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Want the best New Year’s resolutions? Face your own death


At the end of every year we reflect on what we have/have not accomplished.  We set goals for the next year.

But how do you set the RIGHT goals?  The goals that have the most meaning?  For busy professionals and/or parents, life whirrs by as a set of momentary memory flashes.

It can feel like gaining a truly visionary perspective is impossible amidst the pressures and headaches that tug at you every day.

As Ferris Bueller said in the iconic 80s movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day off”: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

I daresay it’s terrifyingly easy to “miss it”.

We all instinctively feel this, but we don’t instinctively understand how to wake ourselves up from the hypnotic regularity that can make everyday lives feel numbingly routine.

A few years ago amidst meeting with two mature business professionals who were mentoring me, previous leaders of multi-million dollar organizations, they challenged me to ask myself one thing:  “Tom, imagine you died, and write your own obituary.”  I did just that, and in so doing  made some decisions to mature in some very important ways.

Why is this exercise so uniquely effective?  Because it challenges us to face our termination, our ending, our finality.  This exercise forces us to wonder what our legacy will be.  What will we be remembered for? What will our kids say when we are gone about what we stood for?

Putting myself through this exercise has been deeply sobering.  Talk about a splash of freezing water on the face!!!!  If you’re willing to write your own Obituary, and really be honest, you are going to experience an emotional cocktail as you run through your highlight reel of the peaks and valleys.

But beyond the images that will flash by as the highlight reel rolls, if you do this exercise right you are going to identify patterns of behavior that have either led to your success or to mistakes and embarrassing immaturity.  This exercise is not for the faint of heart, as you must dig deep to unearth big mistakes that have led to sadness and maybe depressiveness at times.  But you will also dig up Big Wins and heartfelt joy!

This exercise is not about making yourself feel happy, but rather with you coming to grips with the breadth and depth of your Being. 

People often ask me this question with sarcasm or suspiciousness: “Do people really ever change?  Aren’t people who they are and what you do is just talk with them and make them feel better for a little while?”

Here’s my answer:  people’s ability to change is directly correlated with their willingness to honestly evaluate their darkness as well as their light, and if they are willing to deeply look into their own darkest parts, then they have profound ability to change.  In other words, a person must have insight into who they really are.  If you are highly defensive, you are not going to change.  Change occurs only when insight is coupled with one other quality: disciplined commitment to work on a particular pattern of functioning.

One way to come to grips with who you really are is to think about what someone would write in your obituary.  What would you be remembered for?  What values would people say you stood for? What contributions could they say you have made to your family and to Greater Society?

Want to really make 2015 profoundly better than 2014?  No matter what your financial goals are, I guarantee that if you articulate one particularly unhealthy behavior and then commit yourself to working on this behavior as one of your 2015 New Year’s resolutions, you will radically change your obituary and be remembered as something much more than you are now.

Some of the most common challenges I’ve worked with adult people on over months or even years include the following:  letting go of anger, overcoming substance abuse, conquering anxiety, letting go of obsessive compulsiveness, increasing patience and kindness, and growing out of old patterns of unhealthy behavior.

Some of the most common parenting challenges I’ve helped people work on include the following:  ending the helicopter parent behavior where you save your child, becoming a firmer parent,  reinvigorating marriages damaged by the exhaustion of parenting, and ending the parent’s tendency to parent the unhealthy way they were parented.

Whoever you are, and whatever resolutions you come up with, choose resolutions that will affect how your obituary will read! 

But don’t try and do it alone, find a professional if necessary, and don’t lose your focus.

Because when it comes to life, and obituaries, you don’t want to feel at the end – and you don’t want others to think at your funeral – you “missed it”.   


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Meet Doctor Brunner

Dr. Thomas (Tom) Brunner is a Tucson based psychologist and published expert who has a 20 year track record of clinical excellence, scientific research, teaching, publications, awards and podcast interviews.  He is the senior author of a psychological measure adapted into 14 languages worldwide, and has written over 250 blogs, many of them have gone viral.  He is revolutionizing the field of career guidance with his fresh and trademarked approach that is spreading like wildfire. Sign up here to be notified of soon to be published book, Find Your Real Me: Career Guidance Making You Truly Free.