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On Making Resolutions

You'd think that somebody as obsessed as I am with the idea of making things better would be a big supporter of New Year's resolutions. You'd be wrong. I stopped making (and trying to keep) New Year's resolutions five years ago, and I haven't regretted it one bit.

Does that mean I never decide to make big changes to improve my life? Um, no, obviously not. What it means is that when I decide to make a change, I do it right then, rather than waiting for some arbitrary date. I do this for any number of reasons, but primarily because this keeps me from putting off doing it, creating arbitrary reasons to delay starting the change ("I'll start my diet at noon, no after lunch, no, today is really a hangover day; I'll start tomorrow") and inevitably failing.

By starting right away, I make it clear to myself that I want to make this change, and I have decided to make it. It's important to me, so important that getting started has to happen as soon as I decide it's important. By not delaying starting, I show myself how important this change is.

One benefit to starting right away is that I can make changes in my life at any time. In early December I decided to change one simple thing I was doing every day, and I started right then. If I had waited until the New Year, I'm not sure that I would have done it, and I certainly would not have reaped the benefits of having made this little change for the entire month of December. So I start the New Year feeling like I've really made something happen, rather than with an encroaching sense of dread about not being able to keep resolutions.

Starting right away also maintains momentum. I had a crisis, I came to a resolution, I made a decision, and immediately I take an action. No waiting around. Just go out and do it. It's so much easier that way, without any starting and stopping.

Five years ago, when I sat down to think about what I wanted to change about my life in the year to come, I realized that what I wanted to do I should have started to do already, and that if I really wanted to make positive change in my life, I had to stop waiting for significant dates and behaving so superstitiously about when I would start. I realized that in previous years I had read a lot of articles about New Year's resolutions and how few people keep them, and that that negative press was hurting me. So I decided to get off that ride.

Now, when I fail to keep a resolution, I don't feel like the world is saying, "I told you so." I can pick myself up and get back on the horse, or I can change what I was doing again, trying to find something that works. I shifted my way of thinking from strongly negative, maybe not all the way to strongly positive, but positive enough that if I fail at something, I have enough self-esteem left to get up and start over again.

The much-touted benefit of New Year's resolutions is supposed to be that everybody else is making them. There are some benefits to making resolutions with other people, of course, as long as they actually help you stick to them. Making a resolution with a friend who will help you stay on track is really helpful: I do that, but not for January first. And I choose well the friends I make resolutions with: they have to be people I can trust to support me in the resolution, not saboteurs or critics.

Resolutions and decisions are the core of changing your life. Don't let them be guided by superstitious cultural quirks. If you mean it, do it.

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