New Year resolutions and protestations of love on Valentine’s Day often have the veracity and shelf life of a politician’s promises at election time.
New Year’s day and Valentine’s Day have a lot in common. On New Year’s Day everyone acts as though it is a new beginning – not just for the pages of a calendar – but as a temporal catalyst to change the things we have done and do the things we have not—but should have. The trouble is, as the year slides by the resolves as often as not fade, and we end up on the doorstep of another New Year proffering a new batch of promises.
Valentine’s Day can be just as meaningless as New Year’s Day. It’s designated as that day to show your love for that “special” person (other than yourself). We are extra sweet and nice to our loved one on Valentine’s Day, but we soon backslide to the way we always are the rest of the year. Then, we gear up again on the next Valentine’s Day.
The truth is that the attitude we embrace on New Year’s Day to change and improve ourselves is precisely the attitude we should have each and every day of the year. The expressions of love we offer that special someone on Valentine’s Day are the same feelings we should convey every day of the year. If we need a special holiday to remind us to do either of these things, we will be successful in neither business nor love.
The Fraud of the New Year’s Resolution
Still, it is tradition and custom to think of January 1 as a new beginning. Ancient Romans began each year by making promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named. As a matter of good business, Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts.
Contemporary thinking has changed little in 5,000 years. We continue to view New Year as a time to begin anew by recalibrating and recreating our plans and goals for life and business. We have a fresh, clean slate to do everything we failed to do during the past 365. We’ve been pardoned for our mistakes and failures and been given a kind of “get out of jail free” card. How many times have you heard people say or maybe even thought to yourself, “Come January 1, I am definitely going to … (fill in the blank) …”
As the ball drops on the new year, people are ready to forget past failures and feel recharged and energized, ready to bound forward to achieve grand new goals. Unfortunately these commitments and plans last about as long as the bubbly fizz in a bottle of cheap Champagne. It may be natural to think of January 1 as a new beginning, but doing so every year only leads to starts and stutters and very few successful finishes. Unfortunately as the years roll by, New Year’s Day for many becomes more like the movie Groundhog Day, with the same old failures and unfulfilled plans recycled over and over again.
Of course when that happens we have no one else but ourselves to blame, because we fall into the trap of believing that come January 1, all will be new, better and easier . . .that somehow the New Year infuses us with some type of mega power to be successful. Unfortunately, this illusion lasts only slightly longer than a New Year hangover.
New Year’s resolutions are sort of a personal version of a corporate business plan; with about the same level of prescient vision and results. Business plans are the ritualistic corporate activity – very much akin to using Tarot cards – believed to predict the future performance of the company. In the history of business plans – and it is a long one – never once has a single business plan been accurate. During the course of a year, there are more revisions to business plans than the former Joan Rivers had done to her face. For the most part, business plans are simply a waste of time, just as are New Year resolutions. But it does not have to be that way; either for business plans or well-meaning resolutions.
The New New Year Resolution
As with any plan it is good to have checkpoints along the way to judge progress or lack thereof. A time when goals can be reconfirmed and activity recalibrated. The turning of the calendar to a new year is as good a time as any to measure progress and identify any adjustments to the efforts, but it should be as part of a continuing plan, not a rehash of last year’s failed renewal.
There is a better way to approach a New Year resolution and actually make it work for you. In a 1980 presidential debate with President Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan targeted the now-famous question to voters, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Posing this question turned out to have a significant impact on the election. Reagan did not use fancy charts, graphs or statistics to make the point that life in America (especially economically) was not as good as it had been; and doing so would have probably lost his audience.
People have an innate sense to know if they are better off now than they were a year ago. This is the approach that should be taken with the new year; both from an individual and business standpoint. Ask yourself: Am I better off at the start of this new year than I was a year ago? Has my career progressed? Has my company grown and accomplished more than it did in the previous year?
If the answer to these questions is in the positive, why tear things up and start with a whole new set of resolutions? Your New Year Resolution is simple – just resolve to continue to do what you have been doing. The new year is a good time to ask: What can I do to do better than I have done? There is no need to set new artificial new goals. Instead, take the concrete results already achieved and use them as a benchmark to figure out how to do better. If you are always doing better than you have done in the past, you will always be getting better in the future. There will be no need for a new resolution, only a continuing resolve. And the good news is that if you are always getting better at what you do, you will eventually be the best at what you do.
At my company LifeUSA, at the end of each year we would always look at the key benchmarks for the company: number of agents recruited, applications received, policies issued, costs per agent recruited or expenses per policy issued, etc. – and measure these results against where we were a year ago. If these benchmarks had all shown improvement over the previous year we knew we were on the right path; there was no need to tear up the pea-patch with new plans. The New Year’s Resolution for the company was always the same and always simple: Resolve to continue to improve on the benchmarks in the new year. We knew that if we kept getting better at the activities that were important to our success, then everything else would take care of itself. And it did.
When it comes to the new year, it should be a catalyst for renewal and recommitment, not reinvention or redirection. Use the holiday to confirm you are on the right path to getting better, not to find a new path.