Tuesday, March 5, 2013

This Year I Will... by M. J. Ryan

Many of us make New Year’s resolutions, but few of us keep them. There is less interest on the statistics of other goals, but it seems likely that resolutions are hard to keep whenever we make them. Self-help author and consultant M. J. Ryan would like to change that sorry state of affairs. Her book This Year I Will… has advice on how to turn goals into action and dreams into reality.

Ryan makes the important point that much of our behavior is habitual. We have repeated behaviors so many times that we unthinkingly return to them when we encounter the stimulus that triggers them. To complicate the matter, our behaviors fill a need or solve a problem. If they hadn’t they wouldn’t have become ingrained habits.

You don’t have to delve into you half-remembered childhood to change behavior, though. You just need to identify the underlying need or problem and find other means of dealing with them. Ideally, the new behaviors will also help you meet your goals instead of getting in the way.

I suppose I have made it sound easy.  It is not, and Ryan does not promise quick fixes. In fact, she warns her readers they will face internal resistance to change. There are parts of brain, power emotional parts that exert a lot of control over us, that see change as a threat and will not easily leave the familiar path. Ryan offers advice on how to handle this, and even how to get our emotional brain to help us instead of hinder our change.

The book is organized into short chapters. Ryan suggests you can go directly to the parts you need and return to the other parts later, or when they seem more useful. Instead of being a book you read through once, she wants This Year I Will… to be a reference you can return to when you need fresh ideas or a refresher on techniques you’ve used before.  Some of the subjects that stood out to me were

  • concentrate on “what” instead of “why,”
  • dealing with doubt,
  • taking action,
  • focusing on one or a few changes at a time,
  • taking one step at a time (though sometimes we need a big goal to motivate us),
  • track your progress (I’m a believer in this),
  • have a Plan B (and C, and D…),
  • tips for effective visualization,
  • performance review, and
  • remember to have fun.

There is more than that. The book is not a collection of unrelated mini-chapters. Though the book isn’t necessarily made to be read linearly, I found that later chapters tend to build on earlier ones. There is also a subtle shift from an almost wholly practical to a somewhat philosophical view. You’re not just doing a better job of setting and achieving goals. The goals you achieve and the habits you form shape and define your life.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Ryan, M. J. This Year I Will…: How to Finally Change a Habit, Keep a Resolution, or Make a Dream Come True. New York: MJF, 2006.