New Year’s resolutions? What needs to change for the better? And what can we do about it? Such thoughts are going through my mind as I make my way home from the doctor. Of course, I knew that I don’t look after my body properly, but I thought: I’ve got good genes – everything will be alright. But this time he has prescribed me some tablets… and less stress.
So now I’m sitting here, about to write a list of my New Year’s resolutions and what I wish for the new year. As you read this article at the beginning of the year, this situation may seem all too familiar to you, even if you don’t have to take any tablets and are otherwise totally happy.
It is, of course, difficult to avoid the health ones:
The health industry is very insistent and the mental coaches, lifestyle experts and motivation gurus like to get us in the mood with slogans like
“New Year – new happiness – new chance! Stop putting things off and get going! Take better care of yourself!”
Their appeals and training courses always revolve around the same things:
- Less stress
- Do more exercise and sport
- Eat healthier food, smoke less, drink less alcohol
- Get enough sleep
- Devote more time to friends and family and above all to yourself
Nicely garnished with mantras such as “If you really want something, nobody can stop you!”
New Year’s resolutions? We’ve still got time…
And that’s where they’ve got us. Because it all sounds so logical. But because it is also all so trivial and so unspecific, we soon start to talk ourselves out of our resolutions: after all, everybody knows stories of people who hate sport, have no dental floss in their bathroom cupboards and die at the age of 100 with a full set of teeth. And stories of people who were already pensioners when they wrote a hit or a best seller or completed a marathon in their best time. So I’ve still got time to change things, we think, and quickly drop the resolution.
Another point is that such advice on how to optimise your life can trigger resistance to change if the goals and resolutions are too ambitious.
Motivation and discipline?
A business consultant for whom I had to organise a sales event in a company was a particularly good example of a ham-handed approach: He invited a former “ironman” to give a motivational speech at the event. The man was already 50, but really fit: slimline shirt, ripped body, etc. He gave a Powerpoint presentation with photos of a group who wanted to optimise their lives in his boot camp. He talked about how he had driven them on through mud and icy weather until their toes were frozen and their nerves were in tatters. Running, climbing, jumping over ice-cold streams, etc.
I could sense how the field service salesmen in the audience were slowly starting to groan and glance sideways at each other. Naturally, they were all far from being hard-baked super heroes. Not one of them looked like the ironman on the podium. They were just people like you and me: one with a paunch, the other short and thin, but all very nice and friendly.
In the end their boss, the sales manager, saved the situation with a quip to his colleagues: “So if that sort of thing makes you happy, you unfortunately can’t work for us anymore.”
What he wanted to say with this quip was: ego trippers who only storm ahead, pursue their personal goals and couldn’t care about those in the group who can’t keep up are not really the right fit for a company with modern management practices.
We need realistic goals in life
That’s what I keep in mind as I sit in front of my empty list. I’m sure of one thing:
I have to set realistic goals that I can actually meet. Learning to surf and going glacier skiing are no good as I can’t put such goals into practice. There aren’t any mountains here and no waves to ride – only drizzling rain for weeks on end. And to run a marathon as a tea-drinking non-smoker is not realistic either because I’m simply not the type for it. Am I supposed to re-invent myself? No, I think and turn the empty page over: sadly the other side is empty, too.
Change for the better
I now google a German website for New Year’s resolutions presented by Prof. Dr. Knobloch (www.neujahrsvorsaetze.de). He doesn’t tell me anything new but advocates trying to achieve one’s goals in small steps.
The Japanese have two symbols for this: kai = change and zen = for the better.
Kaizen, ongoing effort to improve, means in engineers’ language CIP: Continuous improvement process. But that sounds too technical for my personal transformation.
Sense of achievement and ambition
But it has suddenly struck me that the ideas for improvement do not really get off the ground because we are dominated by a quite different idea: to be better, faster and cleverer than the others. This ambition is an anthropological legacy from ancient times. We can’t simply knock it out of us. And even if we could: wandering aimlessly around with no drive isn’t a great idea, either. But the ambition that arrives after puberty doesn’t simply leave us when we get old. We have got used to being ambitious. Why else do so many people not stop working even though they have long since worked enough? It is the feeling of self-worth that has to be fed again and again and that keeps us going and motivates us.
This ambition is all very well and good but sometimes I have the feeling that the streets are filled with nothing but ironmen. People are always busy, always rushing to appointments and none of us wants to just relax because we hardly know how to anymore.
My first New Year’s resolution
What’s more, we are all in the grip of a digital click mentality. Click = decision = result. In such a world, looking at things that we don’t understand immediately and speaking to people who are different to us have become much too complicated and time-consuming for us.
So I have decided to slowly but surely change my mentality.
“Click less – talk more and go out more”, I write on my list.
2018: Casting off the old
The next day I see an old woman standing in front of me in the queue at the supermarket check-out. She has put 2 bars of chocolate and 2 miniature bottles of spirits on the belt. “The chocolate is just an alibi purchase,” I think to myself. “And the 2 shots of alcohol are to help her get through the day.” But instead of immediately calling out for the supermarket to open up a second check-out because of the queue, I remember my list.
“So that’s what you are having for lunch today?” I ask her cheekily. She opens her eyes wide.
“The vodka? That’s for the refuse men! They always get a little something from me for Christmas and then again for New Year. And the chocolate is for my grandson. That will keep him busy. After all, I haven’t got an Internet connection!”. She smiles at me.
Then I knew: 2018 will be the year of a new movement. And we two are the founder members.
Perhaps you’d like to join in?
With a completely new feeling of self-worth