Thursday, October 31, 2019

Why I Don't Make New Year's Resolutions

At the end of each year, lots of people think about next year and what they want to achieve. You probably see a lot of articles about making new year’s resolutions and the best way to succeed. But not from me.

Some statistics about new year’s resolutions

According to an article in, only about 9% of new years resolutions will be achieved.
The majority of people surveyed by recently said they were making resolutions about saving money. After that, the most popular choices were:
  • losing weight/getting in shape
  • having more sex
  • traveling more
  • reading more
  • learning a new skill/hobby
  • buying a house
  • quitting smoking
  • finding love
And I bet that a lot of these resolutions carry over from year to year—because, at a 9% success rate, they’re just not getting done!
Yet at the beginning of 2018, reported that over 2/3 of the people surveyed still said they would be making new year’s resolutions.

What’s the point in making new year’s resolutions year after year, and then never keeping them?!

I have some theories. One of them is that people feel pressure from society or their peers to make changes. Think, for example, about the resolution for losing weight/getting into shape. If there weren’t so many pictures all over the media of these fit, perfect-looking, beautiful people getting all the attention, would you care about how much you weigh? There have been times historically (and still in some cultures today) when being overweight was/is a sign of prosperity. I bet those people don’t make resolutions to lose weight every year.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe it’s important to be at a healthy weight for your health. Being overweight significantly increases the risk of many chronic conditions: heart disease, type II diabetes, arthritis, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and more. But if you are trying to lose weight because of other people’s reasons, then it won’t be enough motivation to achieve your goal.

Goal-setting tips that just don’t work for me

One thing people talk a lot about when creating goals is the SMART system:
  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound
This can be helpful, but only for some people and in certain situations. While I think all those aspects of goal-making are important, they are not enough.
If you’re like me, this has happened many, many times with a goal that you want to achieve. You have it all planned out, then something goes wrong. You get discouraged and give up because you don’t know how to re-start. You’ve lost momentum.
If you set 10-20 new year’s resolutions, then you’re just multiplying your frustration when things go south.
I also found that most of the day planners, schedulers, task managers and to-do lists don’t work for me either. I will either forget to check them or when the reminders come up on my phone I’ll swipe them away because they occur at a bad time. I find it easier to block out time on my schedule to work on a goal.
I don’t think developing more discipline works, either. Willpower fades with time. And if you had enough discipline, then reaching goals wouldn’t be a problem!
And the answer is not throwing money at it, or at least that doesn’t work all the time. Although sometimes that helps.
I don’t think accountability partners work either. Because what if your accountability partner starts flaking or losing interest?

What I do instead of New Year’s resolutions

I’ve said it before: humans are horrible at multitasking. Our brains are just not built to do it with any effectiveness. So I only worry about one goal at a time. I decide what to work on based on what is most important to me and focus on that single idea until I achieve it.
And I think that starting a goal just because it’s the new year is pretty arbitrary. It may just be my general rebellion against tradition, but why January 1st? We get ideas all year round about things we want to achieve. Waiting until the next year starts to work on them seems silly. Not to mention you might forget, or so much time has passed that you’ve lost your excitement for something that might be a good idea to pursue.
One of the best goal-setting books I’ve found is called The Healthy Habit Revolution by Derek Doepker (Amazon affiliate link). I used some, but not all, of his tips. But what I really like is breaking down goals into micro-tasks—something so easy that it’s practically impossible to not get it done.
So for example, say you’re the person who wants to read more. Your micro-task is to read one page per day, or maybe for 30 seconds to 1 minute per day. Who doesn’t have 30 seconds? Will you accomplish what you want quickly? Unlikely. But you will achieve something, and if you read for one minute per day, that’s over 6 hours of reading you’ve done that year. Which is way more than reading a couple pages on January 1st and then quitting.
Derek’s book talks about how to ramp up from there, but to always fall back to your micro-task if it’s all you have time for. That way you keep your habit going every day.
Also, sometimes planning on doing things that are due by the end of the year is a surefire path to failure. Some things take longer than a year to implement.

The real key to successfully achieving goals (or New Year’s resolutions)

No matter what it is you’re trying to do, the answer is simple. And it isn’t what you might think.
In my opinion, the only way to achieve your goals is to want the results more than you want other things.
But you may need some reminders of your goals. So have a picture related to your goal everywhere you look: on your fridge, taped to the mirror in the bathroom, as your screensaver on your computer, maybe even on your ceiling over your bed.
You have to have a really strong motivation to keep you going past the roadblocks and sidetracks. Because they will happen. You have to find your “why” and keep it in front of you.
So whether you start a new goal today, January 1st, or whenever, get really clear on your motivations first. If you want it badly enough, you will find a way to achieve it.