Monday, January 2, 2012

The lesson I learned from failing on my New Year's Resolution

Every year, for as long as I can remember, I have made a ridiculously long list of New Year's resolutions. They've ranged from traveling to a foreign country (which I did) to running my first half marathon (which I did!) to meeting the love of my life (which I also did!) to everything in between. I've spent weeks before the beginning of the new year, brainstorming, planning, scheming, until finally, on December 31st, I print out the dozen or more resolutions and post them everywhere in my house.

Why do I do this to myself?

One, life is short. I witnessed firsthand what happens when you wait for "later" to check things off of the list of things you've always wanted to do. My parents always had plans for the life they were going to live when they retired. My dad toiled away at his job, and my mom did everything in the world for everyone else in her life. The payoff was going to be that someday, when they retired, they were going to live it up, exactly like they wanted to. Unfortunately, their plan didn't work out exactly like they had hoped. My dad was lucky enough to retire at the beginning of 2000, but my mother passed away in July of that same year from cancer, at the age of 50.

After witnessing that, I felt driven to DO something each year - not wait until "later". My mother was an amazing woman - and I love the example of service to others that she left for me (and everyone else around her), but I wished, for her sake, that she got to experience more of the things she was putting off until "later". I didn't want to find myself at the end of my days on this Earth and regret having put experiences I wanted to have or accomplishments that I wanted to achieve until "later", because sometimes, we don't get to have a "later".

Another reason for my list is that I am a girl that likes to know the plan. I like to know what's going to happen, when it's going to happen, and how we are going to make it happen. When in doubt, I can always come back to the plan. When I am faced with a decision of how to spend my time, I can revert back to my list of resolutions and use it as a guide of how I want to spend my time. If I have decided that I want to run a half marathon, then, I need to get outside and run instead of sitting on the couch and reading. If I have decided that I want to read a new book every month, I need to sit on the couch and read instead of getting outside and running.

Both of those are positive reasons for wanting to make a list of resolutions for the new year, but this year, I discovered another reason that I like to make this annual resolutions list: I like to have a measuring stick to beat myself up with when I find myself falling short of the goals that I set. How self-defeating is that? I create the list - and then, use it to make myself feel bad if I don't adhere to it, perfectly.

In 2011, I wanted to run a marathon. I had run a half marathon in 2010, and wanted to step it up to the next level and run a full marathon this past year. I was training my butt off (figuratively and literally). I spent hours a week running. Early on Sunday mornings, I got up and ran with a training group - 7, 10, 17 miles a week. I ran through the aches and pains. I bought special running gear. I was into it.

Then, I got sick a few times in rapid succession - probably from being so worn out - and fell off of the training schedule. I was so frustrated with myself. I tried to get back on schedule, but my motivation was gone. I was so far behind on the training program that it felt like I would never catch up. It got to the point where I was resentful if I did run or I was resentful if I didn't run. It was a no-win situation.

Until one day, when I realized that no one was forcing me to run a marathon. I didn't have a gun to my head to finish this event. I wasn't going to lose my job. I wasn't being paid to run in it. No one was going to die if I didn't run the dang marathon. It was a self-imposed goal of which I fell short. I didn't have to run it!

This may sound elementary to you, but it was an epiphany to me. I quit running, and no one else cared. The relief that I felt from removing that goal from my list for the year was immense.

The lesson I learned from quitting marathon training was quite simple, but life changing. I need to assess my goals every day to see if they are still working for me, not just once a year. A lot can happen in the course of 365 days, and goals that I set on December 31st may not still fit into my life later on down the road. It's good to have goals as guideposts - but when they turn into baseball bats that I am beating myself with, it's time to reevaluate.

This year, I have been reluctant to set any resolutions on paper because I didn't want to set myself up to fall into the same trap again. However, I think I do want to set some goals for 2012 - ones that I will reevaluate as the year progresses. I'll post those tomorrow.

In the mean time, I'd love to hear from you - what lessons have you learned this year? Did you set resolutions for 2011? How did you do in achieving what you had hoped to? Is 2012 going to be a different year?

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