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Forget Resolutions. The Secret to Freedom and Focus this Year.

By Tiffany Monhollon

It’s been a whirlwind of a year, to say the least. Looking back, I am so thankful for the journey and all I’ve learned. About relationships. About letting go. About starting something. About blogging. About networking. About creativity. About priorities. About myself. About life.

I’ll be honest. I’m a sentimental gal. I love milestones, the bittersweet mix of all that was and all that could have been.

That’s probably why in my start-and-stop affair with pen-to-paper journaling, one thing you will see without fail is an entry on the last or first day of every year since I started writing. Or the night before – or after – a big event.

So this morning, I sat down and decided to make the most of my week off (I took the time off to finish my thesis proposal, but hey, a girl’s gotta reflect), and pulled out my most recent journal. I untied the blue leather strap and fingered the gold filigree on the cover, thinking. I knew it had been a while, but I didn’t realize that the last entry I’d made was the night before my wedding. I won’t tell you what it said, because some things a sentimental gal wants to treasure just to herself, but I will tell you what it meant to me now.

Part of it was realizing that every day, not just the milestone days, are worth treasuring.  

To me this means a lot of things. I need to slow down more. To quit some things. To focus. I thought of all the moments of the first nine months of my marriage, days, revelations, memories, events, feelings I failed to record, and a part of me fell apart over it, thinking of how those things might now be lost.

And then I thought deeper. I realized that also, a lesson I need to learn is that to truly treasure each day, I need to stop being so hard on myself.

Here is what is hard about being a writer: sometimes, you depend upon it too much as a way to understand and evaluate and enjoy the world. Maybe this is the case with any person and their passion. I think of my husband, who is an artist, and the roller coaster ride his affair with art and creativity and creation is. And I think that probably I am not too far off base with this theory. But that is another post for another time.

What I am trying to say is this: In my pursuit of treasuring each day, when I don’t write, or journal, or blog, or create, or contribute, I am always, without fail, hard on myself about it. Which is ironic, if you think about it, because when I am  not writing, I am usually busy doing things worth remembering, recording, and sharing.

The Problem with Resolutions

Which leads me to this day, and the calendar, and the long, long list of things that I’d hoped to accomplish this year and the long, hard journey I’m going through of letting the guilt of that all go.

This is why I hate resolutions. Because instead of action or change or commitment, what they breed is guilt. And procrastination. Why? Because people are inherently impulsive. Psycologists say it’s like this: we procrastinate on resolutions like losing weight because it’s easier on our brains to think about doing it (or starting it) tomorrow. The problem is, when tomorrow gets here, we still want to procrastinate, and the cycle continues until you’re looking back on a year and a resolution filled with guilt instead of satisfaction or progress.

What’s interesting is what experts say the root of the problem is: optimism.

That’s right. We’re too optimistic about what we will do in the future, so we avoid starting the work it will take to accomplish our goals right now.

Tell me about it. Every day this week I’ve been optimistic about getting up at my normal work time and sitting down to summarize my stack of thesis research. And every day, I end up having to go to my husband’s office mid-day so I can focus and get things done.

There’s a Solution

So here is what I want to say, on this last day of 2008.

This year, let’s forget resolutions. In fact, let’s not even worry about milestones. Instead, I’m going to focus on a theme.

Here’s why I love themes instead of resolutions: because themes provide focus. Focus provides drive. Drive provides action. And also themes are flexible. And there is freedom in that. Themes are not specifically tailored goals designed to move forward one part of my life, which is why I think I always fail at resolutions. They are too rigid, too unrealistic, too optimistic, and too boxed-in.

I am tired of thinking of my life in distinct, discrete segments, because that’s not the way life works. What I’ve realized is, chances are, if I’m dealing with something in one area of my life, chances are, it’s bleeding over into another one.

What I’m Doing

So here’s where I’m going to start, starting today. One theme. One simple yet profoundly complex and somewhat terrifying word: discipline.

And here’s what I believe about this theme. Even though it sounds contradictory, I think that discipline actually will bring more freedom into my world. I’ll be honest and say I’m completely terrified and at the same time excited to begin working out this theme in my life. Who knows how long I will chase this theme. Maybe a year. Maybe a month. Maybe a lifetime.

What About You?

Will you reject the idea of resolutions and avoid the danger of new and instead join me in embracing a theme for your life, today, whatever day that is?

If so, here’s the next step: have the courage to say it aloud. Tell a friend. Journal it. Or, better yet, since you’re here, commit it to bandwidth. Share it in the comments section here, and we’ll start this journey together.

Because although themes are wonderful as an idea, they’re even better in action.

By Tiffany Monhollon | December 31, 2008

Topics: Blogging, Goals, Learning, Life, Personal Development |

19 Responses to “Forget Resolutions. The Secret to Freedom and Focus this Year.”

  1. Jonathan Mead Says:
    January 1st, 2009 at 2:21 am

    Thank you Tiffany for the link. Good luck this year on giving up on all the things that really don’t matter.

  2. Tiffany Monhollon Says:
    January 1st, 2009 at 3:00 am

    @ Jonathan - Thanks for your always inspirational writing!

    I’ve come to realize that embracing the process and the flow of life is important as a way of learning and growing. I always love how your writing reflects those ideas in creative ways.

  3. Mark W. Says:
    January 1st, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    First of all, Happy New Year!
    I don’t care for New Year’s resolutions for many of the same reasons you state above. Let’s say you accomplish a resolution in March, June, or whatever. What do you do then - wait until the end of the year to add to your list or make another resolution during the year? What exactly is so special about Jan. 1 except that it is the first day of the calendar year. I guess we all need a benchmark but I digress.
    The best part of the post for me was the section on procrastination and the link to optimism. Also the link to the CNN article was very interesting. I hadn’t heard of behavioral economists before but I can see how this can be a very effective technique to avoid procrastination.
    Now I think themes are a good idea since they’re like a behavior modification that can be transferred across various resolutions regardless of the date on the calendar. So my theme starting tomorrow (today is a holiday :)) would have to be stop procrastinating. I can think of others but I want to focus on this one theme right now. Thanks for this post.

  4. Tiffany Monhollon Says:
    January 2nd, 2009 at 1:11 am

    @ Mark - Glad this ressonated! I also think benchmarking is great, and I’m thankful to have certain times that are set aside for reflection because I think it’s important. And while resolutions work for some people, I tend to need something that is flexible yet motivational. I’m hoping themes work - it’s worth trying out!

    I love the theme of stop procrastinating. Best wishes for your progress on this in a fantastic new year!

  5. Tiffany Monhollon Says:
    January 2nd, 2009 at 3:41 am

    Update: I’m hashtagging tweets related to my 2009 theme #mytheme - if you’re on Twitter, feel free to tag along.

  6. Joy, Contribution and Journey of 2009 - GenPink Says:
    January 2nd, 2009 at 5:35 am

    [...] My solution has always been to create big picture goals that resemble more of a pathway than a particular to-do list. To-do list type resolutions never work for me because my focus and priorities change as the year progresses and consequently by February I can’t even remember what I wanted to accomplish. I think setting a goal with a 12 month deadline only breeds procrastination which results in guilt. [...]

  7. Tiffany Monhollon Says:
    January 2nd, 2009 at 8:34 am

    I love Elysa’s post she linked to here from. She talks about another great post on this topic Chris Brogan wrote, where he says have three words for the year.

    I think mine would be relationships, ideas and purpose. Under the theme of discipline - there is so much there to learn and discover. :)

  8. William Arruda Says:
    January 2nd, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    Hello Tiffany,

    I LOVE the idea of themes. It is all about focus! When I established my ‘resolutions’ for this year, I didn’t realize it, but they are themes…rather than specific goals. For my business, Reach Personal Branding, I have some specific goals and some themes (do less stuff better, for example). I am writing and posting my themes so I will see them every day and be reminded of these commitments. Thanks for this thoughtful and insightful post.

    All the best to you for 2009!

  9. Tiffany Monhollon Says:
    January 2nd, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    @ William - It’s so great to know I’m not alone in using this technique! Also always a fantastic way to start the new year by helping other people as they plan too. Thanks so much for the comment!

  10. Steve Errey - The Confidence Guy Says:
    January 3rd, 2009 at 9:08 pm

    Spot on Tiffany. I stopped dealing in goals some time ago, for the reasons you mention and I have a pretty clear view on Resolutions too!

    You call it a ‘theme’, I call it a ‘game’. The point is that you have to engage with it on an ongoing basis, and the game has to mean something to you. The point is to learn how to play the game so that you can be a great player.

    The point of playing is because you love the game.

    All the best for 2009 :D

  11. Tiffany Monhollon Says:
    January 3rd, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    @ Steve - Interesting idea to think in terms of a game - I think you’re right on in the idea that you have to do something that engages you, and think of things in those terms.

  12. One thing. at Personal PR Says:
    January 8th, 2009 at 12:48 am

    [...] just once, pick one thing. Focus on it. See what [...]

  13. How To Be Productive. All You Have To Do Is Focus « The Paperweight Says:
    January 9th, 2009 at 2:14 am

    [...] of the strategy you implement to escape distraction are up to you, but the important thing is to be disciplined. The very reason that Twitter, IM and Facebook are such big distractions is that we enjoy the time [...]

  14. William Mitchell, CPRW Says:
    January 25th, 2009 at 8:24 pm


    I stopped making resolutions years ago. It’s like the “I’ll start my diet on Monday” think. Does it ever work? I have a friend who’s resolution list grows longer every year because they just tack this year’s resolution onto the list of unfulfilled ones from years past.

    As you mentioned, the key is focus … not just on January 1st, but year-round.

  15. pellassurse Says:
    May 31st, 2009 at 1:35 am

    I just came back from vaction and my boss surprised me with a lay off. So I’m pretty depressed right now and looking for another damn job. I got plan to make some money and got my self in Hawaii, I just dream about that wonderful place in the world.

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