Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Big Question #1: Do my New Year's resolutions benefit only me?

This is a question that has been resonating with me since I saw it on Twitter.  Do my New Year's resolutions benefit only me?

If you are the type of person that makes resolutions, they generally fall into the self-improvement category.  New Year, new you and all that.  And I'm as guilty as the next person.  This will be the year I lose that twenty pounds, that I finally get out of debt completely, that I read more, that I devote more time to study of the Bible, and so on, and so on.

I published the list of them last year.  And generally they all benefit me, or my family, again directly affecting me.

How often have I used this practice to benefit myself, and not to be a better part of society?

And when you think of it, isn't that really backwards?  If we focused our resolutions on being more generous, more kind, more helpful, more supportive - wouldn't self-improvement be a natural bi-product?  Wouldn't we all be better people in general?

It's not that self-improvement is bad in and of itself.  Growth, change, development are all good things.  But there must also be a point in which we move beyond self.  I look at my list and everything is focused on self-improvement.  My goals are all about me.  Why is that?  Wouldn't we be better served by not focusing just on the betterment of ourself and turning our attention to the betterment of the world around us?

The question then is, what would such a resolution look like?

I think, like any others, these kind of resolutions should also be SMART.

Time Bound

Good goals, good resolutions are first specific.  They move beyond generic and become something definable.  "Be generous" is a very generic resolution - one which is easily ignored and easily claimed to have been achieved.  After all, giving a dime to just one person on one day at one time over the course of an entire year would technically achieve this goal, though I doubt it is what the person intended.  A specific way to be kinder would be better.  It's a place to answer all the questions about the end result you want.  Exactly what you want to accomplish.  Why it is important.  "I pledge to work at the local food bank this year" while not perfect, is a step toward this goal.

The goal must also be measurable for the same reason.  That way you can chart progress and can tell when a goal is achieved easily.  This is part of being able to keep yourself motivated.  For that reason, "I pledge to volunteer at the local food bank once a month" is a much better version of the goal above.

For obvious reasons, the goal must be achievable.  This is where it pays to be reasonable.  It's better to have a goal to volunteer once a month than every day, if you are more likely to actually keep the goal of once a month, as opposed to giving up on it.   You can think of this as the reality check on your goals.

A good goal must also be relevant, it must matter to you.  This seems intuitive, but you would be surprised the number of people who keep working towards goals only because they think they are supposed to.  Because they know other people value it.  Answering questions like, is this worthwhile, does it matter, goes a long way to addressing this issue.  If saving the environment is a great passion for you, it may make more sense for your resolutions to involve greater commitment and involvement in cleaning roads, rivers, lakes, etc. or raising awareness about climate change, than volunteering at the food bank.  Both are worthy causes, but you are more likely to stick to the one where your passion lies.

Finally, the goal must have a time component.  There needs to be a sense of urgency.  It's hardwired into us.  We are much more likely to address a pressing need and procrastinate one with a nebulous or lengthy timeline.  If you are wanting to volunteer at a food bank, perhaps start with seeing what their greatest need is.  It might not be helping with the distribution on a monthly basis, but helping with an upcoming drive the next week instead.

There are several goals and resolutions that could help meet these.

To give away an extra $100 a month to a worthy cause
To give away X% of my income this year
To volunteer weekly, monthly at a local food bank, pet shelter, homeless shelter, with X group

It's an election year, so there is an opportunity to help volunteer with a campaign for a candidate that you feel really could help change things.

A resolution to actively study the candidates and vote as an informed voter would be a great one.

It's also a census year.  Perhaps a good resolution for civics is to apply to work with the census.  Or to be helpful and respectful of the census workers when they come.

I'm still working through my list.  Resolutions aren't things that need to be limited to the first of the year only.  They are things we should be continually committed to.  So, I'll continue to fine tune my list, taking a hard look at how many are just for self-improvement and to where I should be resolving to better the world around me.

What about you?  What does your list look like?  And how balanced are your resolutions?

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