This year, in developing our annual Resolution Workshop, we thought to ourselves: Hmmm, what would be the most useful support system we could offer readers to help them knock their resolutions out of the park this time around? The answer we came up with was: coaching.
You’ve probably heard of life coaching. For some people, it’s a way of turbocharging their goals process. For others, it’s a way of getting one-on-one career guidance, and for still others, it’s a way of working through life challenges or transitions.
At core, life coaches are personal guides who help people become their best, most authentic selves. Good coaches help their clients identify and accomplish their most important dreams and goals. They also help them clarify and pursue their most important priorities, warding off procrastination, distraction and avoidance so they can get more satisfaction from the experience of daily living.
Most important, the best, most insightful coaches can be incredibly helpful in assisting people to overcome their internal barriers: those destructive thought processes and limiting belief systems that tend to hold us back, sometimes sabotaging our goals before they even get off the ground, and sometimes launching a series of crushing “sneak attacks” just as the rewards come into sight.
Sound like the fate of any New Year’s resolutions you know? Well, if you’ve had little or no luck working through a resolutions process in the past, this would be a good time to let those experiences go. Prepare to start fresh.
First, we’re not going to be preparing any long lists of “to do” or “to fix” items here, so you won’t end up with a string of broken promises and reasons to feel lousy.
Second, the whole focus of this workshop is less on achieving an external set of accomplishments than it is on making progress toward your own New Year’s vision, and then drafting a set of “internal resolutions” that will help support that vision. These are new structures and new ways of thinking that augment your integrity, courage, discipline and conscious choice.
The purpose of the information and accompanying exercises we’ve included here is to provide you with some new tools. They’re designed to reinforce your existing inner framework so that it can support any dream or decision you decide to undertake, whether that’s creating a strong, healthy body, improving your relationships, setting off on an entirely new career path or just getting more pleasure out of the life you are living now.
To get you the best, most insightful help available, we’ve enlisted two of the country’s leading life coaches: Cheryl Richardson and Debbie Ford. Both are master coaches (meaning they teach the coaching craft to others), and each has a long string of professional honors and accomplishments attached to her name. Both are best-selling authors of numerous books (see sidebars), and both are frequent guests on national TV shows. Twice, they’ve appeared together on The Oprah Winfrey Show, where (as part of Oprah’s special “Lifestyle Makeover” episodes) they took a tag-team approach in coaching audience members through their biggest areas of personal challenge.
Both Richardson and Ford take an empowering, compassionate, “no victims” attitude toward coaching, and both emphasize the importance of placing your goals in a whole-person, whole-life perspective.
Like coaching in general, they assert, the process of setting New Year’s resolutions should not be an attempt to “fix” yourself. Rather, it centers on seizing the opportunity to become your best self, and to enjoy your best life – the one that brings you the most discovery, pleasure and pride.
So, with that, let’s get started. Below, you’ll get wise counsel from Richardson and Ford, along with some intriguing explorations that – if you’re willing to do the work – are guaranteed to bring you rewarding results.
For additional support and deeper insight, look into the sidebar listings of Richardson’s and Ford’s books, Web sites, and other tools at the end of each section. But for now, set aside a few moments to seize the opportunity that’s in front of you. This is your launch pad. Step right up.
Crafting Inner Resolutions
When we asked Cheryl Richardson for advice on the smartest, most powerful way to go about developing New Year’s resolutions, her advice was simple: “Work with Inner Resolutions.”
Virtually all the outer changes we might want to accomplish, Richardson explains, including classic resolutions like getting into better shape, getting out of debt and stopping smoking, are largely determined by our inner qualities: things like integrity, discipline, courage and self-respect. So why not develop resolutions that challenge us to work directly with these qualities of character?
“Most of us need to strengthen these qualities in order to achieve our external goals,” Richardson notes, “but instead, we tend to focus exclusively on the outcomes, and since we haven’t put any new behaviors in place to support us in developing these traits, often those outcomes are disappointing.”
Worse, notes Richardson, if we try to implement external changes, and we fail, we beat ourselves up about it. As a result, we may wind up feeling less worthy and less likely to go after the rewards we were seeking in the first place.
The way to turn this problem around, she asserts, is to trace your outward desires back to their links with the most essential parts of your identity. “On some level,” explains Richardson, “most of our deeply felt desires have their roots in our values, and they also symbolize some aspect of our Divine assignment – the gift we are here to develop and share. Realigning with this sense of purpose and authenticity is where we get the ‘juice’ to fuel real, meaningful change.”
While it can be useful to start a process of personal exploration by examining your values, says Richardson, it can be equally useful to examine your current desires and use those as “clues” to the qualities you most need to begin developing right now.
Look at the changes you’d like to make in your life, suggests Richardson, then begin deducing the qualities required to achieve them. Consider how strengthening those qualities would allow you to more fully express the best aspects of yourself. Starting with new behaviors that build you up from the inside out is the highest-impact place to begin your Inner Resolutions process, she notes, but it also connects you to a much deeper sense of motivation.
“Let’s say you want to author a book,” she offers. “Rather than simply resolving to write the book, you would start by asking ‘What kinds of inner qualities would I need to possess in order to accomplish that?’ Your answer might be ‘discipline, determination.’ Perhaps, to develop discipline, what you really need to do is focus purely on the act of writing for 10 minutes a day, notes Richardson. And maybe, at first, the writing doesn’t even have anything to do with ‘The Book’ – it’s just the act of writing, of building the quality of discipline through conscious exercise. Over time, though, as you complete the discipline-building exercise of writing for 10 minutes a day, something in you shifts. You realize you can do this, and you suddenly get energized to work on the book. And, should you find that the book no longer holds your interest, you can still begin applying your newfound discipline to other areas of your life.
“By focusing on developing the internal quality of self-discipline, as opposed to the external outcome of the finished book,” notes Richardson, “you lay the groundwork for the book, and also for a lot of other rewards.”
That’s important, Richardson notes, because if what you’re struggling with is an underdeveloped skill set around discipline (an inner quality), the chances are good that this shortfall is showing up in a lot of other areas of your life. It might be your food choices, or your use of time, or your follow-through on other goals. You could set resolutions in any, or even all, of those areas, but by developing discipline, you address all three.
“Once you’ve successfully committed to writing 10 minutes a day, you’ve also moved forward toward the more important goal of becoming a more disciplined person,” says Richardson. “That gives you more confidence and energy for other parts of your life, and it also makes it much easier to direct that quality toward your original goal.”
While it’s a good idea to make clear, actionable commitments about how you intend to develop or exercise your desired Inner Resolution, notes Richardson, it’s also important that you don’t get caught up in a plan so complex that it distracts you from the real task at hand. Or so rigid that it falls apart at the first tremor of an unanticipated circumstance.
Some people really enjoy creating a long, flowing to-do list, Richardson notes, but in many cases, it’s far more important to start out by changing one behavior at a time. Working the Inner Resolutions process gets at that – even if your outer resolution doesn’t go precisely as planned.
In most cases, notes Richardson, Inner Resolutions fall into one of four overlapping categories: discipline (executing your choices), integrity (aligning your life with your highest values), courage (being willing to take risks and stand up for yourself in order to achieve your dreams) and self-respect (being able to say no, differentiating between your own and other people’s needs).
Richardson addresses each of these areas in depth in her books and CDs. Her top tip, though, is to keep it simple. “If you want to become more courageous,” she advises, “decide to face one small fear each week. Or, if you want to set better boundaries, which will increase your level of self-respect, start saying no to those requests you’d normally fulfill out of guilt or obligation.”
The following excerpt, from Life Makeovers, outlines the importance of developing integrity, a “master quality” that engenders many other desirable traits. Use the reading and the associated “Take Action Challenge” as a preparatory exercise in developing your Inner Resolutions plan. Then read on for more resolutions-crafting advice.
To determine how well you’re living with integrity, answer the following questions:
1. What internal rules have I set for myself?
2. How am I honoring these standards in my everyday life?
3. Where am I not being true to these standards?
Once you have the answers, take action to do something about it. I need to make adjustments to the following three situations:
Your Structure for Success
Rather than listing a bunch of resolutions for the New Year, Ford recommends grabbing a journal, sitting down and completing the planning exercises below, which are excerpted from The Best Year of Your Life.
1. What’s my vision?
2. What two goals will support me in moving toward my vision?
3. By when do I want to achieve these goals?
4. What is the exact scope of each goal? What’s involved with their fulfillment?
5. What are the important milestones along the way to reaching these goals?
6. By when will I achieve these milestones?
7. What skills do I already have that will support me in reaching these goals?
8. What skills will I need to develop in order to reach these goals?
9. What assistance or support will I need?
10. How much of my time will be required on a daily or weekly basis?
11. How will this schedule fit into my calendar?
12. What are the No Cookie Zones (NCZs, see above) that I need to watch out for?
13. Whom will I ask to hold me accountable for keeping my word and staying on track?
14. What are the consequences of not following my plan?
15. What is the reward for following my plan and achieving my goals?|
More from Debbie Ford …
Living Your Best Year Yet
Debbie Ford got inspired to write her latest book, The Best Year of Your Life: Dream It, Plan It, Live It, when she realized in her late 40s that she was, in fact, enjoying the very best years of her life.
“Our culture tells us that at that age, our best years are supposed to be behind us, but it seemed obvious to me that my years just kept getting better,” she explains. “I saw that all these amazing breakthroughs were occurring as the result of the work I’d been doing – all the tools and insights I’d been building through my coaching and teaching work, and also applying in my own life. I really wanted to share that message, and that information, with other people.”
Ford says that for each of the last four years, it has been her personal goal to keep creating a life that’s better than it was the year before, and in her current book, she outlines the concepts and exercises she’s used to make that happen.
One of the first items she delivers is a solid dose of reality – and urgency. “It’s important for people to understand that each of us is responsible for creating the best year, and years, of our life. It’s not anybody else’s responsibility,” she asserts, “and nobody else is going to do it for us.”
Ford says she has watched a lot of people wait, and then just keep on waiting, to have their best year. “It seems like there is always something that needs to happen first, but in many cases the wait just goes on forever. We end up giving up our pleasure in the moment for an empty promise, a future that never happens, because we’ve not really done anything to make it happen.”
Waiting, asserts Ford, is something we do in order not to have to be responsible for what we are living and choosing in the moment. “Everyone is always encouraging us to have a dream,” she notes, “but too often it’s a dream we’re waiting on, rather than working on. And simply waiting doesn’t get us anywhere. In many cases, our fantasies about what’s going to happen in the future actually serve to keep us stuck.”
The Best Year of Your Life walks readers through three distinct developmental phases: The first part, “Dream It,” is dedicated to helping people evaluate whether they are living in a fantasy, and if so, helping them to craft it into a concrete vision.
Exposing a fantasy for what it is can be pretty brutal, acknowledges Ford, but it’s a necessary step. In many cases, fantasies come disguised as goals, she says, but they are always lacking certain “goal” characteristics – like a plan of action and obtainable objectives.
So how can you tell if your resolution is a goal or still in the fantasy stage? Ford says that typically fantasies sound something like this: “As soon as this __________ period is over, I will diet/get in shape/take care of myself.” Or, “When my kids are old enough to take care of themselves, I will be able to ________.” Or, “If only I could ___________, then this would be the best year of my life.” Ford says she likes to ask people, “What if you had to do it this year? What choices would you make then?” The reality, she notes, is that “none of us can be entirely sure that we’ll even have another year.” So it’s important to fully embrace the one we’ve got.
As long as we are merely waiting for a particular outcome (or some kind of miracle) to occur in order for us to be happy, notes Ford, we will miss out on our right to have a life we love right now. “The key,” she says, “is to deconstruct the fantasy, to identify how we think we are going to feel when it comes true, and then take actions – right here, right now – that will leave us feeling that way.”
In order to have an extraordinary year, Ford explains in the first part of The Best Year of Your Life, “we must seek out those areas where we are falling short of our own expectations and commit to taking the steps that will lead us to the fulfillment of our potential. There is no better time to do this than right now.”
This is where you get into the “Plan It” phase of Ford’s method. First point of order: Getting closure on old, unresolved stuff, whether that’s unfinished projects, tasks or relationships – anything that is keeping you tied to your past.
It may mean you need to apologize for not being able to do something you promised to do. It may mean you need to come to terms in some other way. The important thing is to clear away the deadwood, says Ford, so that you aren’t entangled in a bunch of shame-inducing, energy-leaking, half-cocked commitments that inhibit you from expressing your best self. Make a list, Ford advises, of any outstanding “incompletes,” and beside each item, note the best, and ideally simplest, thing you can do to bring it to resolution.
Next up: Identifying your “No Cookie Zones” (NCZs). These, according to Ford, are the well-traveled, familiar and downright deadly patterns of behavior that lead us along comfortable paths, but offer no rewards (no cookies) at the end, and deliver no progress toward our Best Year plan. This is the zone of excuses and of unconscious, deeply ingrained, self-sabotaging behaviors. “No Cookie Zones,” explains Ford, “are often disguised as harmless little habits: eating a doughnut on day three of your diet; buying four new CDs when you could be paying off your credit-card debt; gossiping about a coworker when you could be spending your time making the project you’re working on fantastic; putting off paying your bills, even though you know you’ll be slammed with late fees.”
The challenge with NCZs, Ford notes, is that they are typically part of our automatic programming, so it may take some attention to root them out. On closer examination, though, we know our own NCZs simply because we’ve been down those roads so many times before. “You can usually identify an NCZ,” says Ford, “because you have sworn off that particular behavior one too many times to believe yourself.”
We all have this sort of automatic programming, Ford says. “That’s why our lives tend to look the same, year after year.” To blaze a new path, Ford recommends we start by making a list of our biggest known NCZs: the places we waste energy, give into temptation, sink into self-destructive thoughts, blame others, feel like victims or use excuses to justify the current state of our life.
Finally, Ford suggests that each of us ask ourselves a basic question: “Do I want to align with my greatest vision for myself, or do I want to align with my excuses?” Assuming you prefer to go with the former, ask yourself if you are willing to give up even your favorite, most justified excuse in exchange for the opportunity to have the best year of your life. If you are, you are on the right path.
In Ford’s previous book, The Right Questions, she offers up some additional lines of inquiry that can be particularly useful in eradicating NCZs.
Will this choice empower or disempower me?
Will this lead me to an inspiring future or pull me into a known past?
Will I use this experience as a catalyst to grow or as a reason to beat myself up?
By using such self-examination, says Ford, you create an environment where your old programs can no longer run unfettered, and that gives you room to develop new paths, and new structures, that support your best year ever.
One of the final chapters in The Best Year of Your Life concerns the importance of what Ford calls “claiming the moment.” She points out that in any given week, we experience 168 hours and more than 10,000 minutes. However, she says, we register and remember embarrassingly few of these moments, even hours or days after they’ve happened. That’s because we are generally rushing around distracted by the past or the future, and oblivious to what is happening to us in the here and now.
As a result, Ford asserts, we end up missing out on the special moments we are so desperately trying to create. We cheat ourselves of all the little details that make our lives meaningful, beautiful and worth living. The best year of your life, Ford notes, will be made up of thousands of spectacular and simply wonderful moments, but to get the most out of them, you must capture the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings that go along with them.
“Too often, in our struggle to accomplish all these things for the future,” Ford notes, “we fail to take notice of all the good that is happening in our lives right now.” It might be the quality of light one morning. It might be the feeling of breaking new ground in your yoga class, or the satisfaction you get when you finally ask for what you want and get it.
Claiming these moments in living color, Ford says, is a great way to start seeing and valuing them for what they are: ordinary life made extraordinary. It also teaches you that you have responsibility for creating and participating in those moments, and for drawing more of them to you.
So as you develop your plan for the New Year, as you build the new structures that will support you in your next endeavors, keep in mind that the most important resolution might involve first acknowledging, experiencing and truly appreciating all that you already have. That, both Richardson and Ford agree, shouldn’t wait another day.