To resolve or not to resolve, that is the question. It’s the one we ask ourselves each January as the annual invitation to start over rolls around. In the media, there’s the usual flurry of “How to make resolutions that last”-type articles (the kind of stuff I love to read), along with the expected slew of “Why making resolutions is a waste of time” pieces (not my cup of tea). Personally, I feel resolution-making as an expression of the will to self-improvement is never to be discouraged: the simple act of voicing a desire to change and then attempting to do so is a massive step forward. For me, failure to keep a resolution does not indicate that making resolutions is futile; rather it suggests that the resolution was perhaps the wrong one for you, or it was made for the wrong reasons, or – crucially – it was badly worded.
Specific and committed
The way in which we word and specify our intentions is crucial to their longevity. The difference between “I’m going to be healthier in 2015” and “I’m going to jog for 10 minutes twice a week in 2015” is huge. The first is vague and contains no real action, the second is specific and involves a solid commitment. Which is more likely to be kept?
Now, you’d think that, self-improvement info junkie that I am, I’d be able to sidestep these kinds of mental potholes. Think again. This New Year, I caught myself making a whopper of a rookie error as I sat down to set some intentions for 2015. There I was with a nice list of all the things I wanted to find more time for over the year – yoga, new coaching clients, promoting my work as a writer – when I noticed that every item on that list was – mentally – preceded by the words “I will find more time to…” See the fatal flaw? Answers on a postcard to the woman who’s still looking through her chest of drawers to find where she left that bit of spare time she just knows she put somewhere for safekeeping.
Stop searching, start creating
What was I thinking? You don’t find time for anything. Time is not a crumpled fiver you come across down the side of the sofa, nor is it something you discover left over at the end of a long day. Time is finite; no-one gets any more than 24 hours in a day.
The minute I changed the word “find” to “make”, my perspective on my resolutions changed. I am going to have to make time to prospect for clients, clear space in my diary for that extra yoga class, and – whisper it – make the choice between crashing on the sofa like an extra from The Walking Dead and getting out the laptop to write. Finding time is about trying to cram even more into the day, snatching five minutes here and there. Making time is about saying no to activities that aren’t priority, crafting your schedule to work towards your objectives, and making conscious decisions about where you put your energy at any given moment – which sometimes means giving up things that aren’t useful and don’t serve you.
A sense of agency
It all comes down to a feeling of agency, really. Making time puts me firmly in the driver’s seat of my life, relying on myself to make the decisions that get me where I want to be. Finding time – just like finding a forgotten banknote – relies to a large extent on luck and good fortune. And my goals are a little too important to me to leave them in the lap of the gods. Aren’t yours?
It’s easy to let the days go by, unchecked, unnoticed. But the days become years, and the years become your life. Take a moment to consider what you want to look back on in a week, a year, a decade and start living that life today.
For one month during the autumn of 1995, the first thing people said to each other when they arrived for work on Monday was some variant of “Did you see Pride and Prejudice last night? Oh my God, Darcy in the lake!” Other than those unforgettable few weeks, when every British woman’s Sunday evening was brightened by Colin Firth smouldering around Derbyshire, the most common Monday-morning coffee room question has to be: “So, what did you do this weekend?”
Just another manic Monday
It’s a perfectly innocent question, but it can feel so probing. It’s fine when you’ve been out and about, visiting family, a museum or a stately home (keeping an eye out for signs of brooding, muscular, white-shirted lake-swimmers, of course). But when you know the most action you saw was when you punctuated your busy day of watching reruns of How I Met Your Mother with some short bursts of standing in front of the fridge wondering what to eat next, the question is less welcome.
Lazing on a Sunday afternoon
Most of us get two days off work a week and, in 2011, there are 105 weekend days. What we choose to do with the 2520 free hours we have this year makes a statement about who we are. Obviously, we all need to recuperate from the working week; we also need to shop, iron, wash clothes, etc. And we all need a certain amount of time for what my friend Charlotte calls “slobbing”. But, in all honesty, can any of us really say that we make full use of every Saturday and Sunday? Maybe thinking about what we’re going to tell colleagues we did with our days off by the water cooler on Monday morning would motivate us make the best of the time we have to ourselves.
It was a very good year
It’s easy to fritter weekends away, but the days add up, and soon a year has passed. I’m currently approaching my next birthday and as a result, am prompted to think about all that’s happened in the last 12 months. I’m thinking about what I’ve achieved and experienced, and people I’ve spent time with. Invariably, I see my birthday as a kind of personal Day of Judgement, where I am held accountable for how I have chosen to spend the precious time I’ve been given over the last year. And the question I always ask myself when I’ve finished evaluating the past is an extension of the Monday-morning office question: “How do I want to be able to say I spent my days, this time next year?”
Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end
As the years turn into a lifetime, that question becomes: “How do I want to say I spent my life?” Do I want to look back on my weekend/year/life and feel that it sort of just went by without me noticing? Or do I want to be able to say that, for the most part, I kept my eyes open and drank it all in? Do I want to take stock and say I was generally there for people who needed me – that I showed up for the important moments, or will I have to face the fact that I didn’t really make enough effort to see people I loved? Do I want to have to admit that I spent a lot of time sulking, or shouting, or being angry? Or do I want to tot up the hours and find that, by and large, they were spent in happiness?
The question, “How do I want to be able to say I spent this weekend?” is nothing to do with wanting to brag about all you did/saw/bought. It’s about reminding yourself that how you spend your days is how you spend your years and, ultimately, how you spend your life. So, when your Saturday-morning sluggishness makes you want to skip your jog, cancel your lunch plans, not bother going to the new exhibition you had wanted to see, and just slouch in front of The West Wing, remember that no-one’s last words were ever “I wish I’d spent more time watching TV”.