02/23/2011 07:25 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Once More, With Feeling!

Mark Twain once said that New Year's Day was "the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week, you can begin paving hell with them as usual." I don't know how many people began laying concrete the first week of January. What I do know is that by the end of January, 33 percent of all the people who claim to have made a New Year's resolution have buried them in the sand.

I doubt anyone will find this startling. New Year's resolutions are notorious for being easy to proclaim and difficult to keep. Creating changes in our own lives is always more complex and complicated than we imagined. We are often unknowingly unprepared for the task. Besides, no law says that you have to keep your resolution. On the other hand, there is no law that says you can't start over.

Personally, I stopped making New Year's resolutions. As I wrote last year in my blog, "The New Year's Resolution Revolution," my resolutions would become tangled up with my Christmas lights. I regarded them as a holiday tradition, neglecting to confer them with any true value or measure of personal significance. For me, adhering to the international but arbitrarily assigned starting date of Jan. 1 was distracting.

This is not to say that resolutions are obstacles to making a change in your life. On the contrary, they are an excellent, if not vital, tool for navigating your way through the change process. If you made a New Year's resolution that has slipped or is slipping away from you, take a moment to reassess. Ask yourself if making the change you thought you resolved to make still appeals to you. If any part of you says "yes," it is because you harbor a real desire to do it. So, ignore the calendar and use that aspiration as your new starting point.

However, take a moment to assess where things fell apart or never came together the first time out. Identify the soft spots. Otherwise, you risk repeating what you did before and wind up with the same unsuccessful results. Besides, you have to avoid initiating or reinforcing negative behavioral patterns. They are such a waste of time and energy. What is important now is for you to direct your attention and intention toward creating a brand new beginning and achieving a fulfilling outcome.

Making a change in your life requires you to engage in an ongoing process of thinking and taking action. If you are, as I was, under the assumption that making a resolution is the first step of the process, let go of that thought. You cannot put the cart before the horse and expect to get anywhere. Your resolution has to be a declaration of an action you decided to take in order to affect a specific change in your life. It is not something you can just whip up. It is a contemplative action. It requires some soul-searching. An epiphany would be even better.

Be certain your resolution has real meaning. At a minimum, it has to pertain to a change you deem is in your best interests to make. Preferably, it is a change you are passionate, if not enthusiastic, about making. Ideally, you comprehend this change as a means of exercising more control over your life. Unless your change fits into one of these categories, you will never be able to develop or sustain the motivation and commitment necessary to achieve your desired change.

The more meaning you attach to your resolution, the more likely you will keep it. Meaning expands your focus, enabling you to view the change you want to make as an instrument of self-control. This intensified perspective promotes a deeper appreciation of the importance or consequences of your own thoughts and behaviors. It raises the stakes. You are definitely less likely to break your resolution. Instead, your fortitude feeds your own sense of motivation and commitment. A perpetual cycle begins that inspires you to keep moving forward and creates and automatic lifeline that rescues you from the rough patches that you are sure to encounter.

In addition to establishing a meaning, your resolution has to set forth the purpose of the change you want to make. This is where you flip your focus around and zoom in on the primary goal you hope to achieve. I use the term "primary" because the change process actually requires you make several changes, which means making supplement goals. Focus in on the details of your goals until you can with all honesty, certainty and clarity that they are reasonable, realistic, measurable, and can be broken down into manageable steps -- baby goals!

The combination of all your goals is what constitutes a plan of action, another requirement of the change process. However, if the primary goal is off, it will skew all the others, and you will never develop a viable plan. Any action you take will yield a mistake or chaos, definitely not a desirable change. Without any plan, the meaning or purpose of your resolution becomes irrational, irresponsible or superficial. There is no source of motivation of commitment -- no reason to keep going. Any efforts to change will be frustrating or void. Your resolution will be nothing more than an inconsequential or exasperating thought that you push, wish, or let fade away.

If you want to begin again to make a change in your life, formulating a resolution is a way to catalyze your thoughts and action. Take the task seriously and put your heart and soul into it. The care and attention you devote to crafting your resolution correlate directly with your chances of success. Besides, making a significant change in your life can take anywhere from six weeks to six months -- or more -- to achieve. A resolution can sure come in handy.

Tricia Ferrone, Capital LifeWorks,