Making New Year’s Resolutions

By Dave H

by Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Snow flakes are falling. Autumn has passed into winter.Christmas has departed for another year. I’m driving in solitude, as though meditating, contemplating how I’ll spend New Year’s Eve. I’m recalling the year that flew by—two deaths, a layoff, sickness, other unpredictable adversities of life.  I consider  New Years Resolutions for 2012,  which are just another name for setting goals, a life list, or bucket list. On New Year’s Day, I’ll jot them down on a pad of paper and then focus my attention on achieving them throughout the new year.

Yet, many people don’t see the wisdom of New Year’s Resolutions or  other goals.They often believe that goals or resolutions will be broken or cannot be achieved. People who don’t set goals or make New Year’s resolutions often believe that they don’t have the will power or dedication to achieve them. However, just like most successful athletes who set goals, I’ve discovered that setting goals or New Year’s Resolutions is a powerful technique of making personal change.

Benefits of Setting Goals and New Year’s Resolutions

A few years ago, I read a very good book on setting goals, “Creating Your Best Life: The Ultimate Life List Guide” by Carol Adams Miller and Dr. Michael B. Frisch.  The book was based on positive psychology, which suggests that we can increase our level of happiness by achieving those goals that make us happy. This book revealed how people who set goals perform better, achieve more than those who don’t.  The book also suggested that people who set goals in different parts of their life–work, loving relationship, strong friendships, enjoyable leisure pursuits, embracing spirituality–and then work at achieving them, are happier than those people who don’t set any goals, and leave life to chance.

For many years, I’ve set goals and New Years resolutions, and experienced many benefits of goal setting. Establishing goals has enabled me to focus my time and energy and resources on things that are important in my life, like the creative writing projects I’ve completed. Every day, for the past four years, I’ll review my goals and take steps toward achieving them. My goal might be as simple as reading a book of poetry and analyzing the techniques the poet used, or it might be to read a series of short stories, and uncover how the writer put to use literary techniques, such as symbolism, metaphor, imagery to tell a story. I keep reminding myself that “a journey of one thousand miles begins with the first step.” Without a list of goals and action plan for each goal, I’d become distracted with things that are not important to me.

I’ve also learned that accomplishing personal goals has created a sense of meaning and purpose in my life. I remember training to become a runner. At first, I was a novice, and knew nothing about running. During the first months, I read every thing about how to train to become a distance runner. I learned to warm up by stretching, starting off with a slow jog, running short distances every second day, increasing my distance by 1/4 mile each week, discovering my second wind, which allowed me to run further than I thought I could. After 12 weeks of training, I was able to run 10km. Once I reached this goal, I set a new goal for running 10 km faster. The act of running made me a runner. While running, I discovered that this type of exercise cleared my mind of stress and relaxed my body. I also experienced the euphoria of “runner’s high” and the exhilaration of physical exercise, and how relaxed I felt after the run. Running provided meaning and purpose to my life.

Setting and achieving goals has increased my level of happiness. This feeling is certainly true for the creative goals I have set down on paper. For instance, I often feel an awe-inspired after I snap a good photo of a still life, landscape, portrait, or creative composition. This sense fo joy comes from the process of working at the goal, the steps taken, such as studying, learning, and then snapping the cool photograph–rather than the accomplishment of the goal itself, which is “becoming an expert photographer. In other words, the increased level of happiness comes from working toward the goal, taking action, not the achievement of the goal itself.

I usually feel a sense of accomplishment, whenever I reach the goal or resolution.  This accomplishment tells me that I’ve improved myself or my life, adding something of value,  like a Buddhist who continually improves himself by walking along the path toward spiritual enlightenment.

Many years ago, in 1978,  I decided to enroll in university–my goal was to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts Degree. It took four years to complete a three-year degree, and much learning, studying, and perseverance. But I achieved the goal. To this day, I feel proud of the fact that I have a university degree.

One of the toughest goals I had to achieve was quitting smoking. For more than 10 years in the 1980’s, I smoked a pack of cigarettes a day. On New Year’s Day, 1989, after my son was born, I made the New Year’s Resolution to quit smoking. I also established a plan, to reduce the number of cigarettes I smoked very day by one until I got to zero, to use a straw whenever I had the urge to smoke, to put all my cigarette buts in a bag, then look at the butts and smell the nicotine whenever I had the urge to smoke. I also stayed away from places where I had the urge to smoke–and thought of the health risks of cigarette smoking. It took 10 attempts to quit smoking that year–but I was finally able to quit. Without setting the goal and a date, I would never have had a drive to quit smoking.

Setting Goals or Resolutions

I’ve read many books on setting and achieving  goals. The best advice has come from the plethora of books that provide advice on setting SMART GOALS. The term “SMART” Goals is an acronym for specific, measurable, achievable , realistic, time-based goals. A specific goal is based on concrete and particular details. For instance, I want to learn how to play the guitar. Essential, you answer the question: What is the goal I want to achieve?

The goal must also be measurable. There must be a method or criteria to determine your progress. Perhaps you’ll test yourself. Perhaps you’ll find a musician who can teach you how to play this musical instrument.

As well, your goal must be achievable. In other words, you must have the potential skills, abilities, time, money, and so forth to achieve the goal. If you don’t own a guitar or have the money to purchase this musical instrument, the goal is not achievable. Therefore, you are wasting your time, attempting to achieve this goal.

A SMART GOAL must also be realistic–you are willing and capable of accomplishing the goal. Many people are capable of learning how to play a guitar or the piano or another musical instrument, but they are unwilling to sacrifice their leisure or spare time to do so.

Finally, the SMART GOAL is time-based. In other words, you set a date  on which you want to have accomplished the goal. Perhaps your goal is to play the guitar like Carlos Santana. You’ll to make it a long-term goal.

Whether  establishing life-changing goals, like finding a new job, or setting small goals to improve my health and fitness, such as losing weight and getting into shape,  the process for accomplishing these goals or resolutions is the same. I write down a specific goal and establish a plan for achieving that goal,  and set a deadline.

Establishing a Plan of Action

Once I’ve established a goal, I write it down on paper and develop a plan of action. This plan of action defines how I’m going to accomplish the goal, or a number of steps I’ll take to achieve the goal. Four years ago, when I decided to learn creative writing, I developed a plan of action that included reading several books, such as The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. I read more than one hundred stories and analyzed them to discover how the authors  told the stories. I also kept a personal journal, writing each day about my life. I read hundreds of poems and analyzed them. I read creative nonfiction in The New Yorker magazine. I read how-to books on writing personal essays, fiction, poetry. I also created a blog, to share what I learned about creative writing.( )

Buddhist wisdom tells us that life is impermanent, filled with constant change, like a sunrise and sunset,rain and snow, birth and death. Life is also about suffering, pain imposed from external events and internal pain caused by our clinging to thoughts like bad memories that result in mental pain. And so, when I jot down my list of resolutions. I’ll have to consider potential calamities, misfortunes, despair that might visit unexpectedly, derail my worthy intentions,alter my focus for the coming year, like another sudden death, unexpected illness. And I’ll consider how I might react to adversity, if it becomes a  reality  of life. Once I’ve adjusted to any misfortune, I’ll refocus and work on accomplishing my goals for 2012.

A Few Resolutions for 2012

What are some of my important New Year’s Resolutions for this year? My bucket list includes: Getting into shape by jogging and strength training with weights. Learning to meditate to clear the mind of cobwebs. Resuming my yoga practise to relax. Enrolling in a couple of courses to learn the secrets of a good photograph. Writing poetry, a personal essay each week, a couple of short stories. Finding that enjoyable, rewarding employment, one that allows me to use my creative spirit. Buying an acoustic guitar and learning to play like Carlos Santana. Living in the “here and now”, the present moment.

As the years have passed, I’ve learned setting short- term and long-term goals gives me focus. Achieving the goal evokes a sense of satisfaction and and improves the quality of my life. For instance, quitting smoking saved me money and improved my health. Setting and working at accomplishing various goals adds meaning and purpose to my life.

New Year’s resolutions are goals. To achieve them, I have learned to use the S.M.A.R.T method for setting goals. In the next few days, I sit down and write down my list of New Year’s resolutions, as well as a plan of action for each resolution, and then focus my energy and schedule time to accomplish them.


About Dave Hood

Lover of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction. Professional photographer and writer. Without the arts, life would be rather mundane, like a walk down the same old path on a dull day.
This entry was posted in Making New Year's Resolutions, Personal Essay, Setting Goals and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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