Why It’s Worth Making – and Keeping – New Year’s Resolutions



“I have heard every excuse in the book – except a good one.” –Bob Greene

During dinner at an end-of-the-year conference in Charleston, SC, I asked my seat-mate, “What are your New Year’s resolutions?

She looked at me, shrugged and said, “Oh, I don’t make resolutions anymore.  I just end up breaking them, so what’s the use?”

“Wow,” I thought. “That’s like giving up hope.”

My friend Glenna Salsbury, former President of National Speakers Association, wrote a great book on this subject entitled, “The Art of the Fresh Start.”

I too believe in fresh starts.

I believe that on any given day, we can choose to do things differently.  It’s one of the great blessings of being human and being alive.

I don’t believe history has to predict our future … unless we let it.  Just because we’ve broken resolutions in the past, doesn’t mean we can’t get them right this time.

“Fall down seven times, get up eight,” as the saying goes.

You know what I’m doing to turn my resolutions into reality?  I’m focusing on what I DO want instead of what I DON’T want.

My clarity around this was triggered by two emails our office received this morning.

The first said, “Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have questions or we can serve as a resource.”

The second was from an executive’s assistant who said, in response to our request to change appointment, “I don’t think that will be a problem.”

Yikes. I copied the emails to my team and said, “Teaching moment. My books Tongue Fu! and ConZentrate both emphasize the concept that, “Our mind can’t focus on the opposite of an idea.”

When we tell ourselves and others what NOT to do, we increase the likelihood we’ll do the unwanted behavior. For example, what do you think about while reading the following phrases?

  • “Don’t worry.”
  • “Stop running around the pool.”
  • “I don’t like it when you get angry.”
  • “Whatever you do, don’t fumble the ball.”

The words “don’t,” “stop” “won’t” and “not” are “ghost” words.

When they’re paired with an unwanted behavior, “Don’t get mad,” or “Stop interrupting me,” or “I not going to be nervous,” “Make sure you don’t double-fault” or “I won’t let him intimidate me,” our mind focuses on and manufactures the very thing we DON’T want.

That’s why, when someone says, “Don’t hesitate to call,” they’re introducing the word “hesitate” which means we’ll think twice before contacting them.

It’s better to say, “We hope you’ll call if you have questions.” or “Feel free to reach out if …”  or “We look forward to hearing from you if we can serve as a resource.”

For many people, the word problem means “something’s wrong.”  Why give people the impression something wrong if there isn’t?  How about changing “That won’t be a problem,” to “That will work fine” or “Yes, he’s open at 4:30 and I’ve changed it on his calendar.”

Words matter.  It’s in everyone’s best interests to mindfully select words that focus on the DESIRED behavior instead of the DREADED behavior.

This applies to our New Year’s Resolutions too. Instead of phrasing them to focus on what we DON’T want; phrase them so they focus on what we DO want.   For example:

“I’m going to stop sitting for 12+ hours every day and being a couch potato” becomes “I move joyfully at least a half hour every morning, afternoon and evening.”

“I’m not going to work 7 days a week” becomes “I reclaim my weekends as family/friend time and fun, recreational sports time.”

“I don’t eat desserts or fatty, processed foods” becomes “I love eating fresh fruit and healthy, from-the-earth food that makes me feel lean and clean and energetic.”

“I’m not going to waste my time being around toxic people” becomes “I seek out and hang out with quality people who thrill me with how they’re showing up in the world.”

Please note; switching the words we choose to lose and use transcends semantics.

Making a SMALL change in how we language our resolutions can make a BIG difference in whether they become reality.
Instead of our resolutions ending up being a “to-do list for the first week of the year” (as Annie Taylor Label humorously pointed out; in the cartoon at the top of this article); they can help us live up to our vision of a better self and a more rewarding life.

I’m ready for a wonderful year.  How about you?


[photo via Flickr User Sam JR // Creative Commons]

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