Once upon a time, I used to hate New Year’s Day. It wasn’t because I had missed out on that romantic New Year’s kiss the night before, for the umteenth year in a row. It wasn’t because I had gorged myself on food and was feeling fat and flabby. No, it was because I, like most Americans, had made my list of New Year’s resolutions, but was bracing myself for the impending failure of not accomplishing them.
Sure, maybe I was under some delusion that THIS was going to be the year that I actually got up early in the mornings to work out, remembered my friends’ birthdays, went to sleep earlier and made more “down time” for myself. That somehow, the stars were going to align such that I figured out what I wanted to do with my life, met the man of my dreams and won the lottery. But deep down, I knew that come January 15, life would be back to same old routine it had been.
If you can relate to my New Year’s blues, then I am here today to tell you that there is hope. I have figured out how to have my New Year’s resolutions come true, and here is how I did it: by focusing on building my Personal Integrity, instead of focusing on the resolutions themselves.
At the Handel Group, we define Personal Integrity as relating to your word to yourself as if it were the law. Think about that for a minute. What would it be like if your word was law to yourself? As if whatever you said you were going to do, you actually did. What would it feel like to trust yourself so completely that you could relax and rest comfortably, knowing that you were going to be taken care of, because YOU were on the job? Holy cow.
The good news about Personal Integrity is that it really is like a muscle that you can strengthen. The more you practice keeping your word to yourself, the easier it becomes; just like the more you practice curling a ten pound weight, the easier it becomes. For example, in graduate school, my dream was to get up by 8am and head into lab by 9am so that I could get a good start on my day. But back then, I was a mega-brat about waking up. I would set my alarm for 8am, but then sleep through an hour of talk radio, until the alarm finally turned itself off on its own, before finally rolling out of bed around 9:30. Well, once I decided that my word was going to be law, I started fighting back against the brat. I practiced getting up ONE day a week at 8am. Then two, then three, until finally it became a habit for every day. It wasn’t always easy, and I often failed, especially at the beginning, but the more I practiced getting up at 8am, the more routine it became and the easier it became.
One of the best things about Personal Integrity is that it’s a transferable skill. Once I figured out how to get myself out of bed at 8am, I found that I could use this “muscle” to also go running, or show up on time to events, or have difficult, but necessary, conversations. The key was for me to decide that I was going to be in the game of building my Personal Integrity. Making and keeping commitments to myself became about more than just the commitments themselves: it was about developing my ability to keep commitments to myself. Which then meant that I could keep just about any commitment to myself.
So this New Year’s, I have a challenge for you. Instead of making resolutions, make a practice to build your personal integrity. Pick a few commitments, or promises, to yourself each week. Make them doable, but a stretch. Share them with your friends or a coach, so that you can be accountable to someone else. Record them each week. If you succeed at your promises one week, celebrate. If you fail, ask yourself why and strengthen your resolve to succeed next week, but do not feel bad or beat yourself up about it (I’ll save this topic for another blog). Put yourself in the game of building your Personal Integrity, instead of the game of New Year’s resolutions, and then watch as your dreams for the new year really do come true.
Dr. Samantha Sutton is a Senior Coach and Vice President and Director of Courses and Seminars at The Handel Group®. Samantha designs and leads the Handel Group’s® flagship workshop, the Life Coaching Crash Course. She additionally coaches at universities such as Stanford and MIT. Prior to becoming a coach, Samantha received a Ph.D. in Biological Engineering from MIT.