Resolve to not resolve

no resolutionsNew Year’s resolutions are lame. Thirty days into the new year, they are nothing but debris we shuffle through guiltily as we go about our routine, which happens to look pretty much just like last year’s routine. Why are we so bad at them? To find out, read on (or, if you would rather be inspired to create more effective resolutions, read the post I wrote last year).

  • They are too broad in scope. When we script a resolution, what we are usually doing is making an elaborate wish that if we force ourselves to do a certain thing, we will be suddenly become a newer, better version of ourselves. “Get healthy!” may be a great aim, and the vision you have of the “healthy you” may have the pull of a thousand suns, but the decree lacks clarity and direction. “Eat five servings of fruits and vegetables each day at least five days of the week” may be less romantic, but it is far more likely to be realized.
  • Our heart isn’t in it. The reason we don’t already eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day is because we don’t want to. It isn’t because we fail to appreciate the value of doing so, it’s because we would rather have five servings of chocolate and wine. A resolution made on the first of the year that is going to carry you through the next 364 days needs to have something besides logic behind it to keep you going. You have to answer for yourself the ultimate reason why you want to do something. What value or purpose does it serve?
  • The frame doesn’t support it. If only we had more discipline, we tell ourselves, we would JUST DO IT. We tend to over-emphasize the role our personal attributes have and de-emphasize the power of the situation. Imagine sitting at the table seething while your entire family noshes on Cheetos and Coke, only to return to work and be cheerily strong-armed into lunch at the pizza joint followed by an office birthday cake bonanza. Culturally no one actually expects us to stick to our resolutions anyway, so people don’t even feel bad about ignoring your protestations that you really do prefer carrot sticks.
  • Prior pattern of failure. We have created a habit of making resolutions and failing to see them through – both personally and socially – so every year going into it we have a little less faith in our ability to do what we set out to do. And as shown in Carol Dweck’s TEDTalk, our mindsets have immense power over how we approach learning and growth opportunities, and, therefore, our future success.

We don’t need more resolutions, what we need is more strategic planning. Defining and going after your personal and professional goals shouldn’t be an annual activity! Goals need to be really thought out and turned into actionable plans. If you really want to achieve that resolution, try making an action plan instead.

  • Articulate a small number of higher-order goals you wish to achieve (Be physically healthy, Earn a promotion)
  • Define the strategy you will take to achieve the goal (Focus on improving my diet, Work toward certification)
  • Outline the tactics necessary to execute the strategy (Plan a menu each week, Enroll in certification course)
  • Identify resources you will need to execute tactics (Sign up for and enlist support of spouse, Money for tuition and one Friday off per week)
  • Plan around potential obstacles (Business travel, family demands)

But just like resolutions, action plans can’t just be spun off and left to their own devices. You need to set up regular check-in points to assess progress and make course-corrections. Don’t discount the vision of the “better you” that is driving your choices – ruminate on it periodically, then compare it to your plan. Is it getting you there? Reflecting on your grander vision stokes the passion for your goal and keeps you motivated and accountable; making a plan is what will help you turn that fire into behavioral choices aligned with the goal.

As a final note: since my resolution is to not have a resolution, then logic dictates that I should not resolve not to resolve and therefore should have a resolution. Just one! Years of resolving is a hard habit to break. My only goal this year is to continue and expand a meditation practice. There is overwhelming evidence that meditation helps improve psychological wellbeing, physical health, creativity, and performance. Not to mention it actually changes your brain and even alters your DNA. All of that seems like it could be pretty useful while I chase down my other professional and personal goals for 2015.

 “Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.” — Mark Twain