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December 29, 2011

Why I won’t tell you my New Year’s resolution

I’ve never been one for New Years resolutions, with one exception. In January 1995 I was determined to do two things: 1) lose a lot of weight and 2) take on and complete a large, intense creative project, one with depth, one that I felt passionately about, one that was personally risky, emotionally and in the time and energy I needed to invest in it.

I don’t consider myself high in the willpower department, and though I was never sure exactly what set me back the other times that I failed to carry through with something, it never surprised me. I thought of myself as an underachiever. What I’ve found most years is that if I set a resolution, it doesn’t pan out. But in 1995 I accomplished both my big goals.

Why? First, they were goals that were both important to me, things I felt strongly about at the time, and they’d been on my mind for months and even years before the point of crystallization that caused me to go for them.

There was one other secret that I’m now convinced got me through that year.

I didn’t tell a soul about these two goals.

Not until I was well into working on them, so far that there seemed to be no turning back. So far, that I knew on my own without anyone else telling me that I was making solid progress, that I was succeeding. A head of steam and a momentum had built up that was propelling me forward with a kind of inevitability I’d never experienced before in either kind of endeavor. I took action, and kept taking action until I reached my goals.

Why might it be that not talking about my goals helped? I found an article somewhere about this a few months ago, and at the time it hit me with some force, this realization that I’d seen this principle in action, that I’d experienced it.

Keeping mum about goals can be the secret to success:

TED Talks: Derek Sivers: Keep your goals to yourself

If we keep goals to ourselves we’re less likely to get the feeling that we’ve already accomplished or gotten some kind of head start on what we set out to do, or that we’re nearing our desired result when we aren’t yet.

In 1995 I recall that I set about my two goals with a vengeance. I spent my evenings and weekends on them, made a point of cooking less and deemphasizing food in my life, and got my imagination working full force on the creative project.

When I wasn’t working on my goals I simply put them out of my mind, didn’t dwell on them or spend any time visualizing outcomes. I didn’t want to think about outcomes. Truth to tell, I didn’t have that much faith that I’d accomplish my goals at all, only a hardened determination in my core, a burning desire, almost an angry need to prove something. I expected to fail, and I think that fed my determination. I was fed up with the status quo and I refused to accept it any longer. The status quo of me. I felt I had nothing left to lose. No matter what the outcome, I couldn’t feel worse about myself than I did already.

Unfortunately I didn’t figure out, even after my success that year, what exactly I’d done right, and I’ve stumbled over goals ever since, including the one of keeping all that weight off. So I was relieved this past year to come across an explanation and validation of what exactly happened with me in 1995.

I think my nothing-left-to-lose mentality played an important role in my success that year, but a big part of it was not talking about it up front. Just doing it. Not fooling myself into the feel-good of thinking I’d succeeded before I had. Rather I developed this hawkish perspective of myself and my efforts, not the dangerous “You can’t do this, you’re terrible,” internal criticism that can paralyze me, but more of a suspicious, watchful, “You’d better do this and you’re not putting it off. No excuses. This is your life!” Then I didn’t let up. I became my own most effective task master.

I know, now that I understand it better, that I can repeat this method and make it a regular pattern in my life. The first part of the process, though, is making sure I know exactly what I’m that passionate about at this point in my life, and making the choice to throw myself into that. What gives me that nothing-left-to-lose feeling? It won’t be what someone else thinks would be nice for me to do, and it won’t be something I think makes me look good to others. Someone else’s values and goals won’t work the same way for me. They must be my goals, what I want in the deepest crevices of my heart. No one can help me with that, no one can effectively tell me which are the good ideas and which aren’t. Only I can do that. I have to feel that.

Before you can set or attain any personal goal, you have to know what you want. Then shut up and do it.

By the way, there’s something wrong with the idea that we can only make resolutions at the start of the year. Any time of year works, if you have the right goal for you, and go about it the right way.

Now I won’t tell you my New Years resolutions, and maybe you shouldn’t tell me yours either.

File: — Barbara @ 4:29 pm PST, 12/29/11

2 Comments

  1. Eric Mayer says:

    I agree entirely that it is best not to tell anyone your resolutions/goals. In fact, I have found that even telling myself seems to derail me, so I just don’t make resolutions. If I did, one resolution. I might make would be to blog more regularly but I won’t say anything about blogging more and neither should you. Say anything.

    The same principle applies to writing. Nothing kills a writing project more quickly than talking about it until it’s finished or irrevocably close to being finished. At least that has been my experience. Once I let my idea out into public, however crudely, to however small an audience, I feel like the story has already been told and hence a lot of the incentive to finish it properly vanishes.

    So have a great new year, and good luck with your goals, and come back and brag about having reached them all this time next year. But don’t stay away all year either. Good to hear from you again!

  2. Barbara says:

    Eric – Good to hear from you. :) Yes, this may apply to writing more than almost anything else, and that project was a writing project. It wasn’t my first novel, but I think of it as a turning point in my writing ability.


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