It's that time of the year again. Time to come up with a list of resolutions of how to improve your life. What's different about this year is that we are on the verge of a decade change: a chance for a fresh approach, if ever there was one.
Without a doubt, the Great Recession was a heckuva way to finish a decade. And, if the saying that we reap what we sow holds true, it'd be interesting to take a moment to reflect on where our heads were ten years ago. On the cusp of the millennium, as I recall, all we were worried about was Y2k and whether or not our computers would crash or our alarm clocks would go off when we woke up on New Year's Day. Our main goal was to make sure our lives just kept humming along, without losing all of our systems. Not the most long-term or visionary of goals. Quickly assured that everything was intact as of 12:01 AM January 1, 2000, the years that followed were characterized by the continued Pursuit of More ... more wealth, status, celebrity, possessions, information and busy-ness -- which spun to a frenzied state of chaos and ended in the Great Recession, a crushing collapse under the weight of all of our excesses.
For all of the suffering, the Great Recession has brought some great lessons too. For one, it's probably wise to have a longer-term goal in mind at the beginning of a decade. Two, in the face of losing everything, we learned what really matters to us. We learned we can survive on less than we thought we needed, even if we enjoy having more. And we discovered that no amount of wealth, no position and no industry is immune to losing security. Senior executives in the sunset of their careers lost their jobs, prestige industries are teetering on irrelevance and even the wealthiest individuals and most noble institutions lost huge fortunes to Bernard Madoff. Finally, we learned how small and interconnected the entire world is. What happens in another country -- or to your neighbor across the street -- affects you.
Good lessons. Now what do we do with them? As we ponder 2011 and our vision for a new decade, we should build on these lessons and use them to springboard into a stronger era. Typically, resolutions are about breaking habits, like losing weight, exercising more or quitting smoking. They also rarely last more than three weeks, if that, before the gravitational pull of life sets in. That's because they are resolutions of the surface, rather than resolutions of the soul. So for 2011, I propose we give new, much deeper meaning to traditional New Year's resolutions, building upon the lessons of The Great Recession:
1. Lose weight. No, not just those extra pounds and love handles. This year, resolve to continuously shed the things in your life of only marginal value and focus on those of true value to you. In the face of the possibility of losing everything over the past year, take inventory of the items that you realized really matter. Then pledge to concentrate on those people, commitments and belongings you treasure most and stop wasting your limited time and resources on the things that just weigh you down.
2. Create balance. I don't just mean resolving to give up your workaholic ways. This is about getting the equation between work, home, friends and family right. When chaos ensues -- whether global, like the recession, or personal, like a divorce or illness -- if any one aspect of your life gets damaged, you need the others to be there to support you, keep you fueled and help you stabilize. So, identify all of the buckets of your life and then plan weekly activities in each area so all are nurtured and none are ever neglected - time to prepare for peak performance meetings at work, time with family and friends, time for exercise and rest. The entire concept of the Balanced Life Planner, which I designed in partnership with FranklinCovey, was in response to our increased need to tend to all parts of our lives.
3. Get organized. Sure, we all need to rearrange our sock drawers, but now is the time to go well beyond the surface and truly get your most valuable possessions in order. If you're disorganized when any crisis hits, you're not agile and able to adapt quickly. The near economic collapse taught us that change can be sudden, and that no one is totally immune. So, proactively assess the five key areas of your life -- belongings, contacts, finances, information and time -- and create simple, reliable systems that will put you in control and give you instant access to what you need. You'll feel prepared, confident and agile.
4. Quit, once and for all. And I don't mean smoking, in this case. I'm referring to the inordinate amount of multitasking that has become our societal habit, which affects our ability to concentrate on anything. Multitasking has scientifically been proven to impair brain function, put our physical safety at risk, diminish our performance at work and impair our interpersonal relationships. In large part, I attribute the surprise collapse of the economy to the fact that, for the past decade, we were too distracted to pay attention to each other, to opportunities and to warning signs of problems ahead. Consciously redevelop your ability to concentrate on one thing at a time, and be truly present in the moment. It's a better way to build a quality life.
5. Shape up. I'm not talking about your figure; I'm talking about getting your attitude in shape, by exercising humility and gratitude. As we climb out of the Great Recession and things begin looking up, don't let your head get too big, thinking you are "entitled" or part of a special class as so many did in the boom years of the past decade. For 2011, strengthen your commitment to practicing gratitude and giving back. In your planner, end each day by writing down the one thing that happened for which you are most grateful. And schedule time to do at least one thing each week to help others -- whether assisting a friend, volunteering in your community or supporting a charity. It will keep you well connected and humble at the same time.
6. Break out of your shell. I don't mean becoming more social. One of the outcomes of the Great Recession is that we discovered a great resourcefulness in ourselves, as we were presented situations and challenges that we could not have possibly imagined ourselves facing. This was a nice surprise that strengthened us. As the economy improves, avoid falling back into limiting self-beliefs, by resolving to always include something in your schedule that you can't possibly picture yourself doing. For me, it was taking gymnastics lessons when I was 47 years old and finding out that I actually could do a one-armed cartwheel. But it can be anything that works against your preconceptions of what is possible. Check out courses and activities at a local college or community center. When you occupy yourself with something totally off your radar or push yourself beyond your comfort zone, it builds your confidence and reminds you that you're capable of facing any challenge and meeting every new opportunity.
7. Be a better person . And by this I don't mean becoming someone different than you are. In a crisis, people find a way to cope -- understanding what survival really means to them -- and their best, most graceful self usually comes out. I'd ask you to identify the One Thing you did to get through the past year such as bravely exploring opportunities, investing more time in relationships or taking the time to breathe and enjoy your free time. Perhaps the one resolution you need to make is not to change anything about yourself, but to keep doing the One Thing that came out in the crisis, even as times get better. If that technique helped you survive during the crisis, it will clearly help you THRIVE during good times.
Most importantly, as you make any New Year's resolutions, remember to go way beyond the surface and recognize that the power to grow, prosper and find happiness comes from within your core. Before the recession, credibility and power were attached to wealth, status, industry. Too many people defined their power and worth by external factors like their salary, title, house square footage or quantity of designer handbags. People felt they could only be heard if they were attached to those external markings of success. But that's not true anymore. With the collapse of the economy, small is the new big, and ideas can come from any person, anywhere. This New Year, resolve to identify a part of yourself you've not yet given full expression, and unleash your vision for the next decade.
Editor's Note: New York Times bestselling author Julie Morgenstern is an organizing and time-management expert, business productivity consultant and speaker. Her company, Julie Morgenstern Enterprises, is dedicated to using her philosophies and methods to provide a wide range of practical solutions that transform the way people and companies function.