With the new year approaching, I will be dedicating my initial posts to the subject of resolutions. Most people make resolutions at the beginning of the year. Out of all the days of the year, January 1st probably most represents the idea of starting over. So many things start over on that day – calendars, a new tax year, a new fiscal year for many corporations, new legislation, etc. It is definitely a milestone date. It is the one day of the year where everybody fixates on a particular second of time – 11:59:59 is the old year and 12:00:00 is the new year. It is like the gun that goes off at the beginning of a race. So, it is a great time to make new commitments. The more meaningful the start date, the more likely you are to take new commitments seriously. Now, let me stress something here. While January 1st is a great day to start new resolutions, resolution-making can and should be done at other times of the year. I will discuss this in more detail after the new year has begun.
In today’s blog post, I want to give my first piece of advice when making resolutions and that is to set your start date in advance. There is something that happens to you in the days leading up to your anticipated start date. The resolution begins to build up in your mind. Consciously or unconsciously, you begin to mentally prepare yourself for the commitment as you move closer and closer to your start date. The new habit or commitment you will be making begins to loom larger and larger on the horizon and you are frequently being reminded of the fact that your life will be changing in some way when your commitment date arrives. Over time, the life changes that are necessary to accommodate this new change become apparent and you begin to deal with those kinds of issues in your mind. Also, during that time, you are likely to discuss your resolution(s) with other people and over time you begin to feel a sense of accountability to the commitment you are making and you may even get some people to join you.
Now, this is not to say that if you make a resolution to start something tomorrow, that you cannot do it. But, making resolutions in advance increases the odds that you will follow through on it. I have been making New Year’s Resolutions for 15 years and I recall one year (2005?) where I came up with some resolutions at about 5 p.m. on New Year’s Eve while sitting on my recliner. I wrote some resolutions down on a sheet of paper and made my commitment. I don’t recall what those resolutions were and if I did act on them, it was only for a short while. I didn’t give time for the root to grow and my level of commitment died very quickly. I would have been better off planning a start date sometime later in January, or even February. There is no law that says your New Year’s Resolutions have to start on the 1st anyway. A change you are going to make during the new year doesn’t need to start at the exact beginning of the year. For example, if me or my wife make a dieting resolution, we do not start it until after the first weekend. That is usually when all the parties and get-togethers are over with. You can also take a staggering approach to multiple resolutions. Plan one to start at the beginning of the year and another one to start a month or two later. That way you’re only focusing on one thing at a time. Be creative.
If it makes you feel better, it is not necessary to have the details of a resolution ironed out in advance. At least have the concept determined and you can fill in the details later. For example, if you plan to start exercising at the beginning of the year, commit to it in November but save the details of how and when you will do it until after Thanksgiving. Now, there is an advantage to having the details worked out early in that you may come up with better ideas of how to implement the resolution over time, but I would say that at the very least have the basic idea of what you are going to do determined ahead of time.
What does ahead of time mean? The longer the better but if you want something specific, I would say 3 weeks – give or take. Next year, I am resolving to get my family out of debt. And when I say get out of debt, I mean getting on the path to getting out of debt. I wish it would only take a year. Now, the truth is I’ve been wanting to do this for awhile and have attempted to do this several times. Sometimes it was the lack of preparation that caused my efforts to fail and sometimes it was just bad timing. The beginning of the year is pretty calm for us. Work is pretty quiet and there are not a lot of birthdays in our family at that time of year. It should be a great time for us to begin budgeting our money. So now I know in the back of my mind that January is going to mean a new way of life when it comes to how we handle our money.