Rethinking Resolutions


Nowadays it seems like the only folks who still love New Year’s Resolutions are fitness centers. Many fall into the following camps: I’ve tried many times and they just don’t work or I don’t believe in resolutions or better yet I choose to set goals instead of pointless resolutions.

This is a problem because much like every day is a new beginning, the New Year is a time when we can begin again on a grand scale. It’s a fitting milestone where we look back and assess where we’ve been so we can chart our new course for the new year and beyond.

This apathy toward resolutions perpetuates a general malaise of inaction, unaccountability, and unfulfillment. What if I told you that resolutions aren’t the problem, rather it’s have we’ve been taught to perceive them?  Here are 5 steps to take to rethink resolutions.

Realize resolutions involve habits

Much of our daily decisions are habitual. Habits that we generally pay little attention to. Checking the phone when you wake up, our shower routine, the route we take to work, checking the phone while walking to/from meetings, and on and on and on. Since habits can be either positive or negative, it behooves us to pause and become more aware of the habits that aren’t serving us. This can be done by taking a week to perform a time audit. This will reveal just where and how you’re spending your time along with some possibly eye-opening negative habits. You can only improve a negative habit by replacing it with a positive habit. Simply put, a resolution is you saying “I am deciding to develop [insert positive habit here].”
[Book recommendation: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg]

Resolutions aren’t goals. They are decisions to replace bad habits with good ones.

Choose Your Identity

A resolution is NOT a goal. A resolution is a decision to be the kind of person you want to become. It’s deciding each day to do the kind of things that that person would do. If you want to lose 70 lbs, your identity could be a healthy person who eats the right things. If you want to get your MBA, your identity could be a person who says no to nightly Netflix.  This is powerful because you make most of these habitual decisions unconsciously. This technique uses the tremendous force of cognitive dissonance.  By helping adjust those subconscious decisions to align with the identity you’ve chosen. Thus giving you a powerful ally in the face of the inevitable temptations.
[Book recommendation: Atomic Habits by James Clear]

Focus on what you can control

When you punch in the destination (goal) into your GPS, no one expects to be teleported to their destination (at least not yet). To get there involves doing some actual work on your part (driving). Your main focus should only be on resolving to follow those steps and do the things that that type of person would do. Focus on the process involved in achieving that goal, not the goal itself. If when following that GPS, you were to take the wrong turn, what you do? Exactly! Sounds silly to think that you wouldn’t turn around or take the alternate route that still gets you to your destination, doesn’t it. Manage your expectations in this regard by removing the need to be perfect from Jan 1st to Dec 31st.

Recognize your motivations

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius says “To thine own self be true.” Couple that with Socrates saying, “Know thyself.” To ensure you’re not fighting a losing battle, you must be sure to understand how you respond to outer and inner expectations and act accordingly. You might need to do either of the following:

  • make sure that you’re accountable to other people (gym partner, walking club, etc). 
  • ask and answer the question “Why do I want this goal?”
  • understand if the identity corresponding to the goal is the identity you seek (or was it just someone else’s)

This can be the difference between frustration and fulfillment.
[Book recommendation: The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin]

If you motivated by outer accountability, you may need to involve a partner in your resolution.

Make it easier on yourself

Our environment has the biggest impact on our habits. If you’re trying to lose weight and the pantry is stocked with processed sugary foods, you’re going to have a problem. If you’re trying to get that degree and the remotes and game controllers out on the couch, you’re going to have a problem. Attaining a goal by following through on a resolution is difficult in an of itself. Why make it harder by leaving landmines in your path? Help your future self out by doing what you can to make your environment conducive to your resolutions.
[Book recommendation: Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith]

Resolutions are not goals, they are not easy at first. They are however commitments you’re making to your future self, they do require work on your part and they are essential to attaining your goals. Remember, you’re not aiming for perfection, just a daily practice of deciding to be the type of person that performs that type of activity. By focusing on the process of becoming and not the outcome/goal, you will get much closer to and even attain many more goals.