I get fired up for New Year’s Eve. I love it when that big stupid ball drops and zeros out the previous year. No more victories, no more defeats, just a blank slate. December thirty-first is an evening of reflection; January first is a day of dreams, plans and determination.
I make New Year’s resolutions because I love to set and achieve goals. Every year I strive to lead a more fulfilling life than the year before. As a teenager, I learned the value of goal setting and focus as I earned each colored rank on my way to receiving a black belt in Tang Soo Do. Martial arts gave me the structure, confidence, discipline and strength to achieve the goals I set.
The popular opinion is that making a resolution is a doomed venture. It’s true that many people make resolutions that they do not stick to. They talk it up and three weeks later they’re smoking again or eating bad food or watching too much tv. I was the same way. But, after years of trial and error, I worked out a set of guidelines that dramatically improved my success rate.
You can improve your life this year. This is how I do it.
1. GIVE IT TO ME STRAIGHT
A vague notion is not a resolution. If your resolution cannot be measured or defined, how will you know when you achieve it? If you can’t write it down in one sentence, it is not a resolution (or it is too many resolutions). Break it down and get specific.
Rather than resolve to draw more, one of my resolutions is to draw one-hundred comic book pages in 2013. I used a measurable quantity (one-hundred), format (comic book pages) and time frame (one year) to clearly state my goal. I know that I need to draw two pages per week to meet my goal.
2. CONQUER SOUTH AMERICA
Resolutions fail when people set lofty goals. In the board game Risk, it is much easier to conquer and maintain South America than it is to secure and defend Asia. While one player struggles to maintain the high-risk territory, another can sit comfortably in South America collecting armies and fortifying defenses.
If you are fifty pounds overweight, resolve to drop just twenty-five pounds (and keep it off). If you can lose six pounds by the end of March you will be on schedule to complete your resolution. If you try for fifty and only trim six pounds by March you will be disheartened and may give up altogether.
3. STEP UP OR STEP OUT
Montserrat College of Art was a small, hippie art school with limited direction and lax requirements. Ron DiRito taught my favorite course. On the first day of the new semester, we filed doe-eyed into Images & Ideas class and Ron dropped the hammer on us: You miss a critique, you lose a letter grade. You skip three classes, you lose a letter grade. Everyone participates.
Five people dropped the course before the second class. Ron was sending a message: Do you really want to be here? Because, if you don’t, if you can’t change your habits and bring the best of yourself, then leave right now.
If you don’t care enough about your resolution to change your habits, you will fail.
4. STAKE VAMPIRES
A vampire is a foul creature that sucks the life out of you. Vampires love drama. Vampires love negativity. Vampires nurture doubt. Vampires talk and talk and never do. Vampires seduce you with their stupid sparkles and hypnotizing gaze.
Identify the vampires in your life and stake every damned one of them (metaphorically please). If your significant other is a vampire, stake ‘em. It’s cold. It’s harsh. But, it’s the voice of experience. Reassess your friends, block your exes emails, don’t tolerate negativity and doubt from your family. Surround yourself with good people. Become a Fearless Vampire Killer.
If this seems unreasonable, just think of how much time, energy, self-esteem and money these people drain from you. Can you afford not to stake ‘em?
5. WING NIGHT
The monkey in us loves to cooperate, we perform better when others depend on us. As an artist, I produce the most artwork when I meet other artist friends regularly. My buddy Brian and I used to meet at a pub every other Tuesday for thirty-five cent chicken wings. We’d show off our current work over beers and talk about our challenges. Nothing felt worse than than arriving on wing night with no artwork to show.
Share your resolution with friends and ask about their goals. Hold each other accountable. Pick a regular event and commit to attending it together. Be sure it’s consistent (and fun). Keep your commitment at all costs. Cancel only for legit emergencies.
6. WIGGLE YOUR BIG TOE
In Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Uma Thurman’s character, The Bride, comes out of a four-year coma as she is being assaulted. She escapes despite temporary paralysis of her legs She hides out in a truck in the parking garage. Rather than force her weakened legs to drive, she focuses on wiggling her big toe. After many hours, it wiggles. Encouraged, she tries to move the rest of them. Gradually, she regains control of her legs.
Great victories are born of tiny successes. Winning small battles builds momentum. Momentum is powerful. Set manageable goals for yourself and celebrate the easily won milestones along the way. Celebrate your victories and attack each new task with confidence. Remember, writing a novel starts with writing one good sentence.
7. SHED YOUR SKIN
We hold onto the past as if it can protect us from the future. In reality, change is the only thing we can depend on. Embrace change, don’t resist it.
If you are going to make a fresh start in the new year then shed your skin like a lizard and become the next version of yourself. Buy new clothes and take your old threads to Goodwill. Get a radically different haircut. Rearrange your furniture. Paint the walls. Get a tattoo. Change. Change completely.
Throw stuff away. You don’t need it. It’s suffocating you. Redefine yourself on your own terms. If any of your friends or family pass judgment on the new you, then stake their vampire ass.
8. BE LIKE YOGURT
When making yogurt, milk is heated to kill undesirable bacteria and prevent curdling. It is then cooled. A bacteria culture is added and temperature maintained to allow fermentation. Any variation from these conditions and milk will not become yogurt.
Change your habits. Adjust your work schedule. Wake up earlier or go to bed later. Take the bus and read instead of driving to work. Listen to motivational audio books instead of music. Take a class. Find a mentor. Create an environment and day-to-day routines that support life and growth.
9. THINK LIKE A SAMURAI
Resolve, defined as “firmness of purpose” is a keystone value in the code of the samurai. It is the drive that keeps the samurai focused on his commitment to his master and to upholding the way of the warrior. To be a samurai is to align your mental focus moment by moment, day by day to your ultimate purpose.
In Hagakure (“The Book of Falling Leaves”), Yamamoto Tsunetomo discusses the mindset of the samurai:
“There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment. A man’s whole life is a succession of moment after moment.”
Discipline and focuses are like muscles: with daily exercise, they become stronger. Pursue your resolutions with the resolve of the samurai.
10. TELL ME
Don’t just think of a resolution. Write it down. Better yet, tell me your resolution. Leave a comment with your 2013 resolutions and I will be your accountabili-buddy (be sure to include your email in the comments form). I will help you to focus your resolution and I will check in with you quarterly to monitor your progress.
I tend to make a bunch of resolutions, but here are three of mine for 2013:
- Draw 100 industry-standard sized comic book pages in 2013 (these can be stories, character designs, pin-ups, etc).
- Fill-up enrollment in Kick Fusion, Kids Karate and Self-Defense for Women by creating a remarkable martial arts experience for every student, every time.
- Refocus on my own martial arts training and increase physical conditioning until I can train hard at full-speed for ninety-minutes.
2013 is our year. I believe in you. Let’s crush it.