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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Approaching New Year's Resolutions Assertively

As the new year begins, most people make resolutions to keep during the year.  Let’s look at how to set resolutions in a way that will allow you to be successful in both setting and keeping them.

A resolution is an assertion that you make to yourself and sometimes to others as well. 

Characteristics of an Assertive Resolution:

An assertive resolution is:
  • A stand that you take first with yourself
  • Enhances your self-esteem (the other side of this is that if you should fail at a resolution, it should not damage your self-esteem
  • Includes respect for yourself and others
  • Is realistic.  It is something to which you can make a real commitment
  • Is simple to accomplish
The difference between a Goal and a Resolution

Let's look at each of these concepts.

GOAL:  According to Webster's dictionary, "a goal is the end toward which effort is directed."  

Many times people make goals for themselves for the year and call them resolutions.  A typical goal at the turn of the year is about losing weight or exercising.  If I make a resolution to lose 20 pounds, then I will feel bad about myself if I only lose 19.  On the other hand, if I set the GOAL of losing 20 pounds, then I can feel great about my effort toward that goal.

In psychology, we have a concept called successive approximation.  Successive Approximation is a fancy way of saying that there are many little accomplishments on the way to a goal.  All of these accomplishments are to be celebrated and if we don't get all the way to the goal, we can still feel good about what we gained along the way.

So set goals toward which you can aim in areas that are hard to achieve.  If I say that my goal is to exercise more, and I aim in that direction, I can feel good about myself if I exercise one more day than I do now, or I can feel even better if I exercise two more days than I do now.  I'm celebrating success in either event.

RESOLUTION:  According to Webster's Dictionary is a "determination; a formal expression of will, opinion or intent (A determination is the act of deciding definitely and firmly.).

If I make a resolution, it's like making a promise to myself about something I am committed to and intend to keep.

Here's an example of a resolution that is assertive with myself and others:

One week before she was supposed to go to college, my youngest daughter was in a terrible automobile accident in which she pulled out in front of a speeding car.  She is fine now, but in the accident she broke her pelvis in three places, had to go to her freshman year in college three weeks late, and was on crutches for the first eight weeks of her time at college.

I made a resolution (that I have reaffirmed every year since then) that I would always drive the speed limit on Atlanta city streets and that I would always stop at yellow lights.  Let's look at this resolution for the characteristics of a good assertive resolution.
  • Driving the speed limit and stopping at yellow lights is a stand that I take for myself but which also affects others.  Drivers in Atlanta rarely drive the speed limit, so going 35 in a 35 mile zone makes those who go 50 quite irritated.  Sometimes I have a line of unhappy (but forced to go the speed limit) drivers behind me.  
  • Driving the speed limit enhances my self-esteem because I feel good about myself for doing the right thing.  I also know that I have control of my car so that if a teenager pulled in front of me, I could stop without doing harm.  If I fail to drive the speed limit, I will feel guilty, but it will not hurt my self-esteem.
  • Driving the speed limit is respectful of myself, the other drivers, and the laws of the city in which I live.  The driver behind me who is angrily hugging my tail is aggressive, not assertive
  • Driving the speed limit is realistic - after all, it's the law.  If I drive the speed limit, I won't get a ticket (a built-in reward!)
  • Driving the speed limit is simple to accomplish.  All I have to do is to remember to read the signs.
Here's an example of a resolution that is assertive with myself:

About twelve years ago, I set a goal of drinking eight glasses of water a day.  This goal has all the characteristics of a good assertive resolution:
  • By drinking more water, I am taking a stand with myself about staying in good health
  • Drinking more water enhances my self-esteem because I feel better about my skin, my body, and take some pride in choosing water over a soft drink.  If I were to fail at this promise to myself, I would not damage my self-esteem.
  • Drinking more water to make me healthier is by definition having respect for myself and my state of being
  • Drinking more water is realistic - always on hand and available.
  • For me this has been simple to accomplish.  I see people every hour in my office, so I decided to drink a glass of water with each client.  Sometimes I fudge a little and drink tea.  Mostly though I use a water bottle and drink water all day long.  I intended this as a goal for one year twelve years ago and it has become a regular feature of my life today.
With the arrival of 2011, set inspiring goals for yourself and make assertive resolutions that you can keep.

NOTE:  I do not drive 55 on the Atlanta Interstates - which is the limit.  If I did so I would be killed.  Nobody drives under 60 on the highways in Atlanta and most drive around 65 - 70.

If you'd like a good laugh, some GSU students made this movie several years ago in which five cars lined up on the Interstate in Atlanta and all drove 55. The results are pretty amusing and a little scary.

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