THE New Year's Resolution That Won't Work (And How To Fix It) - Next Action Associates

Here we are. 2022. The fireworks are well done, this week some of us are moving beyond last week’s pretence of being back at work, and – as hope springs eternal in the human heart despite the headwinds of the couple of years – t’is the season for resolving.

“Any resolutions for this year?”

It’s a question that often makes an appearance at this time of year. It’s asked – and answered – more enthusiastically by the young, and somewhat more hesitantly by those with a few miles on their tires. With more unresolved resolutions weighing on their conscience, the oldsters are a bit more circumspect about going on the record with their plans.

It’s not that resolutions don’t work, more that we don’t work them very well. I think that is true in at least two ways:

  • We formulate them in ways that are not helpful
  • We don’t give enough thought to how we’re going to actually make them happen

To illustrate the point, let’s look at a version of the perennial top-of-the-new-years-pops resolution of our overfed age: “I want to drop a few kilos in 2022.”

Firstly, it is not specific enough. How much are you going to lose, exactly? Precisely what number will you celebrate when it appears on the scale? If you want that in GTD®-speak, what is the project here? The formulation is also missing any sense of excitement or anticipation about the destination. How about, “I love how light and free I feel in my body at 55 (or 65, or 85) kilos”? Or, “I enjoy climbing grade 6 routes easily and quickly at [target]kg.” Or whatever you imagine to be the positive result of getting to where you want to go in this domain.

From a planning perspective, it is also a bit light. For instance, when are you going to start? Ahead of time, the classic response would be, “I’ll start January first,” for instance.  That has a certain logic to it, of course, but in terms of planning, the start date is suspect. If announced ahead of time, the idea seems to be that we can just let the bulls run for a bit longer, then rein them in on Jan 1. Might work, but the first was a Saturday. Probably a big lunch with friends to celebrate the new year. Sunday we always do a roast, and Monday is a bank holiday. I’ll start on Tuesday. Hard on the first day back at work though. Hmmm.

It’s the 11th now, and I guarantee you that some only got started yesterday. They will not be alone. Failure to think through in detail what will actually be doable inside their current commitments and upcoming calendar is what torpedoes most peoples efforts in this domain. My take? Either you’re serious about doing it, or you’re not. Start now, or don’t bother; get a good tailor for any necessary alterations and simply enjoy your cake while you eat it.

For this to be anything other than a motivation-sapping exercise, a project of this nature will require a LOT of thinking, not just a vague idea that it’ll work out if you start stumbling around the park now and again while trying to leave the pastries on the plate. What, exactly, is the next action here?

As someone who knows this particular project well, you basically need to redesign your life to get your desired results in this domain. Everything from sleep rhythms, to workout times, what you allow into the house and who you spend your leisure time with are up for discussion if you want to take some of the pressure off your scales. When are you going to the gym? Who are you going with? When will you do the shopping? Do you want to do that in-store, or online? (hint: do you really fancy your chances against the human behaviour experts in-store…?)

You see where I’m going. It isn’t the willpower that will win the day for you with your resolutions, but the thinking and planning about how you’ll actually get them done.

The same is true for any other things you are wanting to change this year.

“I gotta get organized”, “I want to get my stress levels down”, or “I’m going to do a Weekly Review®, weekly this year,” probably won’t cut it. Many of us make resolutions as if the decision to do them is all there is to do. Because after deciding on something there is a belief that we’ll act rationally, and in line with what we’ve said we want to do.

If only.

To enhance your chances of success, what you can do is use your rational self to make a plan that takes into account the irrational, under-slept and over-worked self who’ll actually have to do the actions through the year. Or, you can always start next Monday….

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