Why is it that so many of our New Year’s resolutions are focused on self-enrichment, yet they are the first promises we break? The typical resolutions — "get more exercise" or "stop smoking" — are recycled yearly. Surveys find that most resolutions are abandoned or forgotten by, appropriately, Ground Hog Day. I believe it’s time to reboot our resolution-setting software and refocus on others instead of ourselves.

Researchers tell us that only about 12% of resolutions actually achieve their desired results but that you can increase your odds of success by making your goals public. I guess a little peer pressure goes a long way, so I’m going to boost my chances in 2009 by sharing five of my resolutions with you

Hope fuels America’s engines of innovation and propels our country’s future prosperity.

Hope Floats All Boats

Expecting a better future is one thing that differentiates our society from other, less-fortunate parts of the world. Hope fuels America’s engines of innovation and propels our country’s future prosperity. Hope frees people to invest their time and talent in careers that will raise their standard of living and provide for their families’ needs and desires. Hope fills our lives with anticipation that tomorrow will be a better day.

When a society’s supply of hope runs low, as it has over the past few months, the ensuing void fills with uncertainty, which is anathema to an otherwise optimistic society. Even in these uncertain times, opportunities abound. The optimists among us will continue to view our coffee cup as half full, even when our 401k is a 201k. That’s because optimists measure progress by a generational time scale, not by new car models or quarterly reports.

From that bit of wisdom comes my first New Year’s resolution: Be optimistic about our future, and buy my friends larger coffee cups.

Pay It Forward

My family history is a good example of the importance of using a generational time scale. One grandfather rode in a covered wagon as a child in the last Oklahoma Indian Territory land rush. My father was born on an Oklahoma Indian reservation, where his parents were forced to make room for those new and unwanted neighbors. I was fortunate to be the first in my family to have the opportunity to earn a college degree; I was not the last. This is the quintessential American success story that I’m sure many readers share.

And it leads me to my second New Year’s resolution: Help my children and grandchildren to leverage the many opportunities afforded to them by this country.

The Great Unknown

What new and unknown challenges will the New Year bring? Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield spoke "eloquently" about the unknown: "As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know."

My simple-minded translation: Spend your limited time on the problems you can solve, and learn to live with the ones you can’t. That’s my third New Year’s resolution.

Service Over Status

My father was a career Navy officer, and I followed his footsteps. I shouldn’t have been surprised when my oldest son recently dropped by to tell me that he had enlisted in the Navy. No prior discussion or warning — just the after-action report. He joins ten of thousands of other young men and women who voluntarily serve our country from a spirit of service, not because of salary or perks.

My next resolution: Trust that we’ve taught our children to make good life and career decisions, and then support them when they make those decisions solo.

I was recently at the Houston airport in a gate waiting area when my plane arrived and began disgorging its passengers. There was nothing unusual until a young family with several children caught my eye as they moved to the center of the gate area and unfurled a Welcome Home sign. Every eye was locked onto this family until Dad, still dressed in desert utilities and carrying a duffle bag, emerged from the gateway. The reunion was a sweet moment, and I felt like an intruder by watching — until the entire waiting area burst into spontaneous applause. I remember how much it meant to me in years past when a complete stranger would thank me for my military service.

My final resolution: Return the compliment when I meet service members. Their sacrifices are greater than most of us will ever know or appreciate.

Focus Outward

Will our country, our industry, and our families face unwelcome challenges in the year ahead? No doubt. Nevertheless, how we interact with others in our daily lives, especially when times are tough and tempers are short, is one of the few remaining ways we have some control of our lives.

To be sure, these are challenging resolutions. The key difference this year is that they will be difficult to forget.
—Dr. Robert Peltier, PE is editor-in-chief of POWER.