The new year is almost here, and despite the epic dumpster fire that was 2020, I know we are all hopeful that 2021 will be better. As we consider the resolutions we want to make, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at what a resolution is and to try and convince you that we make them wrong.
That’s right, I said we do resolutions wrong.
Before I get into what’s wrong about how we make resolutions, I want to explain why resolutions are so important. I’ll touch on the timing of them in a minute, but the foundation of them is really interesting to me. Think about resolutions this way: resolution-setting is a way to align our behaviours with our values. In context, if your resolution is to “drink more water” or “work out more often” you have established that you value wellness. Whether or not you actually drink more water come January 1 is not really relevant, because the importance of the resolution itself is more about establishing that you value your own wellness. The same can be said about a resolution to leave work by 5:00 every day. You’re establishing that you value spending time with your family, or your significant other. Thinking about what resolutions we want to make is our opportunity to think about how things went in the year and how they could be going if we aligned our behaviours a little differently. If you worked late every night for six months straight and your family complains that they never get to see you, you may want to make a conscious effort to change that, because you value your time with your family and you recognize that a change is needed.
There’s nothing magical about January 1. It’s just a day. But we use it as a point of reference, the effect of which is to (presumably) begin new habits. This is where resolution-making goes off the rails, in my opinion.
Note: There is some science behind why we pick January 1 or other milestone markers, to set new goals, and you can read about the “fresh start effect” if you’re interested, here.
Back to where we go wrong, though. Tell me if this sounds familiar to you: on January 1 (any year) you wake up and say the following: “I’m going to lose weight”. Or “I’m going to read 20 books this year”. Or “I’m going to work out more”. All great goals.
Then, on January 4th let’s say, or whatever day it is you return to work following the holidays, you either forget, you let it slide, or you simply decide it’s too hard. And on December 31st, 364 days later, the process starts again. You go about setting those goals (or maybe different ones) again.
What if I told you that you could potentially make your resolutions come to life as accomplishments, if you set them differently. What if, instead of picking your three or however many goals on December 31 this year, you instead made them into plans. What if you took “I’m going to read 20 books this year” (goal) and turned it into “I’m going to try to read 20 books this year by setting aside 10 minutes every morning before I get out of bed to sit quietly and read one chapter” (plan). If you read every morning for 10 minutes, or you read a chapter every day, you’d be miles ahead in your goal and I bet you could get very close to twenty books.
We’re going to pause our plan setting talk here for just a second to consider the effect this global pandemic has had on our habits because that’s going to throw a wrench into our resolutions this year and it’s worth talking about.
At some point in 2021, the world may return to some semblance of normal. It may look and feel different, but there’s the hope that we will be able to return to regular workdays and workplaces, shopping excursions, and vacations at some point in the next 365 days. While we’ve been in quasi-lockdown, we’ve developed a lot of lockdown habits. Some of them are good ones (working out every day in a virtual fitness class, for example!) and some of them are less good (crushing a bag of chips in front of Netflix every night). I don’t judge; we’ve done what we had to do to keep ourselves sane in a crazy time.
Thinking about the habits that we have developed during this time that we want to keep when this particular stage of the pandemic ends, we need to ask ourselves: how can we sustain good habits when life returns to somewhat normal?
I mention this here because we need to apply this very same consideration to how we’re setting our resolutions this year. We need to be mindful that the circumstances we are in may be changing, and if and when they do, we need to know how we can pivot to stay on track with our good habits. That’s another reason why the plan is so important.
When you’re setting your resolutions in the coming week or two (and be honest, most of us make at least one, even if it’s quietly in our heads and we never admit it to anyone), I’m recommending the following course of action:
1. Set a plan, not a goal.
2. Think about how it aligns with your values.
3. Make the plan concrete, be as specific as possible.
4. Take into account what will happen when the world reopens, and how you will pivot your plan to keep it sustainable given a change of circumstances.
5. Find an accountability partner. Being accountable to what you said you’d do is a really great way to stay on track.
Creating habits is a whole other post for another time, and I promise I will write more about it in the near future (because it’s a favourite topic of mine), but for right now, think about how you might use these five steps for resolution-setting success.