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    The Value of a Tired, Old Custom

    tomBy Tom Moon, MFT

    One of the reasons that many people don’t get what they want out of life is that they’re not specific and clear with themselves about just what their goals are. All too often we 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, hope and optimism are indispensable attitudes in accomplishing any long term goals, and a key element in living optimistically is setting goals, making plans, and acting as if we can achieve them. Second, the first step in realizing any goal is to visualize it clearly. It’s not that there’s any magic in visualizing per se, as some proponents of positive thinking seem to think, but that we’re more focused when we know clearly and in detail what we’re trying to achieve. That’s why I think making New Year’s resolutions is not a tired and meaningless custom, but an important tool in directing our lives.

    One way to begin this process is to spend some time asking the big questions. Here you are on this planet that is out in the middle of nowhere, aware and alive for a brief period of time. How do you want to spend this time? What is of ultimate importance to you? What values do you want to serve? How would you like to be remembered by others when you’re gone? Imagine the best of all possible lives for yourself. Make a detailed list of every dream that matters to you, no matter how extravagant or impossible it might seem. Don’t censor or hold yourself back in any way. Once
    you’ve done this process of self-reflection, look for the common themes. Some people find it helpful at this point to write a brief “mission statement,”
    a one-paragraph description of what is most important for them to do in this life.

    The next step is to ask yourself what you can do during the next twelve months to bring your life more in alignment with your guiding values. 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 or cardiovascular fitness? What kind of exercise will meet your specific goals? Where will you do it? How frequently? What time of day? And so on. 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 file it away and forget about it. Keep the list in a place where you’ll see it regularly. Some of your resolutions can have specific deadlines attached to them. If you’re resolving to update your resume and submit it to six new employers, for instance, or if you’re planning to take some classes or join organizations, by what date do
    you intend to complete these goals? 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 when you’ll review the entire list to see what you’ve accomplished and what changes or additions you need to make to the list. Your resolutions should not be something you casually toss off in a hangover on New Year’s Day and then promptly forget. They should be carefully considered personal commitments that remain with you all year.

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