Table Mountain, South Africa 2012

How To Win At New Year’s (Or How To Never Feel Bad About Not Meditating Again)

45% of Americans made new year’s resolutions three days ago.

The rest of us ate a donut.

Let’s admit it. New Year’s resolutions kind of suck.

So here’s an idea for 2016: GIVE IT UP!

That’s what I did four years ago, and today I’m a happier, healthier and more productive person because of it.

With that one decision I expunged from my life the feeling of failure and self-loathing that would inevitably arrive every January 4th when I remembered how much I hated meditating and eating kale. (Side note: Fuck kale. Seriously.)

With the exception of super-annoying people like Tom Brady, who eats avocado ice cream for his cheat meal, most real human beings can’t just say “I resolve to do X” and then will themselves to becoming an awesome person.

As a species we are just not programed to work that way. Science backs this up. Only 8% of Americans will actually achieve their resolution in full this year.

So why do we continue setting ourselves up for failure every year in a game where the odds are so stacked against us?

For me, it was convention. It was simply easier to do what everybody else was doing than to actually think for myself.

When you realize the odds of a game are stacked against you, either play a different game or change the rules to shift the odds in your favor.

In 2012 I chose to play a different game. I finally quit making new year’s resolutions.

This didn’t mean I’d given up on self-improvement and resigned myself to a life of Tombstone pizzas and sweatpants.

At certain points in my life I’ve given the Tombstone and Sweatpants route some SERIOUS consideration

Instead, I opted for different path to self-improvement.

In December of 2011 my friend Patty invited me to a new year’s day vision board party.

“A what party?” I thought to myself. “I am too old to be doing hallucinogens.”

I googled ‘vision board party’.

As it turns out, it was completely different from what I had been picturing.

A vision board party is where you get a group of friends together, cut out pictures from magazines of things you want in your lives and then paste them on a board that you can keep throughout the year . The idea is that by envisioning this life you want, you are more likely to manifest it.

I’ll admit I was skeptical. Going to this vision board thingy seemed like an awfully slippery slope to becoming a full-blown, new-age mystic.

All sorts of questions raced through my head.

Will I have to start listening to Enya? Will I start wearing patchouli? Is my future going to look like this? I’m not sure if I’m prepared to make this leap.

But my friend really wanted me to come. So I agreed to go. When I got there I was blown away.

First off, there was no Enya. Second, it was fun.

Creating a vision board gave me an opportunity to reflect on my past year, and more importantly, it gave me an opportunity to be purposeful about what I wanted out of life going forward. After a few hours of cutting and pasting pictures out of magazines I had a visual representation of the way I wanted my life to look like in 2012 and beyond. Since that time, I’ve made a new vision board every new year’s day.

Yesterday I pulled out my original board from 2012. Amazingly, about 80% of the things I put on it in 2012 have now become a part of my life.

For example, in 2012 I had never climbed a mountain before and it was something I really wanted to do. So I put a picture of a guy scaling a mountain on my vision board. I then hung my vision board over my dresser so that every morning when I got dressed I saw the picture of that guy scaling the mountain. This created a daily visual reminder throughout the year that mountain trekking was something important to me.

It was something I stayed focused on for the year and eleven months later I summited Table Mountain in South Africa. Granted this was a far cry from scaling Everest but it was a start in right direction. I loved the feeling of sitting at the top and looking out at the world. It was a feeling I couldn’t shake.

The next year, I put another picture of a mountain on my vision board. That year, my wife and I got married on top of a mountain in Banff after a 7 mile hike with our families.

Banff 2013

For our honeymoon we went heli-hiking in the backcountry of British Columbia.

Hiking the Columbia Mountain Range on our Honeymoon in 2013

The next year, I didn’t need to put a picture of a mountain on my vision board. I no longer needed a visual reminder. Seeking out the mountains is something that had become ingrained in me.

Why Vision Boards are Better than New Year’s Resolutions

What I love about vision boarding is that unlike new year’s resolutions that are binary and end in failure 92% of the time, vision boarding is more of a continuum.

You don’t have to achieve all the things on your board in one year. Nor do you have to create narrowly defined goals of what you specifically want to achieve. (e.g one year I just put up tacos).

I like to treat vision boarding like OKRs where I hope to do maybe 60-70% of the things I put up on my board. For me, it’s more about starting down a path of making continual improvement than it is about hitting specific milestones and achievements within an arbitrary timeframe.

Four years after my first vision board, I have not accented any of the world’s seven summits. Nor have I even done any serious mountaineering yet. But what I have done is taken the first step — the hardest step. I’ve shown up.

Little by little, I have made hiking a part of my life and I’m so much happier because of it.

Yesterday, I was at REI and purchased an alpine jacket for a 10-day hiking trek my wife and I are taking this year in Patagonia. Nowadays, I can’t imagine my life without the mountains being a major part of it. I have my vision board to thank for it.

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