New Year's is traditionally a time for starting over. The infamous New Year's resolution is the most familiar form of doing this. Whether it be weight loss, stopping smoking, getting our finances in order or something else, we've all made New Year's resolutions.
The problem is, most resolutions don't last. We lose motivation, life intrudes, and the next thing you know it's March and we've stopped training for the half marathon we swore we were going to complete in July. In fact, it's said that 80% of the resolutions made on January 1st are abandoned by Valentine's Day. That's only 6 weeks! Maybe we should call the entire New Year's resolution business "6 Weeks to Failure!"
Why don't resolutions work? There are many reasons. Change is always hard. Perhaps your will-power is weak. Maybe you don't really want to do the hard work involved. Possibly the very goal or goals that you've decided on are just flawed.
Here's an example: many people make resolutions to work out more, or lose weight, or run a marathon. While those are great goals for some people, you should ask yourself: are these my real goals? Do I want to go to the gym, lose weight or run 26 miles, or do I want to feel better about myself? Getting in shape might contribute to achieving the goal of feeling better about yourself, but it's a way of achieving the goal, not the goal itself. Paying down debt or spending less money may contribute to your financial well-being, but they are tactics to meet the goal, not the goal itself.
A lot of New Year's resolutions can fit into one of three categories: health, finance or productivity. That's understandable. Who wouldn't want to be fit, debt-free with lots of disposable cash, and efficient enough at everything to have lots of leisure time? But are tactical resolutions the best way to reach that kind of lifestyle? Experience proves that they are not. The reason is that we resist change at a basic, unconscious level. To break out of that rut we need to address our resistance to change. Addressing the resistance to change must be the goal, or the New Year's resolution, and for that we need help.
Now, we could all go out and hire life coaches and spiritual advisors to help us become newer, shinier people. Unfortunately, that's expensive and might not work. A better way is to re-frame our goals, find people who share them, find ways to achieve them, and then combine everything to create our own peer-life-coaching network. This, essentially, is what 12-Step groups do, and from the original 12-Step program, Alcoholics Anonymous, through to the most modern variation, it's been a successful approach based on the willingness of people to change and a caring group to help that change occur by supplying experience, strength and hope. With access to the internet anyone can find the information they need to do something. When we share the work with a group that we can consult with accountability becomes easier. We also share the knowledge required to accomplish our true goals. From each according to his strengths, to each according to his needs (wow, communism turned on its ear!)
First, how do we re-frame goals? Earlier I wrote that there are three main categories of New Year's resolutions: health, finance and productivity. In my opinion those are not great goals but, rather, are products of balance, spirituality and practicality. Together, those three things will lead to increased happiness. For the sake of argument, let's say we do want better health, a better personal financial picture and that we want to do more of whatever - in less time. How do balance, spirituality and practicality, along with our personal network of New Year's change-makers help us get those things?
Balance helps because it keeps us from trying to bite too much off all at once, and keeps us from thinking in extremes. Just as the journey of one thousand miles begins with a single step, big changes start with small changes. If our fitness goal is to run a marathon or lose twenty pounds, we'll likely lose heart if we don't see real progress quickly. We may also decide to sacrifice other things, like time with family, to devote more time to our goals. Our peer network of life coaches, people just like ourselves, can help by stressing how important it is to take one step at a time, even if the journey takes longer than we originally thought it would. They can reinforce the wisdom of accepting progress instead of embarking an all or nothing quest for perfection. They can help us see that if our tactical goals were too lofty, we can amend them to reach the strategic goal. They can help us accept, enjoy and value of doing a bit of both: training for a marathon and spending time with family.
Spirituality helps because it allows us to accept the countless small defeats that inexorably lead to victory. A New Year's resolution is all about control and willpower. Twelve-Step programs teach that we have very little control over life. Shit happens; we can't control that, and it deflects us from our goals. We need to develop our spirituality to survive the setbacks that will come. If we can do this we can get around obstacles. Our network of peer life coaches helps by reminding us that our daily spiritual practices are not crazy, but are in fact a practical nuts-and-bolts approach to life.
Speaking of nuts and bolts, this is where the network can really spin-off benefits. Different members of the network can research practical methods to reach the tactical goals. One person can find and share information about healthy eating, cooking and exercising. Another can survey books, or websites like Man vs. Debt to help with practical steps to better financial well-being, and a third can become the Life Hacker expert. We're fortunate today to have access to the World Wide Web - it is a great resource filled with information from people who want to share their methods of success. Type "how to" into Google and you get over 13 billion results in .14 seconds. Many hands make light work, which means your network can find practical ways to help all of you change.
What does the network itself look like? Make it as big or small as you like. Again, in AA they say that you only need 2 people for a meeting, but there are meetings in all 12-Step programs that are huge. There are online communities numbering in the thousands that share common goals like debt reduction (again, Man vs. Debt is an example) or weight loss (3 Fat Chicks on a Diet). A workable size, however, is probably between 5 and 10 people. Each of those members may, individually or with another member, become part of and share information from, an online community.
The important thing is for the network to offer support and accountability, and a place where members can share their experience and frustrations honestly. Borrowing from the 12-Step tradition again, the operative phrase is "progress, not perfection." You should expect failures and mistakes to occur, but the network can remind each member that the failures and mistakes are simply waypoints on the journey, not the end of the process.
There is no need for extensive formal organization - you don't need a president, vice-president, secretary or treasurer. The network is a network of peers, meaning everyone is equal. The idea is to swap challenges and solutions. From that point of view, a degree of diversity is welcome. People from different backgrounds bring different things to the table.
Of course, you do not need to physically meet with your network, although you certainly can. Online communities allow people to share goals, publicly commit to their achievement, and chart progress. The most important characteristic of any group will be their understanding that the tactical goals (the weight loss, debt reduction or faster typing) are not as important as the longer lasting fundamental changes that come from combining balance, spirituality and practicality.
So, what's stopping you? Start looking for your own life coach peers and make this New Years a time when you really make important change in your life. You're not going to live forever, and life is not a dress rehearsal.