Resolve to Resolve
Tomorrow is January 1.
This is the time of year when resolutions are made. In two weeks is the time of year when they are broken. And after that is when the broken resolution becomes a year-long reminder of how bad you are at being your best. It’s terrible.
This annual cycle of disappointment is what has led many to forgo the New Year’s resolution altogether. I am one of the many. Until this year.
This year I have decided merely to decide.
I find that often it’s not the broken resolution that creates the long-cycle failure. Instead, it’s the belief that past performance is the only indicator of future performance. And if I have broken resolutions in the past, I’m probably going to break them in the future. Thus, I should just stop resolving, stop deciding.
So instead of avoiding the possibility of failure by not resolving to make some change, I’m resolving to make one decision over and over and over again that could lead to permanent change . You know, “the journey of a thousand miles…” yada, yada, yada.
The image that accompanies this post is, as Cal Newport would put it, the resulting “artifact” of resolving. Each green X means I decided to decide that day and took the (relatively) small action that could lead to lasting change. As you can see, I started taking the small daily steps a couple days before January 1.
I lifted this method of tracking progress, developing daily habits and self-motivation from Jerry Seinfeld. As he explained to Brad Isaac:
[T]he way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day.
He revealed a unique calendar system he uses to pressure himself to write.
He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.
He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”
“Don’t break the chain,” he said again for emphasis.
I have used this system to motivate me to make habit-forming changes like arriving at work before a certain time or making sure to do a daily task that makes my life easier overall. But I’ve never tried using it to accomplish some life-changing effect like completing (and implementing the lessons from) a personal development course, which is my current project.
This year, resolve to resolve.
Just decide that instead of being cynical and giving up before you start, you’re going to make one decision every day. I’m eager to see what can be accomplished through simple proactivity.