An Alternative to New Year’s Resolutions: Year-End Lessons

Many of us fall into one camp or the other: the optimistic resolution-makers — who begin the year with energy and hope for positive change — and the cynical non-resolvers who sit on the sidelines and dismiss resolutions as delusional and doomed to be broken. But for those who see a value in year-end reflection and intention setting but don’t embrace the resolution model, I’d like to invite a slightly different approach — one that is both grounded in experience and constructively future-oriented. It has three steps: we celebrate our successes; we acknowledge our failures and disappointments; and we draw from both specific lessons that we want to take forward and apply in the new year.

Celebrate success! Often life is moving so fast that we fail to recognize and celebrate along the way. Look back over the last year at the different areas of your life — career, relationships with family and friends, personal growth, health, finances. What are you most proud of? What did you build, create, or achieve? Where did you find joy or wonder? With whom did you connect? Take note of how your behaviors and attitudes made these successes possible. Remember also to recognize the accomplishment of facing challenges and enduring hardship — simply coming through a hard time is a reason for celebration and can be a source of great learning. Some ways to celebrate: light a candle, turn up the music and dance, tell a friend, write a letter of congratulations to yourself, throw confetti …

Acknowledge failure and disappointment. Okay, this one is less fun than the celebration part, but equally valuable, as it offers an opportunity for learning and for healing. Where did your outcomes not match your intentions? Consider whether the results were within your control or not, question your assumptions, ask whether the goals you set were the right ones for the circumstances. What relationships did you let slip that you would like to repair? What needs went unmet? If you need to mourn a loss or disappointment, you might want to write about it. If you feel angry or disappointed perhaps you need to acknowledge and forgive yourself or someone else. And here’s the crucial step: move on. Don’t wallow or get stuck. Which takes us to ….

Learn Your Lessons and Apply Them. After you have reviewed your year, make a list of five to seven lessons that you have learned — both from your successes and your failures. It is important that your write them down, as writing them down requires you to be clear about what you learned. (Note: your lessons needn’t be profound. There are some lessons I have to learn over and over again, and most of them are as obvious as they are difficult to integrate — put ’em on the list!) Then look toward the coming year and identify specifically how you will apply those lessons. Write this down, too. And finally, schedule some follow-up. Make a date with yourself sometime in March to check in on how you are doing at integrating and applying your lessons. Chances are you will need a refresher. Review, revise, and re-commit, as necessary.

This exercise can be a solitary reflection and a chance to get in touch with your inner self or it can be a fun and mutually supportive exercise to do with a friend or with your partner. But however you choose to do it, I hope you find it helpful and rewarding. And if you feel inspired to share any of the lessons that you are taking forward into 2013, I would love to hear them. Happy New Year!