Swap Resolutions for Priorities
For most of my career, instead of days off for “lesser” federal holidays, my employer has given us the week off between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Depending on when the holidays fall, I usually add days of vacation time to either end — both if possible. Most years, the holiday vacation is my longest break from the day job.
Being off for more than a day or two gives me a chance to catch up. In the early years, an overly ambitious to-do list for my holiday vacation meant ending the year feeling more defeated than renewed. Eventually, I figured out what I was doing to myself and scaled back my plans and expectations for the long holiday break.
The journaling I’ve done since 1979 is mostly about killing an hour or two and keeping too much time from passing between entries. My writing compulsion and the week off at the end of the year work well together. The last entry of every year is a reflection on where I’ve been, where I want to go, and what I need to do to get there.
I quit making resolutions eons ago. Resolutions are ultimatums — all or nothing proclamations that virtually guarantee failure. One slip and you’ve blown it. They never worked for me. Two months into the year and I’ve given up.
Priorities have taken the place of resolutions. What needs to be more important in my life? For the most part, these annual priorities are associated with goals — something I’ve always had, thanks in no small part to my little writing obsession. The year-end journal entry is a chance to evaluate progress toward goals and to adjust my priorities accordingly.
Saying what I’ll do is one thing. Doing what I say I’ll do is an entirely different matter. Writing down my goals and priorities makes me more accountable. Part of the annual review is to read my last entry for the previous year. Looking back keeps me honest.
Year after year, that my priorities stayed more or less the same was depressing. Instead of moving forward as planned, something unexpected happened, life got in the way, or I dropped the ball. Overly optimistic forecasts and projections failed to materialize. Bad habits persisted. Good habits remained just intentions.
Seeing the changes requires a longer view. The difference in priorities is reflected in my lifestyle too, then and now. Thirty years ago, a strong desire to stay off medications, to continue my writing career, and to retire from the day job in the not too distant future weren’t even on my radar.
My annual reflection is just a habit — something seasonal to write about at the end of the year while I’m off work. Think what you will, I’m really not that deliberate about planning ahead. Killing time (and a little self-absorption) has always been the primary motivation.
The habit produced an unexpected windfall. Yearly progress reports kept me focused on my goals — whatever they may have been. From one year to the next, I rarely made much progress, but I never gave up. Time has taught me persistence pays off.
Forget about resolutions. Take a longer view. Come up with a few priorities for changes you want to make in your life, and stick with them. Instead of quitting when you fail (as with resolutions), get back in the saddle and try again. Persistence is its own reward.
Happy New Year!