Listen, it’s okay to suck at New Year’s resolutions
It’s a new year. Again. And that means our social media feeds will ping with the extra shiny versions of our friends’ carefully curated efforts to get (and keep) their shit together for a month or two. But what happens to those grand plans come March? Like Thanos’ snap at the end of Infinity War, half of ‘em will dissolve into dust.
Statistically, it is closer to 80%. Why do most resolutions fail so predictably?
YOUR GOALS AREN’T SPECIFIC
Vagueville, Vagueachusetts…Population: YOU
More often than not, we set these enormous abstract goals for ourselves—things like “be healthier,” or “get out of debt,” or “stop being a relentless liar,” but then we don’t break those ideas down into teeny-tiny achievable behaviors. Many people use the acronym S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound) as a guidepost for their goals. Personally, I like K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, stupid), because I was raised Catholic and respond well to shame.
Many times, one small successful behavior change can have a huge impact on your overall mindset moving forward. Instead of focusing on a giant end-goal of losing 50 lbs. and finally showing your ex just what they’re missing, start small with a singular healthy behavior like drinking a quart of water first thing every morning for a week. Just take it one baby step at a time, grasshopper.
A great resource for this sort of thinking is the book Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg. I checked it out from the library and will most likely renew it three times before returning it unread.
See, I know what I’m talking about here.
YOU’RE OVERLOADING YOURSELF
More isn’t more, Karen.
Editing is hard. It’s not fun to narrow down our precious ideas and prioritize them. When it comes to resolutions, it’s easy to come up with a lot of things you could do and sometimes difficult to land the plane. Take it from me and the mantra I have for tiki drinks—“one & done.”
If you find yourself nailing that one resolution, feel free to add something later, regardless of what month it is.
When I’m juggling multiple balls (lol), I love making a list. God, I love a list. I love a list so much that I put things on the list that are already done just so I can cross them off the list. Try to keep your list small, though. If it’s too big, it’s too hard to handle. That’s what she said.
For more on this concept, check out Just One Thing by Dr. Rick Hanson.
YOU DEFAULT TO THE NEGATIVE
TBH, you’re kind of a dick. To yourself.
Change is hard and new things can be scary. Most people would rather fail in familiar ways than fail in new ways. Try thinking of yourself as a child learning to do something new. Would you mercilessly berate a kid mispronouncing words as she’s learning to read? If the answer is yes, maybe steer clear of volunteer work with literacy programs.
Creating new routines or systems requires repeating behaviors, so don’t trash talk yourself at the first slip. Training yourself is no different than training kids or dogs or husbands. Positive reinforcement works way better than negative. Catch flies with honey. Be sweet, jerkface.
Celebrate the wins. When you eff up, try to stay neutral. Your choices are neither good nor bad. Notice when you start throwing shade in your head and course correct. Tell yourself to stop judging and start helping. Think about ways you can help your future-self succeed the next time you’re faced with a similar situation. When it comes to the way most of us talk to and about ourselves, we could all benefit from stopping to ask…AITA (am I the asshole)?
For more on this topic, I’d suggest Unf*ck Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and into Your Life by Gary John Bishop. The free snippet of the audiobook online was pretty good, so it’s now on my ever-growing reading list.
I know, I know. I keep giving advice regarding things I can’t even finish.
YOU’RE NOT FLEXIBLE
Be the wacky dancing wind man at a used car lot and just go with the goddamn flow.
Instead of insisting that things happen exactly as you plan them, allow for the variance. Expect the upset. Be prepared to redirect the route as you talk to yourself in that creepy GPS robot voice, “Recalculating…recalculating…in 50 ft, make a U-turn.”
If you label activities or behaviors as things you “should” do, that’s rigid thinking. Strive to be more flexible and turn those “should” into “coulds.” I could go to the gym. I could go on a hike. Or I could do some light stretching in the living room with my three cats and watch Firefly again. There’s goodness in degrees. Do your best to avoid all-or-nothing thinking and absolutes. The way we frame things internally is a critical component of sustained behavior change.
YOU DON’T HAVE A GOOD “WHY”
Motives are like assholes, we all have one, but when was the last time you really looked at it?
Dr. Michelle Segar is a behavioral sustainability scientist, and she recommends sorting your motivations into the two buckets—intrinsic or extrinsic.
Intrinsic or internal motivations are linked to internal rewards. It’s when you do something because it is satisfying on its own and deeply attached to your values and desires. In contrast, extrinsic or external motivations are essentially external rewards—things like approval, wealth, notoriety, good grades or staying out of prison.
It’s important to remember that intrinsic motivations aren’t inherently good and extrinsic motivations aren’t inherently bad. You need to figure out what works for you. Whatever you land on, remember science shows that our brains are hardwired to respond to immediate rewards.
For example, if you tell yourself you’re exercising because it will boost your mood TODAY and help you sleep better TONIGHT, you can reap those benefits immediately. If you focus on the fact that exercising will help you live longer or lose weight eventually, that’s great and all, but those reasons aren’t as gratifying as quickly.
I don’t have anything quippy to say here, because this is the serious part. This is where you do the work. This is where you sit quietly with yourself, with a pen, some paper and Google search for reference, and determine your core values (if you haven’t already). What do you really care about? Not to sound too much like Ferris Bueller here, but life moves pretty fast. I highly recommend figuring this out as soon as possible and then revisiting it regularly.
We all need to press pause once in a while and assess whether our thoughts, words, and actions are in alignment with whatever core values we’ve determined are our own. That last part is important—making sure your core values are your own—not necessarily what’s been handed down to you from your family of origin, or the media you consume, or the circle-jerk of idiots you compete with at work.
That’s all I’ve got. Remember to be kind…to yourself…and to everyone else who is struggling to be the best version of themselves in this world that moves so fast. May the Force be with you and may the odds be ever in your favor.