As we near the end of another year, it's time for those most controversial of things: the New Year's Resolutions. Most folks fall into one of two camps: 1. I'm going to make my New Year's Resolution and I promise that this year, I'm going to make it happen!
2. New Year's Resolutions is 'da devil, Bobby!
I'm sure that if you're in camp #1, you have the best of intentions in mind and you sincerely intend to make an effort to do whatever you resolve to do. But the reality is that we get carried away sometimes. We come up with the Mount Everest of New Year's Resolutions when we've barely tried climbing the hill in the park down the street!
And if you're in camp #2, you're tired of falling off the wagon (or seeing your family and friends do the same), so you resolve to abstain from resolving! But the reality is that we always need something to work towards. As the old adage goes, "If you're not growing, you're dying."
I've always been partial to finding somewhere in the middle. The coming of a new year is a natural opportunity for change, and here at Unsteady State, we want to leverage that desire for change into tangible action. I usually try a New Year's Retrospection instead.
What's that? I look back at the year that has passed and I think about the good things and bad things. I give thanks for the positive things, people, and events. This gives me a feeling of accomplishment and a sense of appreciation. That is the solid foundation upon which I can build.
Then I look at the things that didn't go quite so well... I don't do it in a defeatist beat-myself-up way or a the-world-sucks way, because that doesn't accomplish anything. I use them like thumbtacks on a map so I can chart my course and see where I'm going. With this perspective and my mission statement, I can tell if I'm heading in the wrong direction. But what can we do with that kind of information?
Have you ever been driving down the road and noticed how a tiny turn of the steering wheel can carry you into the next lane? Ever played the Telephone game where a message gets passed along from one person to the next to the next until the last person gets a message that is drastically different from the original? As a pilot, I was taught that planes rarely have completely catastrophic failures; it's usually a chain of little mistakes, mishaps, and misunderstandings that cause the overwhelming majority of airplane accidents. In all of these cases, we can see that the smallest of changes can lead to completely different results. (Want to read more on the subject? Check out The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell!)
Likewise, if you sense you're heading in the wrong direction in your life, small compensations to your direction can start to get you back on track. So rather than saying "I want to look like Brad Pitt (or Angelina Jolie), so I'm going to spend 3 hours at the gym every day," we can say "I haven't been nearly active enough this year, so I'm going to take the stairs up to my office." Instead of saying "I'm going to starve myself until I drop 10 sizes," we can say "I didn't make the best food choices last year, so I'm going to try adding more protein and vegetables to my lunches." It's that subtle shift in our thinking that will help to keep us from creating unattainable, wishful goals for ourselves and to give us a clearer path to get to where we need to go.
And know that my New Year's Retrospection doesn't happen only on New Year's. It becomes really powerful when we begin looking at our course on a regular basis and continue to make small corrections. After all, if you're flying from Auckland to Paris, you're not going to look at the compass once when you take off and pray that you get there!
So this New Year's Eve, join me in a little New Year's Retrospection. Because you can't know where you're going until you know where you've been...
What will you be doing this New Year's? Tell me how you're planning for 2014 in the comments below and don't forget to follow me on Twitter! Join the conversation...