the kind of clarity in my life where I can just go, “Oh, I really need to work on my finances! I can see how this contributes to my other problems.” Yeah, I don’t have that.
So I sort of feel my way through my life, asking myself what feels bad, where do I feel negative emotion in my day, then trying to trace it back to the source. I felt awful when my bank account over-drafted for the billionth time. And oh, hey! That seems to come up a lot. Maybe I should work on that.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What is causing the most problems in my life?
- What is giving me the most chaos?
- What are the most inconvenient things happening?
- What seems to be happening over and over again even though I try not to?
- Where do I see a spike in negative emotion in my daily life?
- What would give me the most peace if I could find a solution for it?
If you’re having trouble picking between two (or three or four…), pick the one that’s solves the most problems. Last year I was trying to choose between the Year of Finances and the Year of Health & Fitness. When I made a list of the problems each would solve, the Finances Year solved a lot more problems, including some of my health problems (medical care is expensive, yo!).
What happens next…
The amazing thing about having a theme for your year is that it’s about changing your mindset toward a certain area of your life. You’ve decided to change some area of your life that you previously carried an attitude of indifference toward. Lots of things will change.
Take my 2009 Year of Finances for example: not only did I stop over-drafting my bank account (which could’ve been my short-sighted New Year’s Resolution), but I’ve paid off all my credit cards, survived meeting my hefty insurance deductible for health care (thanks to surgery), and stored away almost three months of living expenses in my savings account. And since I decided I needed an alternate stream of income, I started my first business and have a steady stream of clients. Year of Finances indeed!
Of course your theme can fail. The number one reason resolutions fail is because people aren’t committed to them in the first place. If you aren’t committed to your theme, then you won’t move on it.
Move forward with a positive attitude. Remember this is the year you will change your [finances/health/career/love life/insert theme here]!
The great thing is that area of your life will be forever changed, not just temporarily shifted. As I move into my 2010 theme, I don’t stop working on my finances. My attitude toward finances has been changed forever.
Wanna know my theme for 2010? Read the follow-up post here. What’s your theme for 2010?
Photo courtesy of Tojosan via Flickr.