GUEST AUTHOR BLOG: New Year Resolutions & No Excuses by David Neenan Co-author of the upcoming book, "No Excuses: Take Responsibility for Your Own Success."
Remember when TV star Flip Wilson used to claim, “The devil made me do it!” He’d grin and shrug—not responsible.
Similar excuses bedevil the annual ritual of New Year resolutions, which studies show most are not kept. “My husband wanted me to quit smoking, but I just couldn’t stick with it.” “I promised my mom I would start turning in my homework on time, but things got away from me again.” “My wife made me resolve to stop speeding, but…”
Shifting “responsibility” to someone else is only part of the problem here. That’s an excuse, it’s undesirable, and it certainly fouls up the human relationships behind it. Two people are upset. It’s one of the six universal excuses described in my book, "No Excuses."
But the underlying difficulty is that our resolvers have made inauthentic declarations. They didn’t really want whatever; someone else did. And if you are that someone else, your “resolution” is equally doomed—not only can you not declare change for someone else, you are setting yourself up for disappointment because your goal relies on someone else’s action.
Desire is the key to personal transformation. A change may be suggested by someone else; or provoked by a reaction from someone else; but the action that produces change rests on the foundation of personal desire.
For example, I quit smoking (35 years ago!) in order to become the sort of dad I wanted to be after my 3-year-old started gasping and choking pointedly whenever she smelled cigarette smoke on me. I wanted to be a father who is healthy and sets a good example; that desire enabled me to take action and stop.
My coauthor, Eric Lucas, simply wanted to be healthier, so he stopped smoking as a present to himself (27 years ago!) on the first anniversary of the day he quit drinking. He was tired of painful breathing; he wanted to be a long-distance runner.
Both of us based this profound change on profound, authentic personal desire. Both of us just quit—period. The change itself was simple, though not easy, a description that applies to so much of what people consider “success” in life. By the way, neither of us stopped at New Year; we stopped when our desire to quit crystallized a decision to act. The depth of our desire is reflected in the many smoke free decades since. Between us it’s more than a half-century without cigarettes.
So New Year resolutions are often only exercises in excusing your own failure—unless you resolve something you truly, authentically want for yourself. And if that’s the case, why wait for New Year?
David Neenan is the chairman of The Neenan Company, headquartered in Fort Collins, Colorado. His new book, No Excuses: Take Responsibility for Your Own Success, coauthored with Eric Lucas, will be released in early March.
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