A Better Alternative to New Year's Resolutions

This year, make a more meaningful impact on your family and the world by writing up a Personal Legacy Statement.

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It’s that time again — when we look back over the last 12 months and make plans for the coming year. “This is the year I’ll lose those 10 extra pounds (plus the 5 I put on over the holidays),” you may think, or “2018 is gonna be the year I finally pay off my credit cards and ramp up my retirement savings!”

About half of Americans will create at least one New Year’s resolution for the coming year. Unfortunately, about 80% of those resolutions will fail (opens in new tab) by the second week of February.

This year, try writing up something different — and more meaningful — than the typical New Year’s resolution that will be a distant memory by March. Draw up your own Personal Legacy Statement. It’s like an estate plan, but instead of focusing on finances, it focuses on what kind of life you want to lead.

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Have You Thought About Your Legacy?

Every hour, every day and every year, you make small decisions that lead you toward becoming a certain kind of person. Many of these “decisions” are made on autopilot as a result of habits you’ve picked up: You instinctively reach for a cup of coffee in the morning, you check your phone whenever it dings, you tense up when your spouse uses that certain tone of voice.

These habits create the behavorial trend of your life. But what are they leading you toward?

In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey writes about beginning with the end in mind. If you don’t know your destination, it’s likely you’ll end up going in circles.

One of the best ways I’ve found to create an anchor or point of destination for your life is to create a Personal Legacy Statement.

A Personal Legacy Statement goes beyond losing weight or saving a few extra bucks for the future. It is a declaration of the kind of person you hope to become, the values you wish to live by and how you will impact others. It provides a vision that directs those tiny decisions that make up who you are.

If, for example, you specify in your Personal Legacy Statement that you would like to be a good parent, you may start changing some things in your day-to-day life, like putting down the cellphone at dinner or reading to your daughter before bed rather than binging on the latest Netflix series.

These small acts make a tremendous impact and lead to a legacy you can be proud of. Without this kind of direction, it’s easy to let entropy take over and just go with the flow — leading you to leave a legacy of, well, not much.

Three Steps to Writing a Personal Legacy Statement

A Personal Legacy Statement takes introspection. Spend some time journaling about the questions below and then craft a concise — no more than one page — statement that encompasses the attributes of the kind of person you hope to be known as.

1. Identify your roles.

Determine how you wish to represent yourself in the following five roles:

  • Family Role — How do you wish to connect with and love those in your family?
  • Social Role — How do you want to interact with friends and acquaintances?
  • Career Role — How do you want to impact others through your work? How do you find passion and enjoyment in your work?
  • Community Role — How will you contribute to your local community? Do you have a passion for helping a certain group of people or furthering a cause?
  • Spiritual Role — How will you nourish your spirit or need for creativity, connection, rest and balance? How will you grow yourself and care for your body and well-being?

2. Define your principles.

Think about what values and morals will help you fulfill your various roles. Consider these questions as you’re writing down the values that matter to you:

  • What principles are important to follow to fulfill the roles you’ve outlined for yourself?
  • Which character attributes are most important to you?
  • Are there personal weaknesses or struggles that will make it hard for you to fulfill your legacy if you don’t address them?

3. Specify how you wish to share your legacy.

Memories fade quickly; what gets remembered is what is recorded and shared. Consider these questions when thinking about how you wish to share your legacy:

  • How will you record and document meaningful experiences?
  • How will you let others know how much they mean to you?
  • How will you mentor others or pass on your wisdom or skills?

To view some examples of Personal Legacy Statements, visit www.paragonroad.com/personal-legacy-statement-examples/ (opens in new tab).

A good Personal Legacy Statement can serve as the vision for your path forward for 2018 and beyond.

This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Laura A. Roser
Founder and CEO, Paragon Road

Laura A. Roser is the founder and CEO of Paragon Road, the leading authority in meaning legacy planning (passing on non-financial assets, such as values, wisdom and beliefs). For more information about legacy planning, visit www.paragonroad.com (opens in new tab).