By Donald R Dodson, Jr
So, a lot of you have been talking about New Year’s resolutions, and I thought I would put in my $2.52 worth. Plain and simple, New Year’s resolutions are stupid, ineffective and, ironically, detrimental to achieving your goals.
Here is why.
The whole concept is kind of naïve and short-sighted, really. You shouldn’t need a special date to do something. It’s not like that particular orbital movement imbues you with any special powers on that day only. Is a resolution, umm, resolved on January 2nd less likely to succeed? I think not. In fact, you are ALREADY too late! Like they say about planting trees and saving money. The best time to do that was yesterday.
Why do we think that making a resolution on New Year’s is going to create some sort of motivation rising unbidden from the depths of our souls to make us do the thing we haven’t been successful doing in the last 20 fucking years? Your motivation and the resulting outcome are going to be just as imperfect as last year You’re really going to have to do a little bit better than that this year. Maybe we can do better is we do it the right way.
Let’s also be clear, you really should take issue with any kind of decision that is made after a night of revelry and bad life choices that involve eggnog mixed with other questionable substances.
Now, this may sound like I’m negative. I’m not negative, I’m just realistic and maybe a little bit nihilistic, well and a smart ass, too. Let’s face it, many of these resolutions ARE hard. These are the things that at any normal time we’re never successful in accomplishing. It’s probably why we hope, against all hope that THIS YEAR we will make it happen.
Let’s look at how we might actually achieve these goals.
Your Resolutions kinda suck
A common issue with these yearly resolutions aimed at changing our lives (or businesses) is that they generally suck! They really are the vaguest, general goals ever. I mean granted, our first one usually involves waving off eggnog-based beverages for the foreseeable future. But, “I am going to lose weight, eat better, and go to the gym” Or. “I am going to focus on my business more” Seriously? WTF does “more” or “better” mean?
Set Clear, Measurable, and Sustainable Goals
I see many of my business colleagues in the crowds shaking their heads already. They see problems with these goals. They’re not very measurable and lack a purpose. And while not all goals have to be strictly measurable, it really does help to have some sort of reasonable measuring stick as well as a larger “why”. Maybe put an actual, reasonable and sustainable number and time period to it. So, instead of going to the gym more, it becomes “I am going to go to the gym X-times per week,” Instead of “I am going to do better with social media”, you put a number and frequency to the posts you will make.
In the gym example especially, it also helps use a longer time span (with a proportionate increase in repetitions) to make success more likely. Ex. six times every two weeks is easier to manage with our busy schedules than three times a week. This method makes early success attainable and reduces “goal-burnout” Often, people are successful for the first two weeks, they’re exercising every frickin day. But that’s not sustainable. They quickly tire of the all-consuming routine and before long they stop it altogether.
Also, in terms of your bigger, longer-term goals it helps to break them into shorter milestones. Instead of saying you are going to lose 50 pounds, say you are going to lose 5 or 10 pounds per month. Sounds attainable, right? That’s the point! You are going for sustained success! The more consistent success you have the more you’ll continue the activity and it helps create a habit (more on habits in a sec). You can also adjust that goal upward as you become more successful if appropriate.
The Why is Important, too.
It’s also especially helpful to have an overarching purpose – a “why”. Granted, “not dying” is a pretty good “why”, but maybe you are looking to being there for your kids or partner or your pet hedgehog, Stabby. A “Why” is also helpful for habits, which is the next strategy.
Habits: It bears Repeating
Habits! Another significant strategy, and also more difficult for most, is creating habits. A habit is a “settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” We have a bunch of habits that we do every day. The problem is (waves hand like a Jedi) “those aren’t the habits you are looking for” We want to add new habits! And, if that habit doesn’t exist in the first place, (like already going to the gym or posting social media) fabricating one out of, out of thin air is not going to be easy.
Simplistically, habits are about satisfying a craving for a “reward” through an action/response. They are built over long periods of time. Typically, a habit forms after 30 days of repetition. A key to the habit-forming component is the reward. This has to be something you can prioritize so that it creates that craving and makes you want to do it again to get the reward. You are hungry so you crave food, the response is to eat. Craving is satisfied because the reward is you are full.
But what reward do you get for posting on social media, or going to the gym? This is where that larger goal – the “Why” can be helpful. Because many of our more challenging goals and their associated habits aren’t based on primal needs like food or sex, etc (or they are not based on reducing them). They are based on higher-level rewards like self-esteem, accomplishment, etc. So, you really need to work harder to create that positive connection to such a reward. There are also techniques like habit-stacking where you take an existing habit and piggyback off that. To be fair, this merely a superficial explanation, and I am a humble entrepreneur. I suggest you dig deeper to better understand how to form good habits.
Resolutions Can actually Hurt Your Goals
I did mention how I felt that New Years Resolutions could be detrimental. We put a lot of pressure on that commitment we made on New Year’s Day, and often we fail. This failure breeds a lot of negativity: guilt, diminishment of self-esteem, anxiety as we struggle to work through often poorly constructed goals.
Adding to this is the pressure we create when we publicly state our resolutions on Social media, in front of our peers, coworkers, and family. In some cases, we feel that this accountability will help us to succeed, and, indeed there is some merit to that. As anyone who has had an accountability partner or group knows, that peer pressure is effective. However, the thing is, most people (including yourself, let’s be honest) expect you to fail, because, they themselves feel the same way about these New Year’s Goals because it is what their own experience has been, as well.
Perhaps it would be more effective to just make it a normal life choice or goal. Let’s not attach any special significance to it. Partly this is a matter of personal choice or preference. My bet is that no one really needs extra anxiety in their lives. Remember the goal and the process of achieving it is supposed to be a positive one. Set a clear measurable goal, with sustainable milestones and create habits that support that goal, so you can continue to succeed. Also, don’t wait to start a goal. Start it when it needs to be done.
Regardless I DO wish you success in your next 365 days around the sun. And, remember, that eggnog and poor life choices will always be there, waiting.