Originally published January 11, 2010

In his book, Ninja Wisdom from the Village of the Cold Moon, Stephen K. Hayes includes the following admonition:

"There is a game you can play with death

in order to more fully know life.

Pretend that you have the knowledge

that you will meet your death

one week hence.

Use the pretended urgency

to give vitality to your hours."

In this season of New Year’s Resolutions (NYR), I find this passage particularly useful. Every year, in a collective masochistic ritual, millions of resolutions are made. Most seemingly made to be broken, but everyone somehow disappointed they didn’t follow through.

"This year I will lose weight!"

"This year I will get a better job!"

The making and unmaking of our goals has become a cultural joke. There are two primary reasons these resolutions die stillborn:

1. Because so many things not related to our goals demand our attention. Can’t exercise today? No problem, I can walk a little longer tomorrow. Work on resume for job hunt? Can’t today – too busy with current job I hate, but I’ll have some time next week. Of course, the same thing happens tomorrow or next week, as well. Without focus on the bigger need, the desired outcome, all the little things nagging at us will swamp our goals.

2. Because we pick goals that we really don’t care about. Losing weight, better job, quitting smoking or drinking, getting more organized, etc. Good arguments can be made for any of those resolutions, but if you really don’t care about them, why would you spend any energy on them? If you resolve to do something which means nothing to you, you will be looking for any excuse to ignore it.

So let me make a suggestion. Stop with the NYR routine. Odds are you’ll just keep frustrating yourself by making and breaking those resolutions every year anyway.

Instead, come up with what I call Gravestone Resolutions (GR). A GR is what you hope OTHER people will put on your gravestone when you have given up this mortal form. What do you want to be remembered for? What sort of legacy will you leave? How will the world have changed because you lived?

How would you like this on your grave marker: "Here lies John Smith. Everyone he knew was jealous of how far he could jog."  Or how about something like this written on your stone by your children: "Buried here is our father Tom Jones. We never really knew him, but we understand his boss really relied on him."  Maybe this one: "Helen Wills – she had the most neatly kept home of all her friends."

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with being physically fit, a great team member at work, or having a well kempt home. Those are desirable things and increase the satisfaction you find in life. But if something like these picayune goals are the scope of what you hope for by the time you’ve drawn your last breath, I’m going to propose that you spend some time thinking bigger.

By ‘thinking bigger’, I don’t necessarily mean ‘thinking high-profile’. Starting a Fortune 500 company, becoming a player in international politics, or writing the next blockbuster novel are all swell, but they aren’t necessary to have a fantastic gravestone. You just need to know what YOU want people to think about when they remember your life:

1. if you are a parent, what will your children miss about you?

2. if married, how did you make your spouse’s life extraordinary?

3. will your co-workers be missing someone who brought a lot of value to the workplace?

4. was anyone who knew you inspired to be a better person because of your example?

5. your community – will it be a better place to live because you were there?

6. will you be someone who communicated a sense of spirit to everyone around you?

There are just my thoughts. I don’t know what you might want to be remembered for. But it should be great. It should make the world a better place. It should be something that, if you hadn’t lived, people would be poorer for. Be bold in thinking this out. Make it something that inspires you; something which energizes you. Thinking about your GR should thrill you!

Once you have your GR thought through, the next step is simple: do something about it. Every single day, do or say or think something which makes the impact you are looking for. Some days it will be easy – you’ll love being that special dad or the person who inspires others.

Other days . . . not so easy. Those around you will want something different from you. People will expect you to be smaller. Many days YOU will want to be smaller. You’ll be a couch potato watching a show you don’t really like because changing the channel is too much effort. You’ll say something petty about a coworker or neighbor. You’ll be tempted to make excuses for yourself – after all, you’re only human, right? Why push yourself? How arrogant to think you should be more!

Every time you feel this temptation, remember your tombstone. Some day (you don’t know when – it could be next week, or it could be 50 years from now) you will have one. You could succumb to those temptations regularly, capping your life with a stone that says something like:

"Tom Jones

Born 1950 Died 2015

He was an OK guy"

Or would you prefer that it says "Here lies a giant. He made a difference. Our world is less than it was now he is gone, but so much more than it would have been without him." You choose your stone every day.

Then, once you’ve remembered this future gravestone, act to make it a reality. Do something for someone you love. Share some laughter with a friend who is down. Think about things in a new way; find fresh possibilities in static situations. Act, and be remembered for making the world a better place.

If you don’t know what to think, say or do – learn. Read books that hold the knowledge you need. Befriend people who will also have remarkable gravestones. Find a mentor. Install new habits. Meditate to find your own wisdom (a favorite of mine).  Refuse to be limited today by the weaknesses you had yesterday.  Get bigger.

The irony here? You can still make those pesky NYRs. But if you make those resolutions goals which serve your GR, you’ll actually see them through. And you’ll be happier because of it!


Chris B

Note: the wonderful book "Ninja Wisdom from the Village of the Cold Moon", mentioned at the beginning of this post, is no longer in print.   Readers interested in learning more about this unique expression of martial philosophy can purchase an audio CD rendition, read by the author (with accompanying music by another friend, Todd Norcross) at this site: http://www.skhquest.com/store/index.php?act=viewProd&productId=27