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A New Year, A New Beginning

Every Old Year’s night, one of my uncles used to say “I’m not going to bathe until next year!”, and then (predictably) as soon as the clock struck midnight, he would proudly announce “I haven’t bathed since last year!” 

This little bit of silly humour brings home the very artificial nature of New Year’s resolutions – in essence, New Year’s day could be any day of the year when it comes to committing ourselves to change. Logically speaking, there is no sensible reason to leave our resolutions until this auspicious day! However the human mind finds comfort in ritual and routine, so it has become a bit of a tradition for many of us to use the passing of the old year and the coming of the new as an opportunity to examine our lives and make changes for the better. Or at least we try to…

As we get older, many of us don’t see the point of New Year’s resolutions. We’ve got this far as we are, and in any case, we’re too old to change, right? Well, maybe we need to think again about this. One of the great dangers of getting older is the ease with which we can get stuck in a rut – clinging to our old habits, beliefs and attitudes, while the world changes around us. As Lauren Bacall so eloquently put it “standing still is the fastest way of going backwards in a rapidly changing world”. 

So, what makes a good New Year’s resolution? Is this just a matter of making things up on the spot, with our fingers crossed behind our backs? Is it just a bit of fun to be had on Old Year’s night, along with the Ponché-de-Creme and black cake? For many of us, it can be no more than this, and that’s fine. As my uncle always said “the main reason I make resolutions is to see how fast I can break them!” However, if you are interested in making more meaningful resolutions and sticking to them, then this may take a greater effort and some planning.

Here are some practical steps to making New Year’s resolutions that you can work with and succeed at. Firstly, don’t leave it until Old Year’s night!! In the run up to Christmas and Old Years, spend some time reflecting on the year past and think about what went well and what could have been improved. This will help you decide what is important to you and what you really want to change in your life. If you have a close friend or confidant, it might be worth bouncing your ideas off them, but always remember the decision is yours – New Year’s resolutions should be personal choices based on what you think is best for you!

Not all ideas for self-improvement are suitable as New Year’s resolutions, so think hard about what you want to achieve. The changes should be under your sphere of influence, important to you and achievable. Many of us who have worked as managers would recognise these as SMART objectives (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound), but you don’t have to be that obsessive about it! Just make sure it’s something that is important to you and that you can realistically achieve!

Beware of old cliched ideas, such as weight loss, exercise or even ‘better health’. These are often vague, and may fail because they are simply part of a ‘fad’ when taken in the context of a New Year’s resolution. If you are seriously going to try one of these, then make sure you plan in advance. Weight loss? What diet and exercise regime are you going to use? Who is going to help you? How will you measure your success? Exercise? How often and with whom? What kind of exercise? Do you even like doing this kind of exercise? You get the idea…

Once you have made your resolution, make it public! If this seems strange and intimidating, I don’t mean shouting it from the top of Cipriani statue! Let a few close friends know what you are planning. This serves as a powerful motivator to getting this right. In addition, it will give you some support to continue when the going gets tough.

Of course, the biggest barrier to success is staying power. Most of us maintain our resolutions for maybe a month or two, then we quietly give up. To counter this, set some dates to review your progress, put them in your diary and make sure to use those dates as a source of inspiration to continue.

One last thought. Resolutions are not just for New Year’s day. In life, the day to day routine can often make us lose sight of the bigger picture. As our lives roll on, are we improving with each passing day? Are we actively working to be better people? Are we getting the best out of life? Let me share one trick taught to me by Peter Driscoll, one of my mentors from the UK. Choose a date – any date. It could be the anniversary of starting your job, your birthday or any other day that is significant to you. On that day, set aside some time (about an hour) to reflect on the year gone by and think about the year to come. What did you achieve? Who were you on this day one year ago, and how have you changed since? What do you want to achieve in the coming year, and how are you going to do this? This simple exercise is a powerful means of reminding us how much we are constantly changing and giving us the impetus to keep improving throughout our lives.

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