01/06/2012 08:22 pm ET Updated Mar 07, 2012

The Only Resolution You Should Make for New Year's

I'm a sucker just like everyone else. I've proclaimed to the universe and to the God-of-New-Year's that I would lose 10 pounds, keep my house tidy, go to the gym three times a week and only have french fries once a month. I've tried swearing off of just about everything over the years. It's never worked. Why?

I've had many a discussion on lots of topics over the years, and have polled people about a variety of things. I'm used to getting answers that span the bell curve -- one, two standard deviations -- just as you would expect. One day I decided to poll people about the success of their resolutions. The answer was, overwhelmingly: I failed.

The question is why?

New Year's resolutions are invariably about "loss" -- we resolve to give up something or commit to something for our own betterment. Resolutions tend to have a binary answer -- you either lost the weight, or didn't. You either made it to the gym three times a week, or didn't. But we, as humans, don't like to give things up. What if instead, we turned New Year's resolutions on their heads and did something that was more about "gaining" instead of a "losing"? What if we were to give ourselves "themes" for the year that weren't about achieving a specific, measurable goal, but instead were about taking on a new way of being in the world?

My first-ever theme went something like this: "For one year, I will only be dramatic when drama is necessary." Now this was going to be no easy feat. At the time, I was living in Hollywood producing movies for Walt Disney Studios. I was surrounded by drama, over-the-top personalities and grueling schedules all the time. Was it possible for me to cut out the drama?

My theme was really about being choiceful in my behavior. By taking a millisecond pause before responding to things, I was granting myself permission to decide whether I was going to respond simply or react dramatically. I was giving myself permission to choose to act differently.

It didn't completely stick at first. I regularly had to remind myself to "pause before reacting." By February, things were becoming more stable. By August, the pause was unconscious. My "theme" had become part of my life.

New Year's themes are about changing your behavior and mindset. They are about giving yourself permission to act differently. They give you an opportunity to address parts of your life in a balanced, thoughtful way.

I've seen a middle-aged man work on "bringing more joy into his life," and a girlfriend adopt the theme of "increasing her portfolio of happiness." A business client focused for a year on "making decisive decisions," and a guy friend going through a tough time focused on "learning the difference between real and magical thinking."

Not sure how to come up with your 2012 New Year's theme? Here are some suggestions:

  • Out of work? Make getting a job my full-time job.
  • Member of Congress? Put Americans, not my ego or party politics, first.
  • Not finding love? Act like Audrey Hepburn (or another person/character who seems to "get" love.)
  • Feeling lonely? Focus on friendship and building a community of support.
  • Overwhelmed by the insanity of your life? Spend a year NOT using the words "crazy", "busy," or the phrase "crazy busy." You'll be amazed how this simple word replacement can change your entire demeanor.

My 2011 theme was "to only have people in my life who treat me like I deserve to be treated." It was a challenging and sad year, knowing that some of the people in my life weren't going to make the cut. Like a favorite well-worn sweater, I decided to "give" these people to Goodwill (the charity that takes clothing donations), knowing that someday someone would love them as much as I once had. Amazingly, once the heavy-burden people were gone, there was room for better-suited people to come in.

What will your New Year's theme be? In these troubling and unstable times, what theme can you take on to change your life, and perhaps the world, for the better? Share your theme on Twitter, hashtag #NYTheme.

For more by Susanne Goldstein, click here.

For more on mindfulness, click here.