I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions.
The failure rate is off the chart, but it has only been recently that I’ve discovered why.
The Typical New Year’s Resolution
The typical resolution looks something like this—
—I want to lose weight.
—I want to eat better.
—I want to get more exercise.
—I want to get more organized.
—I want to be more productive.
What is wrong with these? I can see at least three reasons why a resolution like these could fail.
They Are Too General
First, they are too general.
How much weight do you want to lose? By when? What is your plan for doing that?
How would you measure your organization or productivity? How would you even start that?
(Other than cleaning my office occasionally, I haven’t had much success on the organizational front. I think a lot of it is that I really haven’t defined “organized” for myself.
They Assume Something Is Wrong With You
I should be thinner/more fit/healthier/more productive than I am, right?
And if I can’d do those things, I AM A BAD PERSON.
How has that worked out all these years?
Self-flagellation is generally a horrible self-improvement strategy.
Have you ever noticed that? Do you ever berate yourself for being “a certain way”? No matter what that way is, at least for me, it doesn’t seem to go away when I am determined that, no matter what, I should NOT BE THAT WAY.
When I get curious, when I love myself, when I accept myself as I am first, then I have a lot better chance.
When I start to change the underlying habits, in a sustainable way, I make a bit more progress. When I love myself for being amazing, and for wanting to be even more amazing, it gets just a bit easier to make change.
If I am ok just as I am, and I would like be organized, I can hire help.
In fact, I just did.
I could see that as a failure, or as victory. Which do you think is more helpful?
But even if you get specific and you are more kind to yourself, I would argue you are still likely to struggle.
They Aren’t What YOU Want
What? What do you mean? Of course I want to be thinner/fitter/healthier/more productive!
Do you really?
Or do you just think you SHOULD want these things?
This is the insight that I had just recently that really soured me on resolutions.
They are about what other people want. Or what I think I should want or who I think I should be.
If I really wanted these things, wouldn’t I already be doing them?
Or You Want Something Else More
Sometimes I DO want them, I just want something else more. This is what Robert Kegan calls a “competing commitment.” Another desire that seems to get in the way of the first, often unconsciously.
That could look like a fear of success. If I do all these things, I might become so busy I never see my family.
A real life example of this for me is around organization. I SAY I would like to be organized. I know my wife would like me to keep my office (which shares space with our family room) cleaner. But I am also afraid that neatness will stifle my creativity. I get really uncomfortable if my work space is too clean. It means I’m not busy enough!
What Is It You Really Want?
Here’s the great thing about resolutions. If you really want something, you are probably already doing it.
And the best way to know that you really want it?
You want it just because you want it. You can’t explain why.
This is why I have written in the past that desire is a gift from God. It’s a mystery why we love the things we love. Why we do the things we do.
If a new one of those shows up, by all means go for it. But don’t feel you have to make a resolution about it.
Be sure to celebrate this New Year. Be thankful for how far you’ve come. Get curious about what is next. And no matter what, remember to do things that YOU want, not the things that you think others want from or for you.
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