Personal Development: Wither or Whither Resolutions


In part two of his advice on resolutions Matthew Cossolotto says try again.

Last month in Together (see Turn your resolutions into promises on the website), I urged readers not to give up on their New Year’s resolutions. I recommended they turn those resolutions into New Year’s promises. Why? Because resolutions simply don’t work and a promise is much more powerful.

The word ‘resolution’ itself begs to be ignored. And year-in, year-out that’s exactly what happens. We cross our fingers behind our backs, figuratively, knowing we’re unlikely to follow through on our resolutions. So, I say stop crossing your fingers and start crossing your heart. In other words, make a few New Year’s promises.

As a kid growing up in the United States, we used to follow a promise with this catchy, painful-sounding rhyme: “Cross my heart and hope to die. Stick a needle in my eye.” That never failed to get my attention. For a child, that rhyme drove home the message that making a promise was serious business.

I’m here to tell you that making and keeping promises is not just for kids. It’s a serious business for adults too. Here’s an example of the power of a promise in action. A few years ago, during a radio interview about the power of promises, an elementary school teacher called in to the show. She described a meaningful encounter she had with one of her students. The teacher had promised the class that they would take a field trip on a specific day. The teacher’s schedule later became crowded, and she told the class they would have to skip the field trip.

Then one of her students said: “But you promised!” The teacher was taken aback. The little girl was right. Kids seem to know on a gut level how important promises are. The teacher had promised. And as I am fond of pointing out: you can change a goal or a resolution, but you can only break a promise. Most people are loath to break their promises. So, the teacher relented and the class went on the field trip after all. And the teacher felt much better because she kept her promise.

Take the promise challenge: According to Hannah Arendt: “Promises are the uniquely human way of ordering the future.” I believe this is true because making a promise engages your heart in the process. Making a promise to someone you care about makes you accountable to someone else in a special way. And your integrity is definitely on the line with a promise.

In The Power of a Promise and in my speaking programs, I issue what I refer to as The Promise Challenge. It’s a challenge to individuals to take a hard look at your goals, your hopes and dreams, all the items on your wish lists and buckets lists and resolutions. Then decide which ones are important enough to you that you’re willing to make a promise to achieve. Which ones are you willing to put your integrity on the line for? Once you’ve made that decision, you’re ready to take the plunge, to make a heartfelt promise to someone you care about. You’re ready to use those two magic words “I Promise” to seal the deal and change the direction or trajectory of your life.

And so, this year, I urge you to take The Promise Challenge. Turn a few of your goals or resolutions into heartfelt promises and reap the rewards. Taking the Promise Challenge will answer the question: Wither or whither your resolutions? Will your resolutions simply wither on the vine as in past years?

Whither will they go? Where will your resolutions lead you?

Seven tips for making and keeping promises
I hope these seven tips will help you turn a few of your 2020 New Year’s resolutions into New Year’s promises. Bear in mind, however, that these tips are not limited to reinforcing your resolutions. They can be used throughout the year to help you achieve any important goal or desire. Note that this list is intentionally spare. Just two words for each tip, making them easy to remember.

1. Start Small: Get started by identifying and reaching a couple of relatively small, quickly accomplished goals or resolutions. This builds your achievement ‘muscles’ and boosts your goal-reaching confidence. It’s empowering to get into

the habit of keeping promises. You probably have some really big goals, and you might be tempted to turn them into promises. I just want to caution you again not to bite off more than you can chew. Take it slow to begin with. It’s better to start with more manageable promises and work your way up to bigger goals after you’ve kept your word several times.

As part of a promise to lose weight and become more physically fit, you could consider making smaller promises, such as ‘do five or 10 push-ups every day for a month’. Or ‘walk 15 minutes every day’. Make sure you choose realistic, doable goals. Don’t begin with a promise that’s too much of a stretch. Start small to establish the habit of making and keeping promises.

2. Commit Emotionally: Make a promise to someone you really care about, be it yourself, another person, or God or some other deity. And be sure to say the two magic words: I promise. This is essential. The poet Samuel Coleridge said: “What comes from the heart goes to the heart.” I believe

what differentiates a promise from a goal or an objective is the heart factor. Make sure you commit emotionally – put your heart into it and you’re virtually certain to keep your promise.