December is often a whirlwind of end-of-year activities. For me, this includes demanding work responsibilities like supporting the quarter close, wrapping up the prior year, and planning for next year. On the personal front, it’s a flurry of holiday concerts, sports games, Christmas decorations, Hanukkah candles, gift exchanges, potato latkes, seven fishes, and more.
Simply surviving to ring in the new year feels like an accomplishment – like getting to the end of a long-distance race, where I cross the finish line sweaty and panting and exhausted.
So, when others inquire if I “recharged my batteries” over the holidays or ask if I’m “refreshed and ready to dive in to the new year”…well, to be honest, it doesn’t exactly feel that way. Yet I know the start of a new year is a good time to look upon your life with fresh eyes, clarify priorities, and even reboot your approach.
Many people make New Year’s resolutions, where they commit to being better in the coming year. The tradition dates back over 4,000 years to the ancient Babylonians who made promises and sacrifices to the gods. Today, the tradition is largely secular and focuses on self-improvement. Nearly 40% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions; this year’s most common resolutions are exercising more, eating healthier, and losing weight.
The act of planning for the year ahead is inherently optimistic. It’s forward-looking. It’s hopeful. And it’s healthy to take a bit of time to consider what you want to accomplish, what should change, and how you want to approach doing that.
Despite enthusiasm around declaring New Year’s resolutions, the reality is that most people don’t follow through on them. In the U.S., only 9% successfully accomplish their goals, citing lost motivation, being too busy, and shifts in priorities. In fact, 23% quit by the end of the first week and 43% by the end of January!
There’s lots of advice out there about how to improve resolution success rates. Make goals “SMART” (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound). Pick just one. Write it down and document progress. Make sure it’s relevant and personal. Know your why. Find an accountability partner. This is all good guidance and can certainly help.
This year, I’m taking a different approach.
Choose one word: Instead of a long list of goals (that we’ll likely abandon anyway), choose just one word that represents what you aspire to and focus on that for the year. This simpler approach provides much-needed clarity and focus. We tried this last year at work where leaders identified and shared their words like execution or growth or client-focused. This year my one word is cultivate, which means to foster growth.
Cultivate happiness: This year I’m also committing to understanding the science of happiness and investing to enhance happiness for myself and others. There are great resources for this including various books, podcasts, and studies. I’ve signed up for the “The Science of Well-Being” course, which is the most popular course ever offered at Yale and is now available for free on Coursera.
Give back: I’m also pledging to give back this year – in various forms. There are of course many ways to do this, from donating to worthy causes to volunteering in the community to showing gratitude. I’m inspired by the example my father set during his lifetime. (Besides being meaningful and impactful, this study found that volunteering also boosts happiness.)
Each year in January I like to start with a clean desk, a fresh notebook, and a renewed outlook on life. The year ahead is unwritten, like a new book with blank pages splayed before us. I acknowledge that we can’t know precisely what the year has in store for us; for instance, I didn’t anticipate 2022 would be the year I lost my father, and no one planned for COVID-19 to disrupt our lives as it did in 2020 and beyond. And yet we should not be passive riders on the train of life. I believe we should make deliberate choices about how we spend our time and be proactive about seeking out adventures, fostering relationships, and finding joy.