What an eventful year 2013 has been! With all its highs and lows, the passing of Tata Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, on the 5th of December, shook the world. I received a call on the evening of his death frantically telling me to turn the news on, only to find President Jacob Zuma informing viewers of the terrible news.

I am grateful to have lived in his lifetime and that through his leadership so much change took place, encouraging prosperity to take place. Most importantly, it was through his leadership that South Africa was liberated. Now that he’s gone, it’s up to us to carry on with his legacy.

The start of a new year gives all of us the wonderful new possibility of making a positive change in our lives. Think of it as a chance to hit “restart” and begin anew! In reality, we can make a fresh start at any time of the year, but we tend to realize this more at the beginning of a new year. Why not take advantage of that?

Do you make New Year’s resolutions? Unfortunately, most people don’t make any specific resolutions for self-improvement at all and this is often because they don’t think they can keep it. They may be afraid to fail or afraid to be disappointed. But to give up on improving yourself for any reason, is a tragedy.

Here are the steps I follow to make improvements in my life:

Assess your life

At the start of every New Year I re-evaluate my life. Do I feel good about how I’m living? Am I making a difference for people in need? Am I experiencing a sense of meaning? Do I experience love for myself and for others? Where do I find enjoyment? Where can I improve my life?

Really want the change

All of us have things that we should either do differently, better, or more of. However, trying to change because you should is a sucker’s bet. More often than not, you’ll fail and then feel guilty and even if you do succeed, you’ll be tempted to arrogance. Making a change because you are driven and want to, is much more effective

Set realistic goals

Look at the list you have made of the things you would like to improve or do better and ask yourself if they are feasible to achieve. You need to consider the resources you have as well as the time frame you have set, for them to materialize. Setting realistic goals encourages you to work at them, without discouraging when you cannot attain them.

Give yourself options

A personal goal of mine one year was to put more effort in my friendships and decided on two ways to do this. I have started to travel more often and socialize with friends.

Keep at it

Last year, one of my goals was to read through "The Daily Bible.” Including the commentary before each day’s reading, this was a 15 minute commitment per day. Some days I didn’t get my reading done and so I fell behind. However, because this goal reflects an important value of mine, I kept at it and caught myself catching up every time I fell behind. The persistence made me feel good about my achievement and acted as a further reward to keep at it.

Value the process

Don’t get so focused on your goal that your only gratification is in reaching the goal. If you find meaning and enjoyment in the process, you’ll be less likely to run out of gas. Along the way appreciate the benefits and not just on the goal. Take time to enjoy where you are, this makes looking back and seeing how far you’ve come that much easier.

Appreciate any progress

When it comes to self-improvement, something is better than nothing. I don’t focus on the goals I don’t accomplish at a particular point. I would rather focus on the process and feel proud of the goals I have accomplished.

Pick a partner

To follow through with your goals, it helps to have someone to talk to about your progress and for them to encourage you along the way. Ask a friend to hold you accountable and to remind you why your goal is important to you.

Learn from your mistakes

Everyone fails at some point. That’s ok and it doesn’t mean you’re a failure! The path to success normally includes failures along the way and should be treated as a learning opportunity rather than something to fret over. It takes humility and courage to learn from your mistakes and to ask for help.

Stay in the present

Carl Bard said: “Although no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.” Don’t let fears from your past stop you from trying today to make an improvement in your life!

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