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Happy New Life: The One and Only Rule for Crafting New Year’s Resolutions

Dear Goal-Setter,

Whether I’m teaching children, professionals, or seniors, if I could talk about only three things in a “Last Lecture,” this would surely be one of them.

In crafting your resolutions for the new year, just remember:

You’re allowed to dream big and you’re allowed to lie low. You’re allowed to craft an objective and goal-driven list of things to do and you’re allowed to craft a subjective and values-driven list of ways to live. And you’re allowed to wish for anything without someone else telling you that it’s not important enough, not worthy enough, or not admirable enough.

Setting a big goal to graduate with cum laude honors is no better or worse than purposely stepping back, committing to simplify, and downgrading yourself to a lower-paying job just to spend more time with loved ones and get more rest. Setting a measurable goal to run the Boston Marathon exactly 18 minutes and 45 seconds faster this year is no more or less of a resolution than vaguely saying that from now on you’ll be a more understanding and forgiving daughter, friend, and wife. And setting a goal to make $100,000 for yourself and developing the business savvy to do it is no more or less admirable than setting a goal to build a school for others and organizing a community to run it.

All your hopes and dreams are yours and yours only. They belong to your life and your life only. Don’t let anyone else tell you what you should or should not do—and certainly not what you can or can’t do.

There are no rules for resolutions other than to dig deep and live the way you’ve always imagined.

But you also need to remind yourself that as excited as you are about your resolutions, the new year will NOT bring you greater health, wealth, looks, fame, awards, titles, fun, rest, acceptance, friends, or love. That’s up to you. Stand up and roll up your sleeves because just as your hopes and dreams are yours and yours only, it’s only fair that the power to set them in motion is yours and yours only.

A fresh start is available to you any day, every day—not just at the beginning of a new year. Waking up to a new day is a far greater occasion than changing the calendar on your wall once a year.

A happier life is available to you whenever you’re ready to realize and accept your innermost desires, cast away your ugliest fears and doubts, and unlock your full and unlimited potential.

Feel empowered by this. But forgive yourself if you fail. Give yourself permission to learn. Life is beautiful in its downs too. Whether or not you can successfully cross a goal off your list, if you tried it, at least you can walk on knowing you didn’t put your life on hold.

And remember how the journey is just as important as the destination? If you’re not enjoying the steps to the goal, it’s okay to back off and give up rather than drudge on just to cross it off to say you did it. Perseverance is admirable, but in our American culture of goals, titles, and numbers on the surface, many of us push too often, enjoy too rarely. Instead of losing 10 pounds, could you win some self-love and self-acceptance? Instead of gathering the money and spending time to organize a trip to 5 countries to become more cultured, could you interact—really really interact and befriend—the waiters at your local ethnic restaurants? Remember that having a certain mindset is as much of a goal as getting to a certain measurable point. Be creative to get to the bare bones of what you want. Learning to let go, lie low, and go slow is as much of a goal as climbing high.

How many of your goals exist just to impress others? How many were made while “sleepwalking”? How many could be found on everyone else’s list of goals? How many are further steps on a path you no longer enjoy—but you are deathly afraid of hitting reset? How many goals can be abandoned and replaced with a mindset, an attitude, or a lifestyle?

How many goals are actually yours?

What small steps can you take today? What mindset or lifestyle would make you happier? What would you like to achieve this year? How would you like to live in the next 10 years? What would you like to cross off your bucket list before you’re 75? What would you like to look back on and smile about when you’re on your deathbed?

What are you waiting for?

You are given only one life.

Craft it, sculpt it, plan it.

Enjoy it, live it, love it.

You deserve it.

Happy New Year and Happy New Life.

Love Always,