New Year’s Resolutions Are Stupid. Set Goals.

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People keep baiting me on the topic of New Year's resolutions.

Perhaps because I've called them stupid in the past, they think I have a negative view of such resolutions...

But that's not true--I'm fired up about any catalyst that gets people to change.

It's not New Year's resolutions that are stupid, only how people pretend to use them :)

Phony Goals

Like Joseph Smith standing on a hill reading from his hat, people so proudly announce their New Year's resolutions--

I hereby proclaim that starting on January 1 (but no sooner), I will stop watching cat videos on Fakebook and go to the gym at least 6 times a day.

And just like a parent applauding their 7-year-old's school play, we're expected to celebrate their "achievement" in making such a resolution.

Good on you, Timmy!

Let's hope you're not in the 80% of people who give up on their resolutions by the second week in February...

New Year's "Aspirations"

Nearly all resolutions fail because they were only aspirations to begin with.

Every day of the year you can make a new resolution, but repeating it to yourself and others doesn't make it a goal.

An aspiration is to Get In Great Shape This Year. A goal is to specifically define how you are eating better and exercising consistently.

Resolutions become goals when they are backed by action, and that's where, by definition, most resolutions are destined to fail.

If someone was standing on your chest you would hardly wait till January 1 to make a change.

And anyone who waits for the new year to change has already signaled failure.

Don't Ask The Obvious Question...

When someone does their little resolution song and dance, a question you are forbidden to ask is...

How did you do on last year's resolutions? Oops!

Often you'll find that, in fact, they have a multi-year resolution that they have been resetting each year on January 1.

Apparently last year just wasn't their year to get those six pack abs, build their billion dollar empire, and get voted the sexiest person on earth.

But, this year, yes, this year, now they've really resolved to do it!!

But, What's To Resolve?

New Year's resolutions are a socially acceptable way to set goals that you expect to fail.

Most people who set resolutions lack their own motivation, which is why they seek to rope others in for social support and accountability.

They don't really want to change. They've waited for the big day. And like getting ready to hold their breath for a deep dive, they want others to know in case they run out of air.

Trying so hard to convince themselves that they can do it they resolve more and more.

But serious people don't resolve to change... They change.

Transforming Resolutions Into Change

The absolute best way to get a New Year's resolution working for you is to...

Pretend that it's not a New Year's resolution at all.

Forget what day you're resolving, and just set real goals!

I know that detracts from the sexiness of having a resolution, and makes it less socially acceptable to drop off the wagon 8 days from now, so you must, actually, want to succeed...

This requires setting great goals, as I wrote about here.

Here's four points to keep in mind as it relates to the specific type of goals we call New Year's resolutions.

1. Start Small

A reason many goals fail is because we want success to happen all at once.

Instead of starting with a slice, and achieving small victories that keep building momentum, with New Year's resolutions we tend to go for the whole salami.

For instance, someone with a New Year's resolution to get in shape is likely out of shape, and out of the habit of working out. Overcommitting themselves to a workout routine that in the past they have proven not to "want" is almost certainly destined to fail.

Instead of approaching it like a crash diet testing how many days they can avoid cake, they're far more likely to succeed by building a consistent and sustainable approach to their goal.

My client's wife asked him if he wants to set New Year's resolutions. He asked her if she could remember the resolution from last year, which she couldn't.

So they decided to set a one-month and three-month resolution. At least they will succeed or fail quickly!

2. Why & Why Not?

We all know that to get yourself to change, you want to have a powerful why.

Instead of say, setting a goal to "be more positive," you want to go deep into your goal and understand what you get through achieving it, and hence, what is really driving you.

Why is crucial. But especially when it comes to New Year's resolutions, you also want to understand your "why not?"

You want to be very honest with yourself here. See, if this was change that you really want to make, why did you wait till January 1? What prevented you from making this change sooner?

Do you REALLY want to make it now? How do you know? How many times have you "tried" to make this change in the past? What will be different now?

It's like my buddy who has again resolved to quit smoking. His wife tells him he "should." He knows he "should." But he's no more serious about making the change than any other time he's resolved...

You want to avoid shaming yourself here, but you do want to get to the heart of why you haven't already changed, and what you're now doing differently in changing.

3. Lifestyle Change

So, this is where nearly every New Year's resolution fails.

It's one thing to set a goal and resolve to make a change, but unless you're willing to make the lifestyle changes that support it, you fail.

When someone resolves to, for instance, kick that crummy job and go for the one they truly want, they haven't just committed to a career goal, but to all the changes that are required to execute on their goal.

Obviously, now they must somehow find the time to do the work, which will likely come through "sacrificing" something else. Beyond that, they must decide that they are ready to leave behind their old work colleagues, complaining, routines, certainty, and every other aspect of their life that comes with that old job.

See, they're not just changing the job. They are changing themselves, and every part of their life this goal impacts.

While the goal to change the job, or get in shape, or stop smoking, or whatever might sound like a good resolution, you only succeed if you are willing to make the many changes that support it.

4. Feedback

Feedback is crucial to all goals.

And it's also the reason that most people will be quitting their New Year's resolutions in the next few weeks... They hate the feedback.

They realize that, oh, wow, that change that they've been saving up until January 1, actually, isn't so easy to make.

Getting in shape takes real effort, and it can feel hard. Changing your job can require a massive amount of time, and rejection. Resolving to be in a new relationship, quit smoking, and every other goal comes with its "negative feedback" too.

On the flipside, with any new goal, just a small amount of effort can lead you to significant positive feedback, and particularly with New Year's resolutions, you want to keep seeking that positive reinforcement to keep driving your goals.

This isn't just "seeing results." You particularly want to pay attention to your process, to how good it feels to be in the midst of making changes.

Resolutions Become Goals

If you put a candle on top, a cake can become a birthday cake. But it's still a cake.

New Year's resolutions are goals by any other name... Typically, set poorly.

But, if you can use the catalyst of the new year to get yourself focused on making change. And if you're willing to go beyond resolving... to, actually executing on goals... then New Year's resolutions can be a powerful way to transform your year.

Or at least get you a few claps for pretending :)

Comments (6)

Best Response
Jan 5, 2018

Well it's been a few days since the beginning of 2018 and already see a lot of idiots giving up on their NYR. Seriously, those fckers can't even stick to their resolutions for one week, utter lack of resilience and determination.

Btw, I need people like this so at the end of this year, I can enjoy seeing them hating themselves.

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Jan 5, 2018

NYR's are completely dumb. No matter the calendar date when you realize you need to make a change in life get the hell on with doing it and no need for 1/1/2xxx.

Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.

Jan 5, 2018

weird that NY resolutions are still a thing, if you need the start of the flip of a calendar to motivate you then you're doing it wrong

WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My Linkedin

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Jan 5, 2018

It was a little bit tongue in cheek, but on 12/20 our President asked us who had NY resolutions. A few people raised their hands and he said "that's bullshit, if you were realized you want to make a change and you really wanted to do it you'd be doing it today".

I've always thought of ways I'd like to improve, but never really set hard and fast resolutions so I'd never really given it much thought, but he's absolutely right.

twitter: @CorpFin_Guy

Jan 5, 2018

Arguably my biggest pet peeve about them. The calendar shouldn't motivate you to go to the gym but having a picture of your gut as your phone background sure as hell will get you motivated.

Embarrassing pictures > Calendars