Patricia McGuire
University president

Patricia McGuire

President of Trinity Washington University.


Mind games

Q: Why do most people abandon their New Year's resolutions so quickly? How much of a role does goal-setting play in achieving success? What are the most effective resolutions you have made?

Madness, by one definition, is doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a better result.

I must be mad.

I make the same resolutions every year on New Year's Day. And, like clockwork, by the middle of January I'm back to my usual bad habits.

My resolutions to lose weight come to ignominious failure the first time someone stops by the office with some leftover Christmas goodies. Okay, by munching on a colleague's homemade cookies, I'm just trying to keep my resolution to be nicer to my co-workers. But soon, the cookies are gone and somebody does something really irritating, and the Dragon Lady is back in full splendor. Maybe it's the sugar high. I do better with my resolution to hit the pool several times a week for a stress-busting swim -- except when it's cold, snowing, raining, or late January.

We Catholics have Lent to restart the resolution engine, usually in the doleful light-deprived weeks of mid-February when true crabbiness has become a chronic condition. I confess, I'm just as bad with my Lenten resolutions, though some year I might try remaining silent for 40 days. (I can hear people cheering me on right now!)

Resolutions are a mind game, a trick we play on ourselves to try to achieve some level of personal transformation. We treat the new year like a fresh copybook, full of pure white pages we hope to fill with our lists of promises kept, resolutions fulfilled, dreams realized. Like so many copybooks that wind up with torn pages, blotches and doodles in the margins where research notes should have gone, New Year's resolutions reflect the triumph of hope over the experience of real life.

Resolutions are not quite so serious as real goals, but they can play a role in creating the psychological and emotional dispositions necessary for achieving success. I suspect that people who make resolutions are generally hopeful and forward-thinking, people who recognize the value of trying to make changes in their personal habits or relationships.

Sometimes, success emerges simply in trying to be better. The willpower necessary to stick to a diet, be more patient, improve listening skills is the same kind of determination that sets the stage for professional success. Similarly, resilience in the face of failing to keep resolutions or meet goals is an essential professional quality.

Resolutions say a lot about individual attitudes toward life. Optimists keep making grand resolutions. Pessimists never try. Realists try to find resolutions that they can really keep.

I am an optimistic realist. This year, I will make one great resolution that I can really keep. I resolve to make no new resolutions until I fulfill last year's resolutions.

Quick, hand me a cookie! I think I'm going mad.

By Patricia McGuire  |  December 30, 2009; 4:50 PM ET  | Category:  resolutions Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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