Sticking To It
A New Yorker Magazine cartoon depicts three trash cans lined up in a row on a sidewalk. Each of the three cans bears a distinct label: “Trash,” “Recycling,” and “New Year’s Resolutions.”
This is the season to set resolutions, but many are tossed away soon after making them. For whatever reason, they simply didn’t stick.
I’ve wondered, then, what makes for a “sticky” resolution; one that will be kept, becomes second nature, makes a positive difference? Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. Know why. A resolution means we’ve identified something needing correction, or a goal needing to be met. To make it stick we must ask the obvious but often-overlooked question, “Why is this an issue for me?” Honestly asking why gets to our emotional core where fears and hopes reside.
We may be rational creatures, but we’re also motivated by what frightens us and what brings us joy. We must take stock of those things and acknowledge their impact on our behavior. No resolution sticks unless it eases a basic fear or chases a basic hope. Affirming the why of a resolution strengthens our resolve.
2. Visualize. Legend has it, Michelangelo was asked how he could sculpt the awe-inspiring “David” from a raw block of marble. He replied that he simply chipped away at everything that wasn’t David. Visualizing your resolution as a finished product - in great detail - transforms it from the realm of the abstract into the tangible.
A friend of mine resolved to get into better physical shape and attached a photo to his refrigerator. It was a picture of a shirtless Brad Pitt, six-pack abs and all. Brad’s impressive bod represented my friend’s fitness goal and inspired him to stay the course when tempted to stray from his diet. His wife didn’t mind gazing upon Brad, either. Within a year I was amazed at my friend’s transformation.
Visualization is amazingly sticky. Imagine your finished novel on display in a bookshop. Picture the exact amount in your savings account in twelve months. See yourself playing the guitar like a pro.
3. One day at a time. A sticky resolution is a series of small persistent steps, not a giant leap. Alcoholics Anonymous works due to the methodology of taking every day as a fresh stride on the path of sobriety. The goal itself is a life-long daily journey, shared with others.
We can learn from AA. If you resolve to lose weight, learn the guitar, or write a novel, there’s no substitute for a conscious daily practice, and friends to lend support. Those feats won’t happen overnight; they require a day by day routine where small increments add up over time. Resolutions that stick inevitably result from a steady daily process, aided by friends on a similar journey.
Whatever you resolve, make it sticky by truly knowing why you’re doing it, visualizing the result, and taking it one day at a time. If your resolution winds up tossed in the can, take it easy on yourself. Our desire to make resolutions in the first place proves that we’re all works in progress.