“What New Year’s Resolution did you make this year, and how long did you keep it?”

I was asked that question last week during Table Topics at a Toastmasters meeting I attended.

Table Topics is the time, during every Toastmasters meeting, when we practice thinking on our feet and organizing our thoughts on the fly. The Table Topics Master asks a question, and then calls on someone to answer it. That person then has to spend one to two minutes responding to the question.
Note that “responding” to the question is not necessarily the same as “answering” the question. If you don’t know how to answer, or you’d rather not, you can twist the question around and turn it into something you’d rather talk about instead. For instance, you might say, “That’s a really interesting question, and it reminds me of something that happened just the other day…” and then go off into another topic. Sometimes, it’s not what you say, but how you say it, that matters. And Table Topics helps you speak with confidence and conviction, no matter what the subject.

Still, it’s more fun responding to a Table Topics question when you do have an interest in the subject. So I lucked out with this one.

I am one of the people who do make New Year’s Resolutions every year, and I acknowledged that right away in responding to the question. Then I added that I’m keeping it so far and that, in fact, I always keep my resolutions. That’s because my New Year’s Resolution every year is to improve in some way.
The specifics of my resolution will be different from year to year. Sometimes they’ll be on-going behavioral changes, such as eliminating a bad habit or developing a healthy new one. Sometimes they will relate to a particular act or accomplishment I want to achieve. One year I resolved to get organized once and for all. That hasn’t entirely happened yet, but I’m a lot more organized in a number of ways than I used to be. And I continue to work at it. Plus, this resolution inspired a Tall Tales Speech in which I talked about how organized and uncluttered I felt as soon as I threw out all my books on getting organized. And how I found Jimmy Hoffa’s skeleton – among other things – when I decided to clean out my office closet. I actually won a few Toastmasters Contests with that Tall Tale speech, although I’m not sure if that’s something I should be bragging about.

I know that a lot of people don’t even bother making New Year’s Resolutions, and for many it’s because they consider it a foregone conclusion that they’ll eventually break them. Some people even joke about this by saying, “My New Year’s Resolution is not to make any New Year’s Resolutions.” Since they’re just trying to be clever and funny, I never point out that by even making a resolution like that, they’ve already broken it.

Still, I think a lot of good comes from New Year’s Resolutions, and I’d like to see more people making them and keeping them. So, since I just got reminded about them, and since we’re now in the season of growth and renewal, I’d like to encourage you right now to make a new resolution to improve in some way. Choose whatever you’d like for the specifics and the details, and work as long and as hard as you can toward achieving them. If you do – great! But even if you don’t, acknowledge how far you’ve come and how much you have achieved. And remember that if you’ve improved in any way, then you’ve kept your resolution. And you can build from there.

By the way, it was a New Year’s Resolution that first brought me to Toastmasters, although it was May of that year before I finally attended a meeting. And it was June before I actually joined. Still, it was one of the best decisions – and New Year’s Resolutions – I ever made.
Maybe I’ll get a Table Topics question on that subject someday. I hope so. And if I do, I’ll know exactly how to respond.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on April 12, 2012.
© Betty Liedtke, 2012