There’s always debate over New Year’s Resolutions: One woman’s path to self-improvement is another woman’s waste of time. We’re cynical about the goal-setting ritual (and so are more and more experts and role models of success; even Oprah says she’s ditched resolutions). So we interviewed an expert – the president of Handel Group’s private life coaching division, Laurie Gerber – to find out whether it’s possible to make resolutions without failing (or turning our lives into scary versions of self-help books). Here’s what she has to say to us skeptics:
What’s your stance on resolutions?
New year’s resolutions are great opportunities if you can take the joke out of them. You can’t help but take stock at the end of the year, and just like birthdays, the new year is a clean slate, whether you like it or not. But you have to lose the cynicism. The first thing I say to clients is: Hello! This is your life, and it’s meaningful! You can use occasions like the new year, birthdays, baby showers, and weddings to make yourself accountable, or you can joke about them and sell out on the opportunity they give you. Stop joking and assuming that resolutions will be broken. To me, taking these things seriously and finding meaning in them is a sign of maturity.
Now, people are bad at resolutions any time of the year – we call them “promises” in the Handel Method™ – and we’re all bad at them wherever we’re not already successful. But what brings happiness in life is being able to keep a promise and maintain Personal Integrity®; resolutions are just another name for it. Anytime of year is good for that, and anytime of year we’re bad at that. That’s why religions have so many rituals and celebrations, because we all need another chance to true up and reckon with what we say is important to us.
But if resolutions are so great, then why do so many people hate them?
There are common reasons why people don’t believe in making resolutions. The first is “I’ve failed before and I don’t want the disappointment again.” I just don’t think that’s a good enough reason. The other one is that they just think “I’m just this way.” That’s like saying that your kid is just a brat, so you can’t go on vacation or go out to restaurants, versus taking on your role in improving your child’s behavior. I know it would be nice to throw out new year’s resolutions to solve the problem, but it doesn’t change the fact that Personal Integrity® is what makes people happy. Anyone who’s ever accomplished anything that they’re proud of started with a resolution or promise.
Oprah recently told the Wall Street Journal that she doesn’t do resolutions anymore, because she realized that if she tells herself that she’ll improve some area of her life, it turns out to be the year that everything goes wrong in that area. Instead, she says she journals about her experiences and how she could have done better. What do you think of that?
That sounds like hedging your bets to me! I get that sometimes you have a dream or promise that you feel like could be nurtured better as a secret, but making it official means more risk. We usually keep resolutions vague or hidden to protect ourselves from embarrassment and disappointment. Not making resolutions could also be a sign of a bad relationship with failing: It’s like a football team saying they don’t want to win the Super Bowl; that they’d just like to make it to the playoffs. How about saying you want to win! You might fail, but at least you’ll play to win (and be proud of that, regardless of the results).
I’m skeptical about people who are scarred by resolutions and want to just throw them out instead of dealing with what it would take to keep a promise. Our typical clients don’t want to make promises because they tried before and failed. But anything that’s ever been noteworthy has been tried and failed before – that’s why it’s even worthy of being a resolution. Past failures aren’t a reason to not go for something.
Everyone tells us that we fail at resolutions because we’re setting unrealistic goals, but is that always the case? Is it the goal’s fault, or our own?
Both. There is such a thing as a gradient and knowing how to ramp something up or taper it off. When I first set about to have my dream body, I limited my carbs to three servings, then one, then eliminated bread and pasta and rice altogether. I wouldn’t use the word ‘realistic,’ but there’s a sweet spot of making an achievable promise that’s still worthwhile.
So how should we go about making resolutions that are achievable?
Make your resolution something that feels like a stretch and gets your heart beating a little faster, but that you can also imagine being possible. You have to write it down and see if it resonates and you’re willing to be moved by it. But sometimes we’re so afraid and clueless and bratty that we can’t feel that, so then you just have to try it first and then vote on whether it’s the right resolution after you’ve forced yourself to truly test it. (No trying for two days and then voting against it; that’s not enough time. That’s a very beginner mistake!)
We’re not into putting post-it notes on our mirrors and putting inspirational posters on our walls. How do we stay motivated without feeling like a cheesy replica of some self-help book?
Stop being anti-cheesy! Calling people cheesy is what someone does when they’re embarrassed by someone else’s inspiration. Don’t you think looking down on someone who gets inspired is a little mean? I understand making fun of triteness; when anyone thinks they can write a self-help book or an inspirational quote, it’s hard to take seriously because it’s not genuine. But things really can inspire you, and you can shift your energy and mood using songs, quotes, poems, or journaling.
I’m surrounded by inspirational things, but I don’t have post-it notes on my mirror. I have pictures of my kids at my desk to remind me what’s important and of play, innocence, beauty – things I want to be present to. I think it’s great to write down your own visions and dreams and read them aloud to yourself; then you can’t avoid them. I also write out how I want my day to go, and I assess how I did at the end of the day, too. I pick new things all the time; it’s fun to figure out what’s going to inspire me each week.
But the best way to stay reminded and inspired is to have a buddy or a coach; someone to talk to about it with. Staying motivated has everything to do with other human beings watching you, holding you to account, and cheering you on.
I usually buy a planner in January thinking it will help me keep track of all my goals, but by March I’ve forgotten it somewhere in my junk drawer. What kinds of tools do you recommend to your clients to help themselves stay on task?
It’s never about the tools. It’s about Personal integrity® which is, at its core, the alignment of your heart, mind, and body (i.e. dreams, plans, and actions). But at the most basic level, it’s just making and keeping a promise. You have to see the connection between that and happiness, self-respect and confidence. We have an amazing ability to ignore good tools if our mind isn’t fixed on what it’s all for, so you won’t find a tool that works until you change your mind about being in the game. If you haven’t accepted authorship then no amount of tools make any difference.
But personally, I like computer calendars because you can make appointments reoccur and you can move things around in your schedule without rewriting them. And you can’t accomplish much without a calendar, so don’t even try to tell me that you don’t need a calendar! This is all about consciously designing your life, and that means planning and writing things down.
Often, resolutions just end up making us feel guilty, failed, and unsuccessful. So how do we make a resolution that actually makes us feel good about ourselves?
How you feel is your choice. In the Handel Method™, we teach that feeling bad is a diversion. People believe that feeling bad is an acceptable alternative to doing the right thing, and then it restores their sense of being a good person. But feeling bad completely obscures the choice not to keep your resolution, so you don’t have to be on the hook for breaking a promise.
The only thing that will make you “feel good” about yourself is owning up to your choices (and making the right ones). Telling the truth if you made the wrong choice feels better than bullshitting, and making the right choice feels best of all. How you feel is an absolute function of telling the truth and making choices consistent with your dreams.
To wrap up, what are your top five tips for anyone who’s already made a resolution or is still planning to make one?
1. Shift your attitude – Integrity is year-round, but you have an opportunity to reignite it, so don’t pass it up.
2. Start with one resolution/promise – One of the biggest pitfalls is making it too difficult for yourself and trying to change too many things.
3. Write it down – You get extra points for making a visual for yourself. Try a collage.
4. Share your resolution with other people – whether it’s a coach, a friend, a buddy in a support group. And send an email to everyone who believes in you and ask them to hold you to it.
5. Give yourself a consequence if you don’t keep a promise. If you don’t lose a pound a week, you owe 200 push-ups; if you’re late to an appointment you owe the person you’re meeting a coffee or $5.
Remember that if you don’t play the game of promises, you’ll just make another excuse for why things don’t work for you. You either have Personal Integrity® and keep promises, or live with whatever your problems are and blame them on someone or something else. When you’re making resolutions, notice your confidence level. Then notice your confidence as you keep your promises and stick to your resolutions. It’s going to go way up. That’s really the reason we make promises in the first place. Enjoy the game.
Handel Group Life Coaching believes that individuals achieve lifelong happiness by consciously designing every area of their lives. Handel Group Life Coaches create personal and professional breakthroughs with clients all over the world, including leaders at Vogue, MIT, and AOL. Their unique method, Personal Integrity®, emphasizes inspired, promised actions, accountability and when applied to any area of life, including career, relationship, body, and money creates meaningful results in a very short period of time. Personal coaching is available by phone and online. Handel Group leads live events throughout the country, including group Life Coaching Tele-Courses, Urban Retreats, and Crash Course weekends.
To help you get on track with your resolutions, Handel group is also offering Blisstree readers two special deals:
Get $50 off Handel Group’s upcoming “Design Your Year” Urban Retreat on January 30 (normally $150) by using the code “BLISSTREE” when signing up.
OR, get a free 20-minute personal coaching session. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org and mention Blisstree to redeem.