In 2007, British psychologist Richard Wiseman followed more than 3,000 people attempting to achieve New Year’s resolutions including the top three: lose weight, quit smoking and exercise regularly. At the start of the study, most were confident of success. A year later, only 12 percent had achieved their goals.
To make meaningful New Year’s resolutions that you’ll really keep, set long-range resolutions for your second act. This way, you can help reach the goals that matter to you in the context of your entire future, not just a single year.
To make holistic New Year’s resolutions, look to the wisdom of Peter Drucker, the father of modern management who died in 2005 at 95. Drucker’s iconic 39 books and countless articles were always forward-focused.
I’ve studied Drucker’s career for over 30 years and had the privilege of interviewing him while working as a researcher and business writer at USA Today. So, armed with Drucker’s sage insights, I recommend these five long-range resolutions for older adults.
1. I resolve to embrace uncertainty rather than avoid it
Don’t assume that tomorrow will be like today. It could be, but the future is unknown. And while uncertainty can be unsettling, remember this: we’re all in the same boat.
To embrace uncertainty and support your second act, form a book club or discussion group dedicated to learning about the future. Explore advances and trends in business, technology, education, culture and work. You could also look at role models — people you know or ones in the public eye who seem adept at navigating uncertainty.
2. I resolve to seek opportunities in changing conditions
We may not like change, but it’s natural, necessary, and something to celebrate. Drucker distinguished between being a change agent (good) and a change leader (better). “The most effective way to manage change successfully is to create it,” he said. To do that, you need to see change as an opportunity, not a threat.
So, rather than just reacting to change, go out and look for it. Think about Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com. He played a mammoth, pioneering role in the growth of e-commerce. You don’t need to aspire to be another Bezos, but you should actively search for new possibilities inside and outside your field.
As you reflect on your second act, maximize your efforts by employing practices such as journaling and mindfulness.
One suggestion: Interact with people in diverse groups and start reading unfamiliar newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites.
3. I resolve to stop and reflect on my second act
Every year, Drucker carved out time to engage in deep, focused introspection. He’d reflect on how the past year had gone compared with his expectations and the adjustments he needed to make going forward.
As you reflect on your second act, maximize your efforts by employing practices such as journaling and mindfulness. You can also adopt what’s known as a “beginner’s mind.” In his classic book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki (founder of the San Francisco Zen Center) wrote: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
4. I resolve to remove and improve
Your second act will unfold in part due to what you stop doing. Drucker recommended something called systematic abandonment —intentionally dropping activities and relationships that are no longer productive or useful. He suggested combining this with kaizen: steady and incremental improvement of what remains.
A good starting point for this resolution is to make a list of what and who you can live without and then gradually shed them from your life. Then, use your newfound time to help create a winning second act.
5. I resolve to make friends with risk
Drucker believed that it was risky to sit back and let the future happen to you. Accept the idea that almost everything carries some element of risk, and you can create a space for risk in your life.
Your second act may involve weighing the risks in going back to (and paying for) school, learning new technologies or creating an entrepreneurial venture. At some point, though, you’ll simply need to take that first step. As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said: “The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet.”
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