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Sticking To The Resolution

by Tom O'Connor on January 10th, 2011
Woody Guthrie Portrait, by Charles B. Wilson, from the Oklahoma State Capitol

Charles B. Wilson's portrait of Woody Guthrie in the Oklahoma State Capitol

Bob Geldof’s band, The Boomtown Rats, takes its name from a gang featured in the Woody Guthrie story, Bound for Glory.
The book, published in 1943, marks an eventful year in the life of the great American folk icon.
It was also a year in which Woody was busily working on one of his most famous songs, This Land is Your Land – and on a new relationship with Marjorie Mazia, mother of his son, Arlo Guthrie.
All this provides some interesting background to a little gem preserved among Woody’s archives in Mount Kisco, New York – a centerfold page, listing his new year’s resolutions for that year, all graphically augmented in his own hand.
In total, he lists 33 specific self-improvement items to work on, under a typically Woody-esque caption, “New Year’s Rulins”.
Of these, four particularly catch the eye:
1. Stay glad
2. Dream good
3. Make up your mind
4. Wake up and Fight
Stay Glad
Woody’s mood concerns were well founded – his struggles with Huntington’s disease dominating much of his life.
In exhorting himself to “Stay Glad”, he is tapping into what would later emerge as ‘the power of positive thinking’ in the writings of Norman Vincent Peale, Napoleon Hill, Abraham Maslow, Earl Nightingale, Albert Ellis and others.
He is also drawing attention to what we now know as Emotional Intelligence – the keys to which largely revolve around how well we manage our own moods & expectations.
Such behavioural thinking has also come to dominate matters economic, inspired by such recent bestsellers as Freakonomics, Nudge, and Animal Spirits – ironically, drawing many of their lessons from the Great Depression era, that formed so much of the backdrop to Woody’s own songs.
Like Rooseveldt’s rousing words back then, “you have nothing to fear, but fear itself”, this “Stay Glad” idea doesn’t appear lost on one Barack Obama either – hence his 2008 mantra, “yes, we can”.
Dream Good
Dreams too had a particular significance for Woody.
He was a restless drifter – one of the original migrants drawn to the charms of Route 66 and, more than anyone else, largely responsible for romanticizing the life of the American hobo.
But here his exhortation is to dream good.
And, dreams, if they are to be any good at all, of course, need to be clearly goal-directed.
Today, Woody’s “Dream Good” would be more likely expressed as “dream smart” or even “dream smarter” – the SMARTER acronym reflecting the need for one’s dreams to be specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, time-bound, enduring and revisable.
The latter two criteria (enduring and revisable) are intended to respond to those forces outside our control – to those much-quoted words of McMillan:
“events, dear boy, events!”
Make up your mind
Woody would have known too that decisiveness doesn’t come easy to creative types.
There is a tendency to tinker and not let go.
Sometimes, the tinkering can make all the difference, of course, as with Thomas Edison and his famous quip:
“We now know a 1000 ways not to build a light bulb”.
But, this may have been more the exception than the rule.
Shakespeare certainly thought so, with his:
“There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune”.
One thing is certain, though: striking when the iron is hot has never been so important – as the windows of opportunity flit by, ever more quickly.
Not surprisingly, Jack Welch lists decisiveness among his 4E’s of leadership, giving it the moniker of Edge – which he defines as:
“the ability to make tough calls, to say yes or no, not maybe”.
Wake up and Fight
And, then there is the little matter of execution/implementation – the degree to which we follow through on our goals & decisions.
Here Woody’s words, “Wake up & Fight”, give eloquent expression to the idea that execution is primarily about how we handle adversity.
Of course, this is very much common knowledge – if not so common practice.
Hence, renowned management guru, Tom Peters, wouldn’t be alone in claiming that:
“It is failures in implementation that trip us up 9 cases out of 10.
This explains our fascination with public figures, who show dogged persistence in overcoming obstacles – Lincoln, Churchill, Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King, Einstein, Scott, Shackleton, etc.
Never mind the universal appeal with which we hold the underdog – in literature, sport, music, film, cartoon strips, etc.
Here there are lots of role models – Erin Brockovich, Jesse Owens, Popeye, Jack & the Beanstalk, etc.
Making Resolutions Stick
And, we need them all; for keeping resolutions is never easy.
Experts say it takes about 21 days for a behavioural change to become a habit – same time as it takes a chicken to hatch an egg, apparently.
This hatching parallel is noteworthy – particularly, as a reminder of the obsessive attention demanded for resolutions to stick.
Indeed, the nursery rhyme character, The Little Red Hen, may be the most perfect role model of all.
Remember the refrain, when all around her refused to help on the farm:
“Okay, I’ll do it myself. And, so she did”.
PS. For related Torc training programmes, please click on the pertinent link here:
1. Leading with Resilience & Optimism
2. Leading with Innovation & Creativity
3. Thinking, Judging & Decision-Making
4. Mastering Personal Effectiveness

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