"I'm going to stick to a rigid diet this year and keep slim." "This year no more credit purchases — I'm getting out of debt." Sound familiar? Millions of such resolutions are made every year, but precious few are ever realized. Here are the keys for mastering those rugged resolutions.
The new year traditionally brings personal introspection and resolutions. People the world over think of what they want to accomplish during the next 12 months. Some people merely make wishes, but many make resolutions to regulate their daily living and thus, hopefully, increase their prospects for happiness. There's nothing wrong with goal setting, but disappointments and desperation mount when goals go unachieved. A person's failure to achieve usually isn't caused by a lack of ability, but rather it is caused by the lack of follow-through and sustained determined effort. Let's say you are presently in debt $1,200. Your resolution is to eliminate all your debts in 1977. This is your goal. Where do you start? You've defined the goal, but you need to develop a program to chart your progress, and you need to establish realistic intermediate objectives. Two essentials must be considered: time and quantity. Your goal is to erase your financial red ink by the end of the year. Your intermediate objective might be to hit a $25 reduction each week, or a $100 reduction per month. This way you know from week to week whether or not you are accomplishing your goal. This time-quantity measurement is essential to maintaining the follow-through and momentum that you need. But you say you have tried it before, and it only works for a short time? You find yourself faithful for a few weeks or months, and then your resolve evaporates? This is a common problem. Millions of people the world over make resolutions, but not all are successful.
Why Many Fail
Consider a person on a diet. His goal is to lose 20 pounds in two months. That breaks down to 2½ pounds a week in eight weeks. He has a goal — to lose weight. He also has intermediate objectives — 2½ pounds per week (time and quantity). He gets started. The first week he loses 3 pounds and has a tremendous feeling of elation. He's succeeding! He's motivated to continue the second week. The second week he happens to experience no weight loss. This he views as failure. His first reaction is to quit, but perhaps his resolve empowers him to continue for the third week. Then, during that week, a luncheon opportunity comes along at a fabulous, gourmet restaurant. The menu is delectable. The most overpowering, delicious, mouthwatering delights are set in array before him. A new challenge has emerged: to lose or not to lose. Since the ego won't countenance failure, it's time for a rationalization: "What's the difference. I didn't lose anything last week by staying on the diet. This little bit can't make a difference" — so he digs in. That was his first failure. During the same week he allows himself an extra dessert on two different occasions and a few between-meal snacks. By the end of the week he has gained 2½ pounds. Disheartened, he quits his diet, claiming his diet won't work — because he can't blame himself. Justification is a human technique to rationalize failures so that they're acceptable to the ego. Once a person perceives a failure as a justified action, he loses his resolve to accomplish a goal. A proverb states that every man is right in his own eyes. How true that is. A person tends to justify his actions — become right in his own mind — in. order to avoid an honest admission of failure, which his mind won't tolerate. This is the basic reason that a person fails to meet his resolutions. But how can you learn to stick to your goals with dogged determination — never wavering?
Taking the "Rugged" Out of Resolutions
First, before you commit yourself to a new resolution, honestly measure the depth of your intent to achieve your goal. The stronger your commitment, the more intense your willpower will be. If your commitment is an honest commitment, you will admit that quitting is failure. You won't accept fantasized justifications to excuse your commitment. Since you don't like failure, you will be motivated to continue your resolution. Next, assign your goal a definite priority. Other interests will begin to sidetrack your resolve, and it will take concentrated effort to keep your time-quantity objectives on your "must do" list. If your goal begins to appear overwhelming and you begin to think, "I don't know if I can stick with it that long," evaluate your time-quantity objectives. You may need to break your long-term goal down into smaller tasks. Make your program measurable. Shoot for a week's (or a day's) accomplishment, and then renew it for another week until you finally attain your goal. It is always easier to do small tasks than large ones. And the feeling of success, when more frequent, is more exhilarating. By experiencing frequent success, you will be developing a repetitive new pattern. A repetitive new pattern, especially a pleasant one (experiencing success), will help you develop a positive new behavioral pattern — a new living habit. Your success in achieving intermediate objectives will culminate in the mastering of your long-range goal. Then you've won! And your life is permanently enriched as a result. Yes, it's easy to have good intentions. You've heard the old adage "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." But it's not easy to stick to resolutions. Yet if you sit down and have a long, honest talk with yourself and then develop a practical time-quantity program for monitoring your progress, you can be on your way to endorsing a new adage: "The road to life and happiness is paved with mastered resolutions."
Arthur C. Mokarow is director of the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation Extension Center and the editor of Successful Living. He is also an ordained minister, counseling and working in the area of human relations.