Saturday, January 1, 2011

Shame in the New Year

I remember reading once how "to do" lists should be renamed "shame" lists. All we really do is commit what we think we will do to paper, don't do any of it (often because the list is so long and overwhelming), and then we go do some shaming activity to make ourselves feel better for failing to accomplish anything on the list! Sound familiar?

At no time is this cycle more prevalent than at the New Year! Big ideas occupy our to-do lists and we even have a special name for them--New Year Resolutions. Most people who have "resolved" to eat better and be more active are devouring chocolate and potato chips on the couch in front of the Rose Bowl game on New Years Day. Really!

So what's wrong here? My contention is that we often resolve to do, not be! And not doing is easy and suffering the shame for not doing is short lived. Not being is a different story, one that leaves us reflective, often challenged, and usually motivated to work harder to achieve the goal. Let me give you an example:

The New Year resolutions, to-do lists may look like this (they often do!):

For an individual

1. Eat healthy.
2. Exercise more.
3. Watch less television.
4. Stop cussing.
5. Stop using the cell phone while driving.

For an organization

1. Raise more money.
2. Provide specialized training for our staff.
3. Grow the readership of out blog.
4. Expand our service program to a new population.
5. Raise more money.

What do you notice about the list? What do you notice about yourself when you read the list? Where does the impact of the list hit you? Where's the inspiration in the list for you? How inspired are you to take it on?

These lists, in order to mean something to us and for us to hold them closely enough to be of value, must be bigger, inspiring, a stretch but attainable, and functional. Your list must be anchored in where you are at the moment, where you want to go, what you will do to get there, and include a real accountability. Say what?

So try this:

For an individual

1. I am 30 pounds overweight, feeling sluggish, and my blood cholesterol is in the unhealthy ranges. I will have a body that is healthy and will sustain me for my own peace of mind, for the sake of my family, and so I can enjoy the activities I love to do, and even discover a few new ones (like kite surfing!). I will join a daily Boot Camp program at my local gym and use the instructor as a motivator to not miss class. I will eliminate all commercially processed foods and sugars from my diet. I will not buy them and I will work with my family and friends to find healthy food alternatives. I will take a healthy eating class in January. I will drink three liters of water a day. I can measure this water intake by keeping liter bottles filled each morning and consuming them each day; I'll do what I can see. I will monitor my blood cholesterol with my physician regularly. I will make a quarterly appointment for labs and a consultation and make adjustments according to the data.

For an organization

1. My organization is underfunded to meet the needs of our constituency. We also do not have adequately trained staff and board members to do the fundraising. My goal is to have our organization be financially sustainable long term and our monthly budget running in the black. I want to double our fundraising personnel capacity. I am going to personally solicit six donors for $10,000 gifts each by February 15. I am going to write the grant for the community foundation and submit it by the January 25 deadline. I am going to retain a consultant to work with each board member personally to develop fundraising comfort and skill by January 15 and the training sessions will be complete by March 1. I will review our budget and see where I can trim expenses by 7% before the April board meeting.

Now these are resolutions! And I know there is some version of these kinds of resolutions in each of us. Really! We are not usually willing to do what we say we will do if we are not inspired or held accountable to do it. Inspiration leads to action! "Stop smoking" becomes "I feel my body is really unhealthy from my cigarette smoking, it's expensive, and finding locations to smoke is really challenging. My family worries about my longevity which makes me sad although I don't show it. I will stop smoking this year by tapering down usage and by using cessation products under the care of my physician. On day one, I will gather my family to talk with them about how I will need their active support and encouragement; we will design a plan together. I will eliminate all cigarettes by June 1 and only use cessation products. By 2012 I will be completely smoke free."

It takes courage to create change in our lives, to disrupt patterns, to change culture, to address addictions. And to do so requires some thought, some planning, some support, and a lot of accountability. Rarely do we just stop doing something or change the way we think about something. There is more to human behavior. We aren't so simple.

So grab you list of 2011 New Year resolutions. Go on, get your list! (Okay, so get a piece of paper and write them down). And re-work them, one by one, from the list you know you won't do into a plan that inspires you to achieve your goals.

Peace in the new year!