New Year’s Resolutions

New Year's Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions

Twenty two years ago Judy and I and three other couples started a tradition that would do us well for a long time. The eight of us originally met at various church functions and started to coalesce as a group, we all had children about the same age, similar interests, and there were enough differences among us to keep it interesting. We got together for dinners at each other’s homes, went out together – all the typical couples activities.

One January evening at our house we were relaxing after dinner and someone asked about New Years resolutions. Some had taken the plunge, some hadn’t, but we started sharing our goals for the coming year. Everyone enjoyed the evening, went home and that was that.

That summer one of the group asked how we were doing on the goals. Some of the goals were a little more memorable than others, and nobody remembered very many of them. The memorable ones made for good summer evening on-the-deck discussion.

Who would have guessed, but come December we started asking each other how our goal planning for the next year was coming! Each of us remembered some of the goals we had set for the year, and we clearly knew which ones were successful and which could be a little embarrassing. Everyone was excited to share and compare goals, but we didn’t pry into what the new goals were, we wanted to save that for a big reveal party in January.

It’s never easy to find an evening when three or four couples are all available for a long evening of eating, drinking and sharing our personal plans, but somehow we were able to make it happen that year and every January for the next twenty years. Goals night became a priority for all of us.

We developed a pattern over the years. We’d meet at someone’s house, they’d cook dinner and everyone brought a bottle or two of wine. After a nice dinner of sharing the events of the last week and the normal dinner time conversation, we’d retire to the living room for some in-depth conversation. I had become the scribe, writing down what each person planned for the coming year, and bringing last year’s list for everyone to think on. After a few minutes of quiet reflection and writing, someone started sharing how they did against last year’s goals. Sometimes it wasn’t pretty. Sometimes the success was astounding! In either case there was a lot of good-natured ribbing, congratulations, and serious discussion about what it meant.

Most interesting was the sharing of plans for the year. Some were banal – lose ten pounds, some were practical – write a will, and some were impossible – do something new every day. The best were the serious life changing goals. Learning to play a particularly difficult musical instrument. Overcoming clinical depression. Helping a child deal with serious issues. Picking up a satisfying lifelong hobby.

Over time the goal setting uncovered personality traits, individual foibles, or temporary troubles. There was the occasional “Pass,” when one of us felt compelled to be a little more private for the year. Some of us tended to focus on specific actions, or the measurement and process to meet the goals, and others were quite esoteric on what they hoped to attain. We all learned so much about each other by sharing goals year to year. During the discussion we learned much more about how we could be successful with the goals, or explaining what happened during the year that kept us from this version of success.

I’ve read through my goals from the last twenty years and find a few of them quite entertaining. Finishing biographies for Jim, Louie, Lucy and Grace was on the list. I’m still working on that one! You can find the results on this blog; look at the categories list. Another recurring goal was to increase my savings rate by 1% per year. Doing that for almost twenty years may have been the most important financial decision I’ve made in my lifetime. Looking back at the dozens of goals, it is amazing to me now how many were actually completed! Some took many years, some were trivial, and a few are in process or have been dropped.

Change takes over everything, and this tradition was certainly one of them. Of the four couples who started this journey in 1993, two have since gone their separate ways. The critical mass was no longer sustained and we no longer meet to discuss what’s coming in the new year. I still invest several hours of my meditation time thinking about and listing what my possible goals are for the coming year, but there was a certain motivation knowing that seven other people would hear them, comment on them, challenge the goals and then challenge me to do better. Then a year later they’d expect me to tell them whether I met the goals or not, and explain myself.

If you have a group of friends, this could be a good way to get to know them and yourselves better. Maybe give it a try? It worked for me.

PS … Recently I read a good book about simplifying your life, and the authors recommended not doing goals, annually or ever. Argh! Grandpa Guy Havelick