Last year at this time, I was browsing the Internet to find the best ideas for setting (and sticking to) New Year’s resolutions. I saw plenty of suggestions for what I might want to change about myself or aspire to accomplish in the new year—eat more organic foods, work out twice a week, volunteer at a local animal shelter, stop gossiping about others. All of the goals were admirable and definitely worthy of becoming New Year’s Resolutions. However, the problem is that I have always had an issue with expectations.
In my experience, setting definitive goals has often been less of a motivator and more of a deterrent to my actually accomplishing them. Each year, I set lofty goals for myself that I inevitably fail to meet, at which point the shame spiral commences. (Cut to me alone on my couch on New Year’s Eve, eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream and wallowing in guilt about how little I have accomplished over the past year.)
Sadly, I do not think I am alone in this. I believe this is why many people opt to buck the tradition of setting New Year’s resolutions altogether. However, I have been a lifelong self-improvement junkie, so I didn’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water.
Therefore, the question became: How do I trick myself into becoming a better, more successful version of myself?
Finally, I stumbled across the answer in the form of two simple yet fabulous new concepts.
Alece Ronzino of Grit and Glory is the founder/creator of OneWord365. In a December 2012 blog post, she shares the basic details of her simplistic yet revolutionary idea—ditch the list of New Year’s resolutions and choose one word to guide you through the coming year.
Well, that seems easy enough, I thought! Alece says not to overthink your word, so I went with the first thing that came to mind—ACTION. I have lived my whole life as a dreamer but not always so much a doer, and it came to me that taking action was the one thing standing between my dreams and the realization of them.
I loved this idea of choosing one word, and I felt confident about my choice. OneWord365 even uses a hashtag to keep all of the one-word choosers connected throughout the year, and users can communicate with others who have chosen the same word. I think this is fabulous, but I did not have a blog or Twitter account at the time. Therefore, I thought I might like to utilize an alternative method of keeping my mind on my guiding word during 2015. That’s when I came across the Rememberlutions Jar.
This idea adds a slight twist to the typical New Year’s resolutions. Rather than creating a list or jar full of resolutions and specific goals, this jar sits on your shelf waiting to be filled with notes of your memories and accomplishments over the course of the year. You can decorate it yourself and regularly fill it with the things that you find significant. This way, the jar you open up at the end of the year is full of wonderful things that did happen in your life rather than possibly tons of things that did not.
This was brilliant! It was so simple and so completely steeped in some of my favorite, nerdy areas of interest: positive psychology, cognitive reframing, and the growth mindset.
Dr. Martin Seligman is known as the founder of Positive Psychology. He believes that psychology has historically focused only on mental illness and not given enough, if any, attention to studying mental wellness. For over 15 years, he has been studying what makes happy people happy. He has discovered that mental health is not simply the lack of mental illness—it includes countless other characteristics and strengths!
Similarly, the Rememberlutions Jar causes a paradigm shift in the way we think about success and goal setting. Success is not defined by whether we met our exact goals we set at the beginning of any given year. No, it is so much more than that.
Success is about growth, resilience, overcoming challenges, and making small strides in the right direction (or even bouncing back when we don’t!). If a company that has only ever increased their sales by 25% in a year sets a goal to increase their sales by 100%, then have they failed if they increase their sales by 50%? No, of course not! Because the true goal was not necessarily 100% sales growth; the goal was growth, period.
It’s time we learn to acknowledge our improvements rather than focus on our perceived failures. The Rememberlutions Jar helps us do just that!
Aaron T. Beck is the father of Cognitive Therapy, and he developed the concept of cognitive reframing. Cognitive reframing is a “conscious shift in a person’s mental perspective.” This shift is usually used to turn negative thoughts into positive thoughts.
By focusing on successes rather than possible “failures” to meet resolutions, we can gradually and systematically shift our focus from what we have not accomplished to what we have. It seems so simple, yet we tend not to do it. The Rememberlutions Jar makes it easy!
I had originally been concerned that I wouldn't push myself to accomplish anything if I did not have set goals. However, with my guiding word of "action" and my new mindset, I found myself constantly searching for opportunities to do things I could add to my jar!
Dr. Carol S. Dweck discovered the concept of fixed versus growth mindsets. Those with a fixed mindset believe their talent and intelligence to be fixed, while those with a growth mindset believe those traits can be developed over time through hard work and dedication.
I have a friend who completed the Boston Marathon two years ago, around the time I met her. She had been a runner in high school and college, and I knew almost nothing about running when we met. I assumed she must have always been a natural athlete with the innate ability to outrun her opponents. However, once she decided she wanted to go to law school and started studying for the LSAT, she shared something with me.
“These logic problems are so hard, but I can tell I’ve been improving over the last few weeks. It kind of reminds me of my experience in cross country in high school,” she said.
This was a shock to me. This marathon runner had struggled with running?
Yes, as it turns out, she had. She revealed to me that she’d had difficulty meeting times and keeping up with her teammates. However, she worked hard and dedicated her time to diligently improving her pace. Even on holidays, she wouldn’t skip her daily run. The first time around, she did not meet the qualifying time to participate in the marathon. However, she continued sticking to her routine and eventually qualified by just a few seconds. Months later, she flew to Boston and completed the marathon, and she had most definitely earned her spot among all the participants.
Why do I share this story? I share it because my friend embodies what it means to have the resilience to keep forging ahead in the face of challenges and perceived failures. She does not view failures as the end of a journey but simply a part of it. She has a growth mindset, believing that she can and will improve over time—and she does.
This growth mindset was foreign to me before I met my friend. I had a fixed mindset. I believed I was either naturally talented at something or I wasn’t. I would take guitar lessons for four weeks and then quit because I wasn’t suddenly Slash or Jimi Hendrix. This friend of mine opened my eyes to the fact that the small successes really do add up. Despite what we often see of YouTube stars and overnight successes on American Idol, most things take time.
With each heart that I dropped into my Rememberlutions Jar this year, my mindset shifted from one focused on fixed talents to one that believed in the possibility of growth.
So What Does This All Mean? Swim Like a Fish!
All of a sudden, it became clear to me. It’s not that we are not accomplished, and it’s not that we are failing to improve ourselves. We are simply failing to see how we have improved. As Albert Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
So how do we stop judging ourselves by our ability to stick to New Year’s resolutions and begin to see ourselves as the successful humans we are?
All it takes is a simple reframing of what success and growth truly look like. As my coworker, a former Division I college softball coach, once shouted excitedly in a staff meeting, “We have to celebrate the small successes!” When we set New Year’s resolutions, we stare so long and hard at the exact goals we set that we become shortsighted. We begin to believe that each resolution we have not completed represents a way in which we have failed ourselves.
For instance, it is one of my lifelong goals to deliver a TED talk. Say I had set a resolution to present a TEDx talk at a local event and did not end up doing exactly that within the year. The old me may have sat on my couch on New Year’s Eve, stared at the previous year’s list of resolutions, and felt discouraged and disappointed in myself. However, the new me would see it completely differently.
As I pull out the hearts from my Rememberlutions Jar, one by one, I examine them carefully. I read that I “presented to faculty and staff about how to offer support to members of the LGBTQ community on campus,” “facilitated a team workshop about personality types in the workplace,” and “shared a spoken word poem in a video presentation to my class.”
Were these small successes not getting me several steps closer to my ultimate dream of presenting a TED talk? Of course they were! These things take time! And were these small successes perhaps even celebration-worthy accomplishments in and of themselves? Yes, of course!
For me, each heart in the jar documents moments of personal growth, social action, leadership development, creative expression, and confidence building. They prove to me that I have grown throughout the year and help me remember and believe that I can continue to improve in any area where I devote my time and energy.
In the end, it is not about the specific accomplishments but the overall meaning behind them.
For example, why do I want to eventually give a TED talk? Well, in a nutshell, I want to challenge myself and share inspiration with others. When I reframe my goal from “give a TEDx talk” to “challenge myself and share inspiration with others,” it becomes clear that I really did meet my goal. I am no longer a fish judging myself by my ability to climb a tree. Suddenly, I can see I have been swimming like never before.
New Year, New Perspective
When I look back to New Year’s Eve last year and think about how I would often get tunnel vision due to my nerves when presenting to an audience, it is clear how much I have improved. With each presentation I gave throughout the year, I learned to let go of my fear, trust the process and myself, improvise according to my allotted time and audience, and even make eye contact with multiple people while speaking.
Now, if I had simply looked at my original list of resolutions, I would not be able to see or acknowledge any of that. I would simply see, “Give a TEDx talk,” beat myself up about not accomplishing it, and chalk it up as a failure. In fact, I might even give up on my ultimate dream altogether.
This year, however, that is simply not how I see it. I know I am one step (or maybe even several steps) closer to the TED stage. Seeing how far I have come has given me the strength to believe that I will be even that much closer to my goal a year from now as well. I am growing; I am improving. I am celebrating small successes.
So it worked. I successfully tricked myself into becoming a better person. Time to add one last heart to my jar!
What will your guiding word be this year? How do you hope to grow and improve? Perhaps most importantly, will you be making a Rememberlutions Jar?
What will you need to create your own Rememberlutions Jar? Honestly, not much!
Here are the supplies that I used, but you should feel free to use creative freedom to make it your own! (For great decorating tips, see the original article I referred to here.)
Be sure to keep your jar somewhere accessible, perhaps on your nightstand.
Keep a pen next to your jar and always keep enough new papers stocked in your jar.
Remember that anything and everything important to you is worth documenting and celebrating. I added hearts to my jar for everything from traveling to Las Vegas for my wedding anniversary to meeting a favorite author of mine at her book signing! (Shoutout to Gretchen Rubin!) I may not have written a book just yet, but I considered being in her presence an accomplishment!
You may want to write your guiding word somewhere on your jar as a constant reminder of the types of things you want to be mindful of throughout the year (acts of kindness, moments of strength, etc.).
If you have a significant other or roommate, consider dropping hearts into each other’s jars. Sometimes it’s easy to forget our own accomplishments (or even that we’re loved!), so notes of encouragement and congratulations are always fun to find at the end of the year.
Whenever you’re feeling unaccomplished, review the notes in your jar thus far for a much-needed boost of self-confidence!
Have fun—and for goodness’ sake, be proud of yourself!