That’s it, just relax on the black leather couch and breathe slowly. Let your eyes follow the swinging pendulum. Your eyes are getting heavier . . . and heavier . . . We’re going back in time now, way back. Okay, not that far back. The time is six months ago. It’s January and you’re sitting by a window, writing. The winter light is spilling across the page and you are engaged in deep thought. Now you’re looking down at the paper, reading what you’ve written there. Why, it looks like some New Year’s resolutions. Look closely — can you read what they say?
Beep! Beep! Recovered-memory alert! Gasp! Yes, it’s all coming back now! The weight-loss and fitness goals, the plans to stop smoking, to get out of debt, to become less of a stress-case. All those promises you made, and then slowly, gingerly backed out of. There they are, in black and white. How could you have forgotten? Gads, you’re turning pale — for Pete’s sake, snap out of it!
Yes, we know, seeing all those long-forgotten resolutions is enough to snap anybody out of his or her hypnotic reverie, but if it takes something bordering on regression therapy to get you to reflect on this year’s goals, you’re probably long overdue for a review session. Of course, if you followed the suggestions offered in the “Resolution Workshop” article we printed in the January/February issue of Experience Life, you wisely scheduled regular review sessions as part of your plan. Okay, so you never did them, but that was 26 weeks ago. Who can keep track? Bygones.
Whoa, Mr. (or Ms.) Short-Term Memory! Not so fast. Sure, it might be more comfortable to let the grass grow over the burial mound and let those resolutions rest in peace, but you’ve still got a perfectly good half a year left! Rather than letting your resolutions lie there and rot, why not revive them — or at least re-evaluate them?
Chances are, the promises you made to yourself last winter still have a pulse. They may just need a little fresh air and exercise to put the color back in their cheeks. Then again, they may need some radical surgery and an intravenous drip. But even if you ultimately decide to put your 2003 resolutions out of their misery, the simple act of reviewing them — before you give them last rights — can teach you a lot.
You might find out that some of your resolutions were doomed from the beginning. You might ferret out some pesky loopholes in your resolutions-planning process that keep setting you up for failure year after year. You might even find that there are some important goals you’ve never even bothered (or dared) to set. Best of all, you might just come up with some brilliant ways to revise and rekindle your current resolutions so that they really work this time.
The key to giving your old resolutions new life — and your new resolutions a fighting chance — is simple: You’ve got to be willing to learn from your mistakes. A six-month resolution checkup can help you do that.
The timing is perfect. It’s been long enough since January that you can’t justifiably harbor any illusions about “not having gotten around to it yet,” but it’s been a short enough time that you can still remember (with some prodding) what you had planned, and where you might have gone wrong.
The very best part is, you’ve still got plenty of time to relaunch your resolutions with full gusto! With six months of the year yet to go, you can make major strides in virtually any area of your life. You can learn new skills and reform old habits. You can rescue yourself from backslides and reclaim your vision of how you wanted this year to go. It’s not too late — so let’s get going!
Digging Up the Past
First things first: Where are those resolutions and goals? You did write them down, didn’t you? If you did, pull those bad boys out and dust ‘em off. If you didn’t, well hey, then you’ve already learned one very important lesson to carry forward from here: Goal planning is best done in writing.
As goals expert Brian Tracy noted in last January’s “Resolution Workshop,” until you’ve written out a goal in vivid and minute detail, it’s really just a wish.
A brief refresher: The act of writing out your goals is an essential component of the planning process, both because it embeds the idea in your deeper consciousness and because it gives you a written record of your own commitment. Having a written goal and goal plan — something you can return to — gives you physical evidence you can refer to and amend during subsequent review sessions (like the one you’re about to do).
Also, as Zen teacher Cheri Huber pointed out, beyond just writing down your goals, you should write regularly about the challenges you face in meeting them. When you take time to write down the urges, emotions, excuses and sabotaging mechanisms that rise up in the wake of your goal setting, you become much more starkly aware of them. And awareness is most often the first step toward transformation.
Another of the key points raised in January’s “Resolution Workshop” concerned the fact that goal planning and execu- tion is a cyclical, repetitive, four-phase process: Assessment, Commitment, Feedback and Follow-Through. You are always moving through one stage or toward another, and each pass through the cycle brings you closer to your goal. Keeping a written record of your progress through these stages makes it easier to know where you are at any given time, where you’ve gotten stalled, and what you need to do to propel yourself forward.
Now, if you don’t have written resolutions or goals, and you don’t have a written record of your action plan that you can use to evaluate your method and progress, don’t berate yourself. First of all, you may be one of those one-in-a-million types who can get good results with the paperless method. If you can remember exactly what resolutions you committed to in January and why, and you’ve already made great, satisfying strides toward achieving them, way to go!
If, on the other hand, you’re the more typical sort — meaning you established some goals for yourself but didn’t write them down, didn’t make a plan, and/or didn’t make good progress — we’re happy to report that you’re still ahead of the game. At least you now know where you stand! You are firmly in the Feedback stage, and the first feedback you are getting from your lack of success thus far is: If you want the next six months to go differently, you need to write this stuff down.
More good news: We’re going to take you full circle. Make no mistake, handled properly, this momentary pause that the uninitiated call “failure” is really just an essential part of the feedback process that leads, eventually, to success. So as you read this article, take time to physically note the other pieces of feedback that come your way and jot down answers to the questions that arise. That alone will qualify as a form of Follow-Through (where you take action based on the feedback you’ve gotten to date).
The rest of this article will focus on the phases that come next: Assessment (where you take stock of what’s going on now and decide what to do next) and Commitment (where you throw your energy, intent and resources fully behind your ingenious revised plan).
For advice on resolution rescue and revival, we once again consulted two experts: Cheri Huber, our favorite Zen teacher/author and a regular Experience Life contributor, and Charles Stuart Platkin, an expert goal planner, speaker, and author of Breaking the Pattern: The Five Principles You Need to Remodel Your Life. We drew from both their works in developing the 6-Month Resolution Checkup below. Both Huber and Platkin agree that even before you begin assessing your progress toward your goals, it makes sense to evaluate the goals themselves. There’s simply no point, they say, in dumping time and energy into a goal you’re not completely, enthusiastically committed to. But evaluating that commitment can be trickier than you might think.
“One of the great difficulties in goal and resolution setting,” notes Huber, “is that none of us is just one person. Each of us has a whole bunch of personalities running around inside us. Some of those personalities are very excited about goal setting and planning, and some of them aren’t the least bit interested. That can cause problems, because the personality who makes a given goal — the go-getter with the daytimer, the motivation, and the desire to see this to-do item checked off — is often not the same personality who is going to have to do the dirty work of accomplishing it.”
In fact, says Huber, one or more of the personalities whose energy and effort are required for carrying out a goal may not even be aware that the goal exists! So before you begin taking stock of your goals and your success in meeting them, Huber suggests taking attendance. Stop and ask yourself, “Which part of me set this goal, which parts are involved in carrying it out, and which parts might be ambivalent or opposed to it?” Getting input from all these viewpoints will help you determine the most accurate and complete evaluation of how your goals are faring, and why.
Equally important, says Huber, is inviting a supportive internal “coach” or mentoring personality to conduct and facilitate the “team proceedings” in a positive way. She encourages you to mentally uninvite any internal judging voices whose primary job it is to criticize, shame or guilt-trip your other personalities into submission.
Of course, even when all your personalities are on board with a particular goal, disconnects can still occur. As Platkin notes, by July, a goal you were genuinely enthused about in January may have dropped significantly in your priority list, perhaps as a result of shifts or events outside your immediate sphere of control. “Let’s say you had a goal to lose 10 pounds,” he explains. “At the time, that goal may have seemed like the most important thing in the world to you, but six months later, if a family member has recently passed on or some other crisis has occurred, you may be rethinking your priorities.”
The point is, he says, you need to look at the reasons why you are still interested in the goal or not. If the “why” simply isn’t strong enough anymore, then there’s no reason to force the goal. If there is still a strong desire there, but you’ve lost momentum or focus, you may need to reconnect with your goal’s larger purpose and the values it serves. “Maybe your weight-loss goal is less about appearance now,” suggests Platkin, “and more about health and energy and enjoying a long, full life with the people you love.”
Once you’ve decided the goal is important, you need to give yourself permission to get back into the goal-planning process, taking your current circumstances into consideration. And if weight loss isn’t important to you anymore, then your next step is figuring out what is.
This, emphasizes Platkin, is why formal goal planning and written documentation of goals are so important. “Going through the planning process helps you identify the values, beliefs and desires that ultimately bring your goal toward fruition. Revisiting that same process through regular reviews is what keeps you on track.”
Starting Back In
Once you’ve taken a crack at answering the previous questions, you should have a fairly good idea of what you might need to do differently in the second half of 2003. Maybe you need to adjust your goals, reconnect with your values, develop a more detailed action plan, or enhance your accountability.
Regardless, start by giving yourself a pat on the back for having tracked this far, and for having done all that you did do during the first half of this year. Next, assess and revive your commitment to the goals you’ve established. As Cheri Huber notes, “The final two questions in any goal-review process are: 1) ‘Am I willing to give myself a break and start this process over?’ and 2) ‘What would inspire me now?’”
If you don’t have answers to those questions right now, make it your interim goal to find out, and then set aside some quality time for that exploration. And remember, completing a goal-planning or goal-review process is a significant and worthwhile goal in itself.
Most importantly, don’t allow yourself to become discouraged by any plans that may have fizzled or flopped. They are just visceral forms of feedback designed to carry you for- ward. And don’t be afraid to aim high — as of right now, you’ve still got six long months to make good.
- How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be (Hay House, 2000) and When You’re Falling, Dive by Cheri Huber (Keep It Simple Books, 2003) — Both these books guide you toward creating and inhabiting your best self by moving beyond self-reproach, shame and judgment and into a more compassionate (and ultimately more powerful) place of self-awareness. If what you’ve been trying hasn’t worked, these books are great places to start over.
- Breaking the Pattern: The 5 Principles You Need to Remodel Your Life by Charles Stuart Platkin (Red Mill Press, 2001) — We reviewed this book back in January because we thought it was a very good, nuts-and-bolts guide to behavioral change. Platkin is also the founder of Nutricise.com and Nutriteen.com, two email- and Web-based services that design customized programs to help individuals achieve their weight-loss goals in a healthy, sustainable way. All programs include unlimited one-on-one goal planning and nutritional instruction from clinically qualified and specially trained registered dieticians.
- Your Best Year Yet by Jinny Ditzler (Warner Books, 2000) — This “workshop in a book” is modeled after the popular three-hour seminar that Ditzler designed for her coaching clients and subsequently began offering nationwide. The book walks you through a 10-step process that instructs you in producing an inspiring plan for the year, complete with guiding principles, 10 top goals, and an action plan for achieving them. For more info on the book and workshop, check out www.bestyearyet.com.
Your 6-Month Resolution Checkup
The resolution doctor will see you now. No need to put on a flimsy gown with an open back or brave a cold stethoscope. Just pull out a pen and paper and spend about three minutes jotting down your first thoughts and responses to each of the following questions. That’s less than 45 minutes total, so no lollygagging — and no putting it off indefinitely, either!
You can always return later (how ’bout this weekend?) and spend more time on penning deeper, more thorough answers, but by giving yourself a time limit now, you’ll encourage your brain to bring forth the most essential insights without getting bogged down. Keep in mind that you don’t have to respond to every single individual question (we know that could take hours). Just answer those questions that jog your attention, or note the applicable thoughts that you have in response to each topic.
EVALUATE . . .
YOUR GOALS: Did the resolutions or goals you set represent the best, single-most important changes you could make, baby steps in the right direction, or the fact that you don’t really know what’s most important? Did you set a few clear and purposeful goals, or two dozen generic toss-offs? Did you use visualization in developing your goals in order to anticipate how they would fit into and support your life? The most important thing in developing good goals or resolutions is being clear about how they will help you feel the way you want to feel. If you don’t know that, figure it out before you dive into revised goals and goal planning (for directions, see “Resolution Workshop”).
YOUR PROGRESS: How much headway did you make toward your goals during the past six months? How much satisfaction did the effort bring you? Can you take pride and pleasure in what you achieved, regardless of isolated setbacks or areas of disappointment? Did you get at least a taste of the feeling you wanted to get, or get clearer about whether your goal (if achieved) might ever deliver that feeling?
YOUR METHOD: Whether you followed a protocol from our January “Resolution Workshop” or another source, go back and review that process step by step. Can you see where you may have ditched out, gotten distracted or failed to follow through? Did you think through and document your plan, anticipating obstacles, building in accountability and observing your reactions? Or did you plan to do the exercises “later,” and then never get around to it? Keep in mind that the exercises and techniques we choose to skip over — because they seem like “too much work” or because “we already know the answers” — are frequently the ones most essential to our success.
YOUR PLAN: Did you create a SMART plan (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Rewarding and Tactical)? Was it overly ambitious, or not ambitious enough? Did it take into account the resources and time you’d need, as well as your other roles, priorities and obligations? Did it include landmark dates and check- points? Could you have benefited from more guidance, support or structure in developing your plan?
YOUR FOLLOW-THROUGH: How well did you adhere to your plan? Did you take some initial steps but then get derailed? At what points? Did you succeed in some areas but not others? Did you not even start? Why? How consistent was your commitment and energy for following your plan? Did you notice any patterns about when you tended to lose steam, and when you tended to get re-stoked?
YOUR OBSTACLES: What hitches and stumbling blocks did you run into? Were they the ones you expected, or were there some surprises out of left field? Were some obstacles a bigger (or lesser) deal than you anticipated? What lessons did you learn about your susceptibility and reaction to the various obstacles and energy-drains you faced? How well equipped do you feel in facing them now?
YOUR COMPLICITY: Can you identify some ways you may have sabotaged yourself? To what forms of outside sabotage or temptation did you tend to succumb most easily? What myths, unkindnesses or untruths did you allow yourself to foster or believe, and at what cost? Did you discover any underlying fears, patterns or belief systems that keep you from succeeding in other areas of your life?
YOUR ACCOUNTABILITY: What specific actions did you take to support and review your goals? Which did you avoid? What checkpoints and safety mechanisms did you put in place, and did they work? What structures or people did you put in place to help you maintain and track your progress? How useful and effective were they?
YOUR OBSERVATIONS: Did you pay close attention to how your goals and your goal process played out? Were you aware of when you succeeded and when you fell off your plan? Did you observe how those things happened and why?
YOUR REACTION: Were you objective and analytical about what you saw, or reactionary and judgmental? Did you take note of your emotional and mental responses? Did you listen for and name your various internal voices? Were you compassionate with yourself and proactive about designing solutions to problems as they emerged?
THE IMPACT: To what extent were your goal-planning exercises a success? Did they help you shift your state of mind? Did they move you in a good direction? Did they teach you something about yourself? Considering the payback from your efforts so far, where do you wish you had exerted more energy, vigilance and resources?
THE LARGER CONTEXT: What else (outside the sphere of your specific goals) did you learn and accomplish during the last six months? What were your proudest moments? What were your biggest disappointments? What other roles or obligations were you fulfilling, and which got most of your energy? Are you happy with the results? What events or changes occurred in your personal life, your values and in the world around you? How do you think these things played into your efforts and outcomes, and how might they encourage you to rethink your goals for the future?