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    In Defense of a Tired Old Custom

    Tom Moon, MFT

    By Tom Moon, MFT

    One of the reasons why so many people don’t get what they want out of life is because they’re not specific and clear with themselves about just what it is that they do want. We tend to live from day to day, reacting to what’s thrown at us, but with only a vague sense of what we’re trying to accomplish in the long run. The custom of making New Year’s resolutions can be an important tool in helping us to act rather than merely react.

    There are at least two other very good reasons for adopting this practice. First of all, the initial step in realizing any goal is to visualize it clearly. It’s not that there’s any magic in visualizing per se, but that we’re more focused when we know clearly and in detail what we’re trying to achieve. Second, a mountain of scientific research shows that striving for personal goals positively affects health and well-being. Studies of women with cancer, for instance, show that the women who live the longest are those who have children under the age of eighteen. Apparently their goal of living long enough to see their children through childhood increases their survival rates.

    One way to begin this process is to think very big. Some people find it helpful to write a “mission statement” — a one-paragraph description of what is most important for them to do in this life. Next, ask yourself what you can do during the next year to bring your life more in alignment with your mission statement. This is the time to get practical and specific. Don’t just resolve, for instance, to “get in better shape” in the coming year. What does that mean? Are you talking about strength, flexibility, cardiovascular fitness? What kind of exercise will meet your specific goals? Where will you do it? How frequently? Your resolutions should be an action plan of several specific new actions you intend to take during the coming year.

    Once you have your list, don’t just forget about it. Resolutions shouldn’t be something you casually toss off in a hangover on New Year’s Day and then file away. They should remain with you all year. Keep the list in a place where you’ll see it regularly. Some of your resolutions may have specific deadlines attached to them. Make sure you have a calendar or personal organizer in which these dates are noted. It’s also a good idea to set aside a specific date every quarter of the coming year to review the entire list to see what you’ve accomplished and what changes or additions you need to make to the list.

    Making New Year’s resolutions may seem like a tired old custom, but I believe it is a practice that can help create a life that feels directed and purposeful, rather than aimless and reactive.

    Tom Moon is a psychotherapist in San Francisco. His website is