How are your new year’s resolutions going?

While new year’s resolutions are examples of the linguistic act of “declarations” they are often listened to as “hollow” and as not having any real substance. This is because most of us make new year’s resolutions that have more of a  “some day, maybe”, or hopeful nature rather than being powerful statements of how things will be from now on.  A period of hopeful good intention in January is followed by a period of feeling a bit guilty that little progress has been made and this is often followed by a resigned sense that taking no action was predictable all along. Not following through undermines our identity as being someone of our word. We may then use our non action as evidence for a negative self assessment such as “I never follow through when I say I will make a change”.

What are declarations and what does it take to follow through on a declaration?

A declaration does not speak about how the world is – it is not a statement about the
existence of something in the world. Declarations are statements about what will be so from this point onward; that is – how part of the world will be.

Two types of declarations can be recognised: social and personal. A social declaration is made by a person who occupies a role of authority where they are listened to as having the authority to make the declaration and having the support structure to carry it out.  A judge may declare a person guilty and sentence them to weekend work orders for example.  We will not concern ourselves here with social declarations but with personal declarations.

Each of us has the authority to make statements about how we want our lives to be – occupation, relationships, material purchases and even how we will be. Statements like “I’m not going to work today”, “I will be looking for a new job next year”, “We are going to grow the business by 15 percent next year”, and “I will be someone who is a contribution to others” are all declarations that an individual can make. In making them we immediately impact on how we see part of our future.

We can shape and design important parts of our life through declarations, especially when we ensure we have a support system in place to assist us to bring the desire within the statement to fruition. In fact without the support system there is a danger that our declarations will be listened to as being hollow, and sometimes one of the initial declarations that it is important to make is about building a support system.

Declarations are a powerful way that we can begin to address some of our major concerns, and in so doing take responsibility for bringing about the sort of life we would like to live. Declarations have the greatest capacity to move us into new action when made publicly. We can make a declaration to our-self that we are going to do such and such, but then we are only accountable to ourselves. When we make it to others, we create a situation where we make part of our behaviour accountable to others, and thus place our credibility “on the line”. We create our public identity – the image others have of us – to the extent to which we follow through and act on our statement.

To bring the power of declaration to our new year’s resolutions we can:

  • make sure we have the authority to make the declaration (we have the power and means to carry it out),
  • make our declarations publicly so that we are putting our reputation or credibility in some way on the line if we don’t follow through,
  • put in place a structure of support that will make possible the realisation of the declaration (even if you don’t know exactly how to achieve the result at the time you make the declaration), and
  • get a coach as part of our support structure.  A coach can help us to find resourceful ways of being that will empower action and support us to deal with the challenges and “breakdowns” that are inevitable in undertaking any worthwhile endeavour.

We can declare possibilities for new ways of being as well as new actions we can take.

Acknowledgements: I give deep thanks: to the original developers of Ontological Coaching including Fernando Flores and Rafael Echeverria; to the lineage of thinkers and philosophers who informed them and to Alan Sieler (with whom I studied coaching) who has extended and documented these ideas and practices.  Paragraphs in this article describing the nature of personal declarations are adapted from Alan Seiler’s book Coaching to the Human Soul, Volume 1.