RONIN REPORTS: Keeping Resolutions Going

Vol. 31 No. 2

By

Benjamin K. Sanchez is a commercial and collection litigation attorney in Houston, Texas.

To do list written on a napkin with pen and plate of carrots and celeryIt’s now been a few months since the warmness of our New Year’s resolutions has worn off and left us feeling a little cold. Some of you are giddy because you have achieved one-time goals or are continuing the new activities you vowed to undertake. Others of you? Not so much. So what separates us when it comes to achieving or staying on track with our resolutions?

How Did We Get Here?

The celebration of a new year has existed since at least the time of the Babylonians approximately 4,000 years ago. These celebrations—religious in nature—occurred initially in March, but various Roman rulers kept changing the start of the calendar until finally, in 153 B.C.E., the Roman Senate adopted January 1 as the beginning of the new year in honor of Janus, the double-headed deity who looked backward and forward. After Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, the Church established January 1 as a holy day—in part to counteract the wild celebrations still being thrown by Roman emperors.

By this time the citizens of the Roman Empire had long been making New Year’s resolutions with a moral bent, based mostly on being good to others. Fasting and prayer were added in the Christian era. Ever since, there has existed a dichotomy in celebrating the New Year: parties on the one hand and the more subdued religious gatherings for worship and prayer on the other.

Regardless of how we celebrate the New Year, it is estimated that almost half of all Americans engage in the practice of New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, 88 percent of us who make such resolutions ultimately fail. So I vowed to do my part to help increase that lowly success rate.

Be Specific in Goal Setting

Failure often comes because our goals are either too big or too general. It helps if we break down our overarching goals into smaller components and make those our goals. It’s easier to measure ourselves against these smaller goals and make corrections along the way.

Let’s take health-based resolutions as an example. Many people simply make their resolution something like, “I want to lose X pounds.” Yet, how do we analyze our progress against such a general goal? We end up telling ourselves that even though we haven’t started exercising and changing our diet as of March, we’re okay because our goal isn’t measured until the end of the year. Furthermore, with such a big goal, we don’t really give ourselves direction on how to achieve it. Wouldn’t it be better to change the goal into action items that can be achieved? For example, attend Zumba twice a week and strength training once a week. Another could be to eat vegetables every day and add fruits every other day. Such goals are more manageable and ultimately will result in weight loss.

I have a friend who at one time did not exercise at all but for dancing. She decided one year that she wanted to change her lifestyle and become more fit. She started with Zumba and then moved to running. Although she now has accomplished five-kilometer races and more, she didn’t set herself up for failure by telling herself that she would run a half-marathon. Instead, she broke down her physical goals into manageable sub-goals. I still remember when she couldn’t run a mile. She would alternate walking and jogging. I also remember, however, the day she ran three miles straight without jogging. It was a glorious day for her. I remember thinking on that day that it had seemed just like yesterday when she started, but then I recalled all her small achievements along the way and how they ultimately gathered steam into her larger goals. She’s a shining example of how to break down the larger dream into manageable goals and achieve those in a steady manner.

Be Accountable to Others

Another tried-and-true technique for keeping on track and achieving your personal goals is to become accountable to others for achieving them. Although it’s nice to say that we will take on personal accountability, we easily let ourselves down because no one else knows we have given up or failed. When we get others involved in our personal success, it becomes much harder to walk away.

So how do we get others involved? Some will pick out one or two people they trust, while others will be accountable to a group in which they are involved. Either way, your personal success team should consist of people who will both honor your privacy and vulnerability while at the same time having the courage and fortitude to take you to task for slipping up. Your team should hold you accountable without berating you and should motivate you in a positive manner. When your team members are overly critical, they defeat the purpose of your confidence in them and you soon start to hide your goals for fear of having to answer to your negative team members.

For solo and small firm attorneys, I have found a great personal success team to be the Facebook community Successfully Solo Friends (SSF). Many members of the ABA Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division already know about the SoloSez listserve community (solosez.org) that has acted as a water cooler, book club, buzz meter, and success team for years now. Some of the members of SoloSez have teamed together and joined the SSF community on Facebook. Each week, we encourage our members to publicly state what they would like to be accountable for that week, and then we encourage through the week and measure at week’s end. If our goals are met, we congratulate. If they are not, we motivate for next week. Many community members have found this accountability to the group to be a prime factor in their successful completion of their goals.

Focus on the Process

In setting resolutions for ourselves, we often focus on the end goals. It is helpful, instead, to focus on the process of achieving them.

When we can focus on and even learn to enjoy the steps along the way—the repetitions in our exercise routines, the daily success of meditating for 20 minutes, or the weekly success of writing in our journals or calling family and friends in order to enhance our personal relationships—we improve ourselves and ultimately achieve that which we once thought was daunting.

In my own life, I have not been the best at keeping up with family relationships. I get so bogged down in my own world that I forget to cultivate my personal relationships with loved ones. In discussing this with my mother last year, we decided that while the end goal was for us to become closer with one another (and for me to become closer generally with my family), we had to be aware of the little things that would get us there. So, we now talk to each other more on the telephone (probably not as much as some do, but more than we used to). Just the other day, I had a hearing in Galveston, which is an hour drive from Houston, where my mother and stepfather live. Rather than getting to the island just in time to make the hearing, I purposely drove in early so that I could spend an hour with her before going to court. That small gesture will not in itself change the entire relationship, but for that moment, that day, the process of spending time with her was the most important thing I could do. Just that one step will make it easier for my next visit, and the visit after that.

Have Faith and Be Positive

In parting, I cannot ignore the simple effectiveness of having faith and being positive. I sometimes don’t know how I will be able to achieve certain goals or how things will turn out in certain situations, but instead of focusing on the uncertainty, I hold onto my faith and remain positive of the outcome. We accomplish our goals because of our positive nature rather than our negative one. An optimist accomplishes much more than a pessimist.

I wish you all continued success in achieving your resolutions and goals.

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