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January Resolution - February Revolution

To get the most out of life it’s likely that we’ll have to master the art of changing ourselves in small and more fundamental ways over our lifespan.

Resolution and revolution are two ways to bring change, but what are they, and how do we use them effectively?


All of us have made earnest resolutions in January, only to forget those same resolutions by the time that February rolls around. The first issue is that for most of us our resolutions are not very resolute, instead being more like a wish list than a decisive course of action.

Perhaps, more fundamentally, we get the idea of personal resolutions all wrong, equating them to immovable make-or-break ideals, rather than more fluid and pragmatic guides to action. The Latin root of the word resolution is resolvere, which actually means to loosen or release. Think of a knotty problem that is untied, or a deadlock released, and you get to the secret of successful resolutions.

Rather than pulling harder against our resolutions we need to create a flexible environment where the constraints and hindrances (that can cause our resolutions to fail) are loosened allowing us to make real progress.

Here are three ways to create the right environment for your resolution(s) to succeed:

  1. Prepare the ground
  2. Recognise the journey
  3. Be resolutely adaptable

1. Prepare the ground

Like any other meaningful personal change your resolution needs to be rooted in self-knowledge. This relates to understanding how the change you seek connects with (or actually contradicts) your values, beliefs and priorities in practice.

Successful personal change is rarely a purely intellectual exercise, instead requiring a move beyond cerebral pondering to a connection to something deeply felt. For example – we all know that eating better and exercising more is good for us, yet how many of us stick with a January fitness plan beyond the end of the month?

You should move past the “logical idea” of fitness, continuing the same example, to focus on the personal feeling of what that fitness will enable you to do in the rest of your life overall, including becoming a better version of yourself.

Having a vision of what good looks like across the different parts of your life: work, health, spirituality, people and expression/growth, enables you to understand how what you are seeking to achieve fits into your life overall. And helps to steer the many decisions you make each day toward achieving your goal, rather than away from it.

Although we treat resolutions as a solo sport, they’re often best played as a team. Can you prepare the ground by identifying an accountability group to provide both emotional (person specific) and technical (goal specific) support to your resolution?

2. Recognise the journey

We rarely make resolutions about goals such as needing to purchase milk from the shop, for example. Instead our resolutions tend to be around goals that have proved intractable in the past year (or longer).

Because of this it is unlikely that any single action will solve your resolution (otherwise you would have done it already), instead most resolutions are like a journey with a beginning, middle and end. This journey looks and feels like, a series of small incremental gains plus some setbacks and occasional breakthroughs.

Treat your resolution like a project rather than a prophetic statement. When things inevitably get off track, don’t take it personally, despite how personally important the project may be to you. By keeping at least a little arms-length objectivity on what you are trying to achieve you can ask for help, and avoid defensiveness towards those trying to provide it. To complete your resolution may require one, or even several projects.

Find a way to measure progress, and ensure that you celebrate small wins along the way to your ultimate goal.

3. Be resolutely adaptable

It might pay to be dogged but that doesn’t mean that you should be dogmatic in your approach to your resolution. Often, at the start, we don’t know what the best way to achieve our goal is, even if we have an approach in mind. Even for something as simple as weight loss there are about as many successful approaches as there are people (and perhaps even more unsuccessful ones than that). You may pick an approach at first that doesn’t work for you, or no longer works after a period of time. Be prepared to review feedback on your progress and to change course in how you approach your goal as many times as required in order to achieve your goal.

Rather than through perfect inaction, change comes through imperfect action. Achieving your goal will likely feel scrappier that you might expect or want. Rather than a battle with your resolution, there will be numerous “sorties” relating to countless small decisions and victories that you will make. Since life is so interconnected stay alert to “wins” that might initially seem outside the remit of your goal. For example something as simple as making a habit of regularly doing thoughtful grocery shopping can allow you to eat healthier and to perform better inside and outside of work. Stay on the lookout for, and try to capture, small marginal gains that are aligned with the vision of how you want your life to be. These small gains can offer a confidence boost, as well as reformulating how you look at your goal/problem, and even how you look at yourself.


A revolution involves realignment of structures to a new central idea or vision such as “power to the people”, or in our own lives “being true to yourself” or “making this life a good life”, for example. The word revolution comes from the Latin revolver meaning to roll back, to turn the eyes back, or to restore. In this sense all revolutions, including those in our own lives, have a strong element of returning “back to basics”.

As with the solutions supporting personal change, the problems that necessitate a change evolve and build up over time too. The need for a major personal realignment or transformation can come after a period of years or even decades more so than days or even months. We might feel the need to change in our gut i.e. “something is not quite right” long before we can understand intellectually what the problem is specifically, and long long before we can determine what must be done to resolve the issue.

Here are three ways to accelerate the process of understanding what needs to change, and then going ahead to make the change:

1. Have a yardstick measure of “good”

2. Understand your burning platform

3. Develop your manifesto principles for “good”

1. Have a yardstick measure of “good”

As with the analogy of the frog in the boiling pot of water it can be difficult to see when things are getting off track unless we have a gauge or yardstick to compare your current situation with the desired or normal state. In The Good Life Book I describe the process of setting a whole-life vision and then calibrating the definition of good across five pillars of life: vocation, people, spirit, health and expression/growth to align with this vision. I developed this approach since I’ve found that we rarely get into any detail (and write down) what our expectations are in different parts of life, measure against those reality and then problem-solve gaps between reality and what we desire from our lives.

For example we often treat demands from work as non-negotiables that must be completed no matter what, yet we rarely set non-negotiables in other key areas of life. By doing this we (perhaps unconsciously) live to work, rather than work to live. Who are the key people in your life, for example, and what do they need from you on a daily, weekly and yearly basis, from their perspective? Write those needs down and stick to them with the same vigour a work commitment.

2. Understand your burning platform

A burning platform is a term that we use in consulting to describe a compelling reason to act (to solve a problem), and why doing nothing won’t work.

Having a yardstick lets you see the gap between where your life is and where it should be. Even when we see a problem, there are invisible forces that hold us back from acting on a solution, such as fear, habits, inertia or even our internal picture of who we are (identity).

To overcome these forces we need to magnify the timescale of the issue we face from a today perspective, to impact on a whole life perspective. For example missing one gym workout won’t hinder your fitness in a significant way, but if you can visualise the effect of continually not prioritising fitness then that whole-life impact is much greater.

If your health deteriorates then you’re unlikely to perform as well at work, or have the energy to pursue your relationships and goals outside of work. Your experience of life will be less positive than it could otherwise be.

As with revolutions in society we reach a point where we can do longer kid ourselves that existing problems will resolve themselves and the pain of acting is less than the future pain of not solving current problems.

3. Develop your manifesto principles for “good”

The root of the word manifesto means simply to make obvious or to make public. The content of your (new) life philosophy should make clear what you value, and therefore what your values are. Your manifesto or life philosophy however doesn’t detail out how to complete every specific step in achieving the overall type of life that you seek. Those detailed steps are developed using the same approach discussed in the resolution section above.

In our normal day-to-day interactions with others (and in their interactions with us) it can be difficult to understand what a person stands for. What is really important to us in life is often disguised behind a veil of attainment seeking i.e. the pursuit of success based on what we have in terms of status, power, money, possessions and so on, or simply lost in smalltalk.

Yet we’ve also likely had experiences where we meet someone (or hear them speak) and what they stand for is obvious, personal and powerful. This experience of others can be electrifying. Why don’t we become a person who lives what we stand for in everything that we do?

What I’m suggesting is that you go through a process to understand who you are and what you really stand for (beyond a generic idea of attainment based success), making that clear and tangible to yourself, and through your actions, to others. Acting in line with who you are might involve actions to contribute to the welfare of others beyond yourself.

Resolutions and Revolutions in your own life are things that you can seek professionally, using your skills and a work-like systematic engagement in tenaciously working through the details while keeping the big picture in mind.

Isn’t it time in 2017 to seek something more in life by getting back to basics? Isn’t it time to throw off the imagined constraints that stop us from living who we truly are, authentically. Isn’t now the time to make a change?

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Brett Cowell is the author of The Good Life Book–a how-to guide to achieving lasting happiness, balance and meaning; and the founder of Total Life Complete LLC. If you like what you have read then please tell others by liking, sharing or commenting on this article! The Good Life Book is available for pre-sale now on Amazon US (link) and will be available on Amazon everywhere in Print and Electronic formats on March 13th 2017. You can hear the first chapter for free on SoundCloud here.