Resolutions stink (but they don’t have to)

As I sit here thinking about how I’m going to eloquently and humorously tell you about my New Years resolution and the three things I’ll be doing to guarantee it’s success, a new thought can’t help but tug at my shirt, climb up my back and whisper in my ear, “What’s the point? Why do you or anyone else for that matter care?”

Firstly, one thing you need to know about me is that I’m the overest of over-thinkers, so when I say a new thought tugged at my shirt, I really mean I was swept out to sea in a powerful flood of insecure-based thoughts.

Secondly, the other thing you need to know about me, is that I’m a designer, which means I love to solve problems. In other words, I don’t give a fuck about my personal insecurities if I can help solve a problem, no matter how big or small it may be, though I am known to bite off more than I can chew. And if my sixth “designer” sense is correct, incomplete resolutions are a big problem for me and a lot of other first-worlders.

But, before we get to how we’re going to solve this almost unwieldy problem, it’s first important to gain a bit of background understanding. Such as, why the hell do we make resolutions in the first place? What bright-eyed, party popper thought it was a great idea to pin all our hopes and dreams on a single date, or year for that matter?

With a quick Google search, it seems the Babylonians are to blame, piously swearing to their gods to pay their debts at the end of each year. The Roman’s also made new year offerings to their gods and it seems the trend continued through the centuries with various religions around the world encouraging the turning of new leaves at new years. But it wasn’t until the 20th century that the tradition really caught fire, with a quarter of American’s making resolutions by the end of the 1930s, which was also the end of the Great Depression and the start of World War II for the historically inclined. And when the Century finally turned the number had increased to 50%, that’s half the population of America vowing to stop biting their nails, quit smoking, lose 5 kg, become millionaires or a variety of other goals that most of them, 88% of them according to a 2007 study by Richard Wiseman, would never achieve. Well, not never achieve, but just not this year.

What the hell? 88%!? That is huge. That’s an awful lot of failure. No wonder so many of us are depressed. This makes me think there should be brochures handed out every New Years warning of the potential health risks associated with making resolutions. And unless participants know and are fully willing to take on those risks, there really isn’t any point of wasting their time with such endeavours. It would go onto suggest that they’ll be far happier if they just stare up at the sparkly sky flowers through their smartphones. Believe me, it’s much more gratifying.

However, if you’re anything like me and the New Year tends to bring out your eternally positive and ambitious inner-child (I blame Santa and Christmas lights) then entering the New Year sans resolution really isn’t an option.

So knowing that we’re doomed to make a commitment for ourselves in moments of joyous celebration, how do we make sure that we can actually uphold the vow? Well step right up ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls and try your hand at these three thermalising theories, the best solution for your resolutions this side of the internet. Guaranteed to improve your chances of fulfilling your resolutions by up to 75%.*

  1. Screw goals, make habits instead
    The goals we set for ourselves are beyond our reach. Way beyond our reach. At the risk of oversimplification, the behaviour associated with making our goals is over-simplistic. Do a lot of this, get that. Do a lot of exercise, lose 5kg. Save a lot of money, become a millionaire. This requires a huge amount of discipline, which we then need to maintain for a long amount of time. Yeah, right. The maths doesn’t consider us average folks. Eventually, our discipline will slip or “life will get in the way” and we’ll go straight back to our normal chocolate-loving selves. That’s not to say loving chocolate is wrong, it’s just that making goals in the first place is completely unrealistic, or at least the way we go about making them is. 
    So what do we do? You guessed it, we’re going to swap our goals for habits. By looking at our goals and understanding the underlying habits needed to achieve (and maintain) them, we can make our goals inevitable. For example, instead of focussing on losing weight, focus on eating healthier. Or instead of focussing on your first million, focus on saving your money. Easy.**
  2. New Year’s Resolution? How about New Month’s Resolution?
    So we’ve swapped our goals for habits, and now we’re on the way to achieving pretty much any drunken resolution that we happen to make. Well, not quite. We’re still holding our goals to a fairly lengthy time period, when we say things like, “this year I’m going to lose 5 kg”. Which in turn, makes it way easier to justify why we aren’t achieving our goals, because we can say things like, “it’s only June, I still have 6 months to lose weight.” Luckily there’s an easy fix, which ties in quite nicely with our new habit forming self. They’re what I like to call New Months Resolutions. 
    Take that habit you want to adopt and do it for 30 days. We can all do something for 30 days, right? After you’ve done it for 30 days, it should start to feel automatic, like you can’t imagine life without it. 
    So, by bring our habits down to 30 days we not only making them achievable but it also happens to be the length of time it takes to install a new habit into our daily behaviour. Winner!
  3. It takes two to tango
    Established underlying habits to inevitably achieve goals? Tick.
    Shortened time to succeed? Tick. Now all we need is someone to share our glory with. This is probably the simplest and most obvious of these techniques. We’re social creatures, we got where we are today by doing things together, so it makes absolute sense to continue the tradition with our resolutions. Firstly, find someone that has a similar resolution to you, they don’t necessarily have to be your friend, but they’re more likely to jump on board if they are (and less likely to run away from you). Then tell them about how both your resolutions stink (make sure to include yourself here) and how they don’t have to. Because you’re adopting a habit that will make said stinky resolution an inevitability. Next, organise a time to rendevous with your new co-conspirator, that way you can both keep each other motivated and accountable, make sure where and how you meet is consistent. Finally, schedule the very first action of your habit to kick it off, so if it’s to eat healthier, eat your first salad together. If it’s saving money, put your first dollar in the bank together. And so forth. Now, dance.

Now you know the secret truth to resolution success, allow me to introduce mine, I’ll be developing the habit to write. As a designer, it’s really fucking important to be able to articulate your ideas and share them with people in a way that is understandable, simple and inspirational. So, for the next 30 days, I’ll be writing every day, till it feels like it’d be harder to not write on a daily basis, and then hopefully I’ll write some more. And to make it easier and a lot more fun, I’ll be writing with my girlfriend, Richelle. We’re both pretty excited about what it’ll lead to (we really have no idea).

So, take a look at your resolution, look at the habits that underly it, set yourself a 30 day horizon and drag a friend along for the ride. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is for you to achieve what you want. And don’t worry if you fail, there’s always next month.

*There’s no guarantee that any of this will help you at all. I wrote this article more for me more than anyone else.

**It’s easy, if you want it.