It may be a cliche, but as January winds down, I can’t help but wonder how many of us have already abandoned the resolutions we made––with all the best intentions––barely a month ago.
Gyms that are packed on January 2nd by mid-February often look like ghost towns.
Indeed, according to a recent NPR survey, while getting fit is definitely the most common resolution, apparently 67% of gym memberships go completely unused.
Since this month I’ve been focused on the theme of Expansion–– January’s meditation HERE–– I’ve also been musing on how so many of our best resolutions go so seriously astray … and why.
Many years ago I shared my Chinatown loft with a series of colorful roommates,some of whom have drifted off into the mists while others remain fast friends.
One of my favorites was Zeke.
A clever and quirky tech guy, he had a score of self-admittedly nerdy passions.
In particular, he also made New Year resolutions that were highly idiosyncratic.
Some were for exotic trips–– a spearfishing vacation in Fiji comes to mind –– but oddly many were fashion related.
My favorite resolution was that one January 1st he announced that he was going to wear more corduroy that year.
Another year, he decided his commitment was to deck himself out in more plaids.
Such resolutions hardly transformed his life or anyone else’s, particularly since they were coming from someone who spent most of his time coding on his laptop on our dining room table.
And yet, on the other hand, they were extremely easy to fulfill and maintain.
He gave himself something we all need sometimes: an Easy Win.
That’s not the worst strategy I know for starting out the year.
Side note: I also love Zeke’s job title which has its own contradictory poetry.
He was (and is) a “Cloud Architect.”
At the other extreme, I remember one of my first creative coaching clients.
This guy was brimming with ambition, something I usually encourage, but in this case his intense drive was his own undoing.
Barely making ends meet and with no clear strategy, his goal was nonetheless to be worth over $100 million dollars in two years.
Other than winning the lottery––or maybe becoming an evil tech genius and hijacking the Zeke’s Cloud for ransom––in the real world, no viable pathway existed for his financial dreams.
While there’s some wisdom in the Clement Stone’s adage “Aim for the moon. If you miss, you may hit a star,” without some grounding in reality, you’re more likely to have an absolute failure to launch.
Although he’d never settle for a year of merely wearing more corduroy and plaid, this guy’s overarching ambition was its own recipe for failure, perhaps for never taking even the first practical step of a much longer journey.
I remember vividly learning about the importance and specifics of setting Stretch Goals––those that are appropriately challenging but nonetheless attainable––via an early career mentor of mine.
For a goal to meet this criterion, it has to be a significant challenge but not too far beyond your grasp.
At the same time, it can’t be so effortlessly within reach as finding your TV remote.
Of course you also have to factor in where you are starting from and how much time you have as well as having your goals be measurable and also authentic for you.
What I found, however, was that (as in the stories above) finding the right degree stretch was often the most difficult task for clients.
For example, I once worked with someone eager to share her first informal (and free) personal growth workshop in a friend’s living room.
After leaving a successful Wall Street career, this was new territory for her.
I asked her when she thought she’d be ready to lead it.
She considered for a moment, then replied “Maybe four to six weeks.”
I let that response sit in the air for a moment.
Then I countered with “I actually think you’re actually ready right now and there’s no real reason you can’t do it next weekend.”
She reflect for the briefest moment then––willing to believe that I might just be right that she was indeed ready to stretch into this possibility––committed to doing so.
That living room workshop was, of course, a low-key but deeply meaningful triumph, one that has led to a huge career helping empower thousands and thousands of other women.
For each of us, it’s about finding what constitutes that right amount of stretch and when.
Sometimes, in other words, you have to know when it’s perfectly fine just to tip your toe into the waters, and other times you simply have to brace yourself and dive directly into the deep end.
Over time, as I dove deeper and deeper into the yoga universe, I gained a whole new level of understanding of what stretching meant.
I’ve witnessed tons of joy and relief around it as well as mountains of frustration.
One totally lovely but very impatient marathon-running student asked me how long it would take his hamstrings to loosen up.
“Well…How long did it take you to get them this tight?” was my honest inquiry.
Knotty problems that took years to develop don’t tend to completely evaporate in a single 60-minute class.
In an Age of Instant Internet Gratification, powerful but slow medicine like yoga is often harder and harder to accept, but more and more necessary.
They’re attribute to everyone from Bill Gates to Arthur C. Clarke who co-wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey.
That is, the endless variations of a quote that a physical trainer friend of mine posted this week.
Essentially, the adage is about how it’s human nature to overestimate how much we can accomplish in a short time, yet underestimate what we can in the long run.
For example, losing 20 pounds in 2 weeks (unhealthy and near impossible) versus transitioning over the course of a year from being a complete couch potato to running your first marathon (super-challenging but perhaps doable).
This might in fact be the biggest reason that January resolutions evaporate.
It’s not the lack ambition or commitment, but rather a sense of perspective regarding how much time your stretch requires that’s askew.
In some cases, you might need six months to launch your career as a motivational speaker, or you might be ready this weekend.
Indeed, often the challenge is to let go of your excuse for dragging your heels.
And, conversely, sometimes the Cosmic Speed Bumps occur precisely you don’t get yourself enough runway to truly take off.
One final thought on why resolutions so often fail.
Right after college, I had a friend who was an aspiring actress.
We attended a creative workshop which was very practical and career-focused.
My friend, however, decided that––along with predictable casting goals––whenever she was called in to audition her purpose, her entire focus in fact, was to be a Breath of Fresh Air.
That was the effect she wanted to embody, the one she was determined to share at every meeting with agents, casting directors, and producers.
For her, that was utterly authentic and frankly almost physically palpable.
She’s gone on to considerable success––working constantly, garnering an Emmy nomination, and, my favorite, a recurring role as a glamorous but deadly 800 year-old vampire on TV.
Interestingly, her goal of being a Breath of Fresh Air wasn’t a milestone she could check off her New Year’s Resolutions list on December 31st.
It was about embodying something energetically, something she’s managed to sustain in countless ways over a lengthy career.
Indeed, as Eckhard Tolle wrote “Every enthusiastic person has a goal that may be important…(yet) the doing is what is truly fulfilling.”
If you’re having an end of January dip in enthusiasm, it might be helpful to take a step beyond whatever goals you’ve set to look at the larger effect you want to create for yourself and for the world.
Perhaps you’re also meant to be a Breath of Fresh Air….?
Or the Voice of Reason?
Or, even better, maybe The Comic Relief…?
Remember, of course, to always find a stretch that’s somewhere between wearing more corduroy and earning $100 million next month.
More importantly, determine who it is you truly want to be in the world.
It’s possible that that kind of clarity leads to a level of Expansion you haven’t yet even imagined.
Namaste for Now,