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Fine-tuning The Resolution

Beverly Sills once said "You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don't try." I think we all instinctively know this. Whilst we all take the coward's way out at times, by opting not even to try, equally we all feel better when we did at least give it a shot. This is why we make new year's resolutions. This year, this time, we will do it, we tell ourselves. This time we'll get there. Ok, we’ve failed before, but this is where we try again.

All we need is a bit more resolve, more willpower, more focus.

There are however some fundamental problems with resolutions. Not least is the fact that we make them at absolutely the worst time of the year. If you live in the northern hemisphere and make your resolutions as we move from one year into the next, you're promising to launch yourself into whichever venture it is, when every cell in your body is reminding you that you should be hibernating, curling up in the back of the cave by the fire, not venturing onto the snow covered wastes to prove that you can outrun every wild and starving creature still out there.

The depth of winter is a quiet time, a story-telling time, a time of myth and magic, and quietness. It is a time to take stock, and make plans, slowly and with consideration. A time to hunker down and think about the possibilities and what might be needed to turn them into realities. Create your vision board, craft your plan-tree, devise your safety-nets and plan your pit-stops…but don't launch full throttle fuelled on the false promise of a new date on the calendar.

The next problem, I think, is that we make "resolutions", plural. Already before we even begin, we dissipate our energy across multiple projects. Life does that for us, without us conspiring to make it worse by insisting this and this and this and whatever else are all absolute priorities and must all be accomplished within this year. Really? Did we, perhaps, say the same thing twelve months ago? Did we fail? And are we disappointed?

Almost certainly, yes and yes and yes. Perhaps we failed because we didn't really try. Perhaps the "resolution" was not backed up by true resolve: not just will-power, but heart-felt desire, creativity, determination to continue getting up and getting back to it. Sometimes we fail, because we don't want (enough) to succeed. Sometimes the resolutions we make are conditioned by our family, our employers, teachers, society, the media – they don't come from our own self. I agree with Sills: you are doomed if you don't try. But I would go further and say you won't try unless and until you are doing it for your self. Unless it matters to you.

What it is and why it matters, is for you to know and to share or keep secret as you see fit. Don't be taken in by those who tell you that you will only achieve if you have others to hold you to account. I believe we can only achieve when we are willing to hold ourselves to account: when we will not allow ourselves to make our silent excuses.

We all have these dreams, goals, wishes, call them what you will: the things we want to do and see and become, the places we want to go to or get away from, the masterpieces we want to create or the detritus we want to discard. We all have treasure troves of them, so many things, so much stuff, so little time…so which one matters most?

That's right, which ONE?

If you must make a resolution, let it be only one.

Procrastination thrives on competing demands. Your day-to-day life will not disappear as the clock strikes midnight on the 31st December. Whatever you want to do in the new year will have to be levered into whatever space you can find within it…the sharper it is, the easier it will be to drive it into the tiniest of cracks and open up the space it needs. Trying to create space for more than one "one more thing" is never going to work. So find the one thing. The one strong thing that you can commit to, that you can make non-negotiable.

Then find the crack, and start levering open some space.

Finally, we need to be careful how we phrase our resolutions. We have a tendency to focus on output rather than input. I agree with Stephen Covey when he says that we should start with the end in mind, but I also agree with whoever it was that said if you keep one eye on the destination you have only half your attention with which to find the way. We need to be clear about what we want to achieve…but the sad reality is that what we can achieve, especially what we can achieve within a given timeframe, is not entirely within our gift. Whatever our endeavour, however best our endeavours, we cannot guarantee the outcome.

So we should let that go and focus on what we can control.

We can control the input. We can control the effort. We can decide how hard we try, how smart we try, how many different route-options and contingencies we make space for. Targets and measures are useful for determining how far we've come, but they are counterproductive in determining which way we came or how much we enjoyed the trip.

So yes, stop every now and then and look back, look how far you've come. Stop every now and then and look forward, check that you are still headed in the right direction and if not, make the adjustments (or change the destination!). Mostly though, focus on the doing of the thing. Enjoy your run, or your hike, or your baking, or your writing, or tending the garden, or learning or just sitting and being. Relish your training sessions or your studies or your downtime for the sheer pleasure of it. Change what doesn't work. Find a way that does work, that becomes easier to do because you want to do it, not because you want what having done it will bring.

If we can do all of these things – remember that winter is the time for planning and starting slowly, building up into the lighter warmer days; focussing on the one thing that matters most at this point in our lives; and phrasing our intent around our in-put rather than what we want to achieve by the end of the year – then we will have devised the strategy and the only resolution we will need to make is: prioritise this.

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