I don’t make new year’s resolutions. I don’t ever remember making them. But I don’t have a beef with the new year’s resolution itself. New year’s resolutions are just goals, and goals are awesome. Goals give you a purpose, guide your work, and mark milestones in your progress. A new year’s resolution is just a goal that happens to be made in a half-drunken stupor on December 31st. Here’s where the system goes awry:
New year’s resolutions are goals for people that don’t set goals. To better understand, consider this analogy: I am not a dentist. If I suddenly resolve that I will begin extracting teeth with no knowledge of dentistry, then I’ll get the job done as best I can. Since I have no training or practice in the use of anesthetics or dental tools, I’ll likely use scotch and a brass hammer and punch set from Lowe’s. Sound ugly? So are the results of most new year’s resolutions.
Why would someone with no motivation, plan, or tools to improve himself 364 days of the year suddenly be able to perform an about face and achieve a challenging goal? It’s preposterous. That’s what a new year’s resolution does. It convinces people that through the power of everyone doing something all at once, which only works for summoning Captain Planet, they can achieve difficult goals with no plan, tools, or tolerance for the discomfort of change.
However, setting goals for the year is a wonderful and powerful exercise. If you want to take part in the social brouhaha of new year’s resolutions, then I advise the following:
1. Don’t shoot for the stars and hope to land on the moon. Hope is not a course of action. Shoot for the moon and land on the effin moon. That is to say, don’t set too ambitious a goal, but after you set it, hold yourself accountable. Set a goal that is difficult but achievable. We often overestimate our abilities, especially when it comes to physical training. If you’ve never run before, then resolving to run a 5k in less than 25 minutes might be too ambitious. How about resolving to run a 5k without stopping and without walking?
2. Decompose your goal into tangible parts. Do you want to lose weight? How much weight over how long? Do you want to become stronger? What’s a common task that gives you trouble that you would like to perform with ease? Do you want to change your behavior in some way? In what situations will you exhibit the different behavior? Phrase your goal in real-world terms that are measurable and have meaning to you.
3. Have a plan to achieve your goal, because your goal requires work. If your goal doesn’t require work then tape up your hands to protect your knuckles, punch yourself in the face, and go back to step one and set a better goal. How do you plan to accomplish the work? Do you have the information and facilities you’ll need? That doesn’t mean buying a $10,000 tool set to meet your goal of learning basic car maintenance, but you might need some tools, or some training. When will you work on your goal? If the answer is “whenever I get time” then go ahead and resume face-punching. You don’t have to create an hourly schedule, but if you don’t commit tangible time towards your goal, then it will be still-born. We all get 24 hours in a day–every single one of us. We all decide how to allocate those 24 hours, and every minute we allocate to something is taken from something else. It may be taken from something useless or something you enjoy, but the time you devote towards achieving your goal will be taken from something else. Recognize it, accept it, and plan for it.
4. Start executing now. This is another reason why new year’s resolutions are usually worthless: they ascribe mythical importance to beginning work towards your goal on January 1st. Nobody who ever gave half a shit about achieving something decided to start next week. That doesn’t mean you have to start doing burpees in your living room or in your office right now, but you should devote yourself to your goal right now. Thinking about changing your diet? Change today. How can one be serious about changing his diet yet decide to continue eating according to his old lifestyle? That is a contradiction, and contradictions don’t exist. The answer is that if you continue putting down cheese coneys on December 21st in anticipation of changing your diet on January 1st, then you don’t really plan on changing your diet on January 1st. No…not really…not deep down where it counts.
The point is that setting goals and working to achieve them is a messy and difficult process. While I enthusiastically encourage you to set and achieve goals, you can’t condense that process into a neat package with a bow that you unwrap at midnight with a glass of champagne and a kiss. It’s just not realistic, and achieving goals requires real things: planning, sacrifice, effort, and dedication.