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Riva Greenberg

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A Resolution to Stick With: Be a Contribution

Posted: 01/05/11 06:56 PM ET

I have not made any new year's resolutions. I never do -- not since turning old enough to realize they're a cruel joke we play on ourselves.

There are three reasons why I don't make resolutions:

  1. If I don't keep them, I'll feel like a failure.
  2. If there's something I really want to do, I'll do it.
  3. There's a much better way to make lasting changes.

Last week, reporters were asking everyone on the streets of New York City, "What are your new year's resolutions?" and then experts on those same morning news shows told us new year's resolutions don't work -- not unless they make you happy. With this I agree.

Most resolutions fail because they don't make us happy while trying to achieve them. (Such resolutions include losing weight, exercising more, working harder, being nicer to your mother-in-law, etc.) Also, they aren't attached to anything bigger than ourselves.

Statistics show that 80 percent of people give up on their resolutions within six months, most within three months, and some fall off the wagon only one week after getting on.

I have a proposition for increasing your odds of accomplishing your resolutions -- or any goal.

Success Is About Shifting Mindsets

Google "How to keep your new year's resolution" and you'll find a ton of articles providing tactical strategies: create measurable goals, take small steps, have a plan for obstacles, hold yourself accountable. Forget it. If your resolution isn't rooted in positively impacting others in some way, chances are high that you will be among the 80 percent who quit.

We have a much greater chance of accomplishing a goal if it is truly meaningful to us and also helps others. Yes, accomplishing a goal must make us happy -- not the kind of happiness that comes from momentary pleasures like a new this or that or even losing a few pounds, but the kind that comes from achieving something truly meaningful and deeply important. Anything that fits that descriptor will mean it also benefits someone else. The happiness derived from this reward also sustains our actions.

I propose that the reason most new year's resolutions don't get fulfilled is because they just involve ourselves. Without the tie to our greater human family, they do not have enough drive and sustaining force behind them to keep us going.

Not to be repetitive, but to be crystal clear, the key here is the fact that as social animals, our motivation to accomplish something increases when our goal is related to others. Our happiness increases when what we do significantly helps someone else.

A Different Orientation: Being a "Contribution" to Others

You can follow all those rules for sticking to your resolution -- although without the goal being deeply meaningful for you and tied to benefiting another, you'll give up on the rules, too -- or you can try a different "way of being" in the world that integrally ties what you do to helping others. If I see myself as being a "contribution" in the world rather than just accomplishing a goal for myself, then whatever I do, my driving force is to help others.

While being a "contribution" sounds woo-woo- and zen-like, the actual practice of going through the day from a place of helping others does three things. It:

  1. Fulfills our desire for meaningfulness
  2. Creates happiness for the recipient of our actions and thus ourselves
  3. Stirs a forceful energy within us to accomplish our goals

Being a Contribution to Your Family

If one of your resolutions was one of this year's most popular -- to lose weight or exercise -- ask yourself right now, "Why do I want to do this?" Then ask yourself, "Which is more compelling: losing 20 pounds to look better and fit more comfortably into my clothes or becoming healthy so that I can care for my children now and for as long as they need me and see my grandchildren come into the world?"

If you see yourself as being a contribution to your family, then getting and staying healthy becomes deeply compelling. That may mean shedding some pounds and getting more exercise. It may be just what you made a resolution to do, but since it comes from being a contribution to your family, you will be far more motivated to accomplish it.

Being a Contribution at Work

If you come from being a contribution at work, you will find pleasure in things you now find mundane. Everyday tasks become tinged with good feelings of helping your coworkers. Thus your work satisfaction increases, and as a result you become more productive.

Being more productive at work was also one of the top New Year's resolutions this year. But instead of pushing yourself to do better or more, you accomplish your goal through giving to others.

I do most of my work alone behind the computer. I have sat at this computer numerous times nearly pulling my hair out because the post isn't good enough. Laboring over every other word because, after all, each one defines me. Deflated and fearful that people will leave caustic comments. Oh, yes, my ego is alive and well.

But when I write something only from the desire to benefit my readers, in other words write from the mode of being a "contribution," my roadblocks suddenly retract. Those nagging, critical, internal voices judging the quality of my work, my hesitation because naysayers will leave critical comments, and my ego's desire for recognition fall away. I focus only on what I want to give and the writing -- if you can imagine this -- becomes a freeing and joyful experience.

So I'm not always in the mindset of being a contribution. Like you, I get caught up in everyday pressures, media messages to be far younger, thinner and more beautiful than I ever will be, and my internal critic and ego wake up from their naps far too early. But I know that when I can be in that space of contribution, I get the deep satisfaction that comes from giving to others, and the world becomes an easier, lovelier and more enlivened place.

Here's my advice: Look for why your resolution is really meaningful to you and how it will benefit your family, coworkers and/or the world at large. You'll be setting yourself up for success this year instead of another string of failed resolutions.

 
 
 

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