Resolved to improve? What you don’t do could make a bigger difference

Phil Castle

And now for something completely different … .

Those familiar with “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” will recognize the line from the old British TV show. The line served as the frequent transition between one absurd situation and something not only completely different, but also more absurd. A dead parrot and murderous cars. A cross-dressing lumberjack and Hell’s Grannies.

I’m not that funny. Not even close. Instead, I borrow the line to change a ubiquitous subject this time of year. I’m writing, of course, about New Year’s resolutions. I’m usually an ardent supporter of making resolutions if for no other reason than to go through the process at least once a year of reviewing circumstances and re-evaluating priorities. But this year, I’m advocating against them. Rather than compile a list of goals you aspire to achieve, consider instead what not to do in the year ahead. Rather than struggle to do things, avoid those things you shouldn’t do.

It’s a technique that could work for everyone — including newspaper editors who cover businesses as well as the owners and managers who run businesses. If there were ever a time to try something completely different, it’s now.

Here’s a short list of don’ts that’s by no means complete. I’m not so much preaching here as confessing, because these are things I expect to work on in 2021. I’ve got a lot work to do.

Don’t whine. I list this one first because it’s tough. And I’m most often guilty of the offense. I’m reminded of the joke comparing a newspaper editor to a jet engine. The difference? A jet engine stops whining when the plane lands in Cozumel.

I’m also reminded, though, there’s no point to whining. Who am I to complain in a world full of people who work just as hard and face more challenging difficulties, especially in the midst of a pandemic? Moreover, it makes more sense to just go ahead and try to fix problems than harp about fixing them. 

By the way, friends don’t let friends whine. They lend sympathetic ears, then discuss how to make things better.

Don’t try to impress. The people who impress me most are those who try the least to do so. They’re so good at what they do, it’s self-evident. No aggrandizement required. 

What’s more, they’re far too smart to believe they’re smarter than anyone else. That sounds paradoxical, but it’s not. Intelligent people know they can learn something from nearly every situation and nearly every person they encounter. 

Here’s the other thing: If smart people don’t know something, they’re quick to admit it and ask for help.

I’m fortunate in that a good portion of my job involves asking questions to learn things. It’s an enlightening process. Try it sometime.

Don’t live in the past. This applies equally to failures and successes.

Learn from mistakes, but don’t dwell on them. See them as the opportunities they are to improve and try, try again. Chances are you’ll succeed if not the next time, then at some point in the near future when you least expect it.

Forgive not only yourself, but also others. When someone makes a mistake, respond with understanding rather than blame. What goes around really does come around. The next time you need help in completing a project or meeting a deadline, who do you think is going to be more likely to come to your rescue?

The same goes for triumphs. While it’s easy to rest on laurels, don’t. The true measure of success isn’t one or two wins, however remarkable, but excellence sustained over time.

Don’t wait. It’s so tempting to put off those tasks we deem important, but not so important they require our immediate attention. It can wait a day. Right? But then another day passes. Then another.

It’s even worse to defer our dreams. Those who want to change careers or start a business or develop a new product or introduce new services, should. Whether it’s a short trip or long journey, the most important thing is to take the first step toward your desired destination.
Do something. Do anything. Just get started.

Don’t let fear hold you back. I’ve saved what I consider the best advice for last. Not only because it’s important at a time when it’s understandable to be fearful, but also because I’m particularly susceptible to this foible.

The obstacles we build up in our minds are far more daunting than what we’re likely to actually experience. What we perceive as mountains really are more often molehills. The best way to overcome fears? Confront them and see them for what they usually are — unfounded.

It remains to be seen whether 2021 will bring something completely different. Who had the 2020 vision to expect the havoc last year wrought?

But every new year — every new day, for that matter — affords another opportunity to try something completely different. What will you try this year to make a difference?