Broken Resolutions? Try This Instead.
How Making Decisions Based on Values Instead of Goals Helped Me Achieve What Resolutions Could Not
I will lose xx pounds this year. I will save xx dollars this year. I will go to the gym xx times a week this year. I will write xx words per day.
Sound familiar? It should. It’s a common refrain this time of year, and sadly, most of us can’t sustain the big hairy ambitious goals we set for more than two weeks. And yet, we try again every year to make the grand changes we’re convinced will bring us happiness and fulfillment.
I finally gave up in 2017. It was such a relief not to have the stress of trying to make significant overnight changes and suffer the shame of failing every year.
But that’s not to say that I gave up on making life changes.
I stopped with the grand declarations followed by the inevitable failure, and instead, I thought about the reasons why those changes were significant to me. Those underlying reasons became a core set of values designed to drive every decision I made on a day-to-day basis moving forward.
Value: the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something
I decided to adopt a philosophy of aligning my decisions — all my choices — to some core values, defined as beliefs I hold sacred.
First, I spent time thinking about what I wanted my life to look like if there weren’t a single obstacle in my way. I pondered what would bring me peace and spark joy. I spent time journaling. I asked myself hard questions and had to spend time thinking about the answers. For example, “is it good for me to want to be rich? Or, is that selfish when there’s so much suffering in the world?” I won’t bore you with my philosophical and existential crises. I will say that following that period of contemplation, I distilled all that angst down to a core set of personal values that look like this:
I want to be:
- Financially peaceful
- Creatively free
- Light in obligations
- Politically active
- Image confident
- Ready for adventure
I finally gave up chasing a number I needed in the bank. I opted instead for what I was pursuing — peace. I wanted to stop feeling stressed every month, juggling bills and hustling for more money. In practice, any spending decision I made throughout the year had to support this. I cut cable, opting for Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, included in my Prime Account. I kept Hulu, but only because it was bundled with my Spotify account. I switched to Google Fi for my wireless phone and pay under $25 per month. I gave up owning a car and instead use ride-sharing services. I paid off every credit card and took a couple of extra freelance assignments to bank four months of living expenses. I diversified my sources of income, so I wasn’t dependent on flaky clients or industries that could suffer downturns. I’m now making more than ever, with the ability to choose clients and projects that I enjoy.
After years of living the #hustle life as a #bossbabe, rising and grinding, I was exhausted and burned out — and sick of cliches. An exercise inspired by Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Workweek was vital in deciding on this value. It wasn’t enough to find more time in my week. It was crucial to determine what I would do with that time. I asked myself, “If time and money weren’t a factor, what would I spend my days doing?” My answer was reading, writing creatively, and learning new things. Painting, exploring art galleries and museums. Taking courses. That’s what ignites my soul.
Light in Obligations
This one hit me right in the feels. I perpetually said yes to too many things. I gave away time and talent to friends. I would accept coffee dates and let people pick my brain. I would speak for free. I would accept board positions. I would take on leadership roles without assessing if it would be a total time suck. Just because I could do the thing didn’t mean I should do the thing.
For a year, I resigned from dozens of positions I held and groups to which I belonged. It was hard — to the point of pain in some cases. I lost friends and upset people, but I persisted. The result was an increased satisfaction in the projects I choose to support with my time and talents. The recipient benefits from my full attention. It’s a win-win.
Without revealing too many personal details, I’ve always considered myself an informed voter. I felt that in this season of my life, it was time to take it a step further and support causes and candidates that represented my beliefs. I donate. I call and write to my representatives. And, most importantly, I work to motivate others to exercise their right to vote. This value is also where I express the most compassion and zeal, and it’s a great outlet for some of my more passionate emotions.
This was a complicated one to break down. I took the failed resolution of “lose x pounds this year” and flipped it by thinking about what problem losing weight solved. I deeply pondered the core question of why I wanted to lose weight in the first place. The answer for me was the confidence I felt when I walked into a room or looked in a mirror. Knowing that core value — I want to feel confident — I reworked the decisions I made consistently. I tossed clothes that felt awful to wear, even if they were supposed to be appropriate for my age and size. I bought clothes that supported the quirky nerd-girl style I liked and said adios to the daily battle with shapewear. I bought new glass frames in a fresh cat-eye style — with spikes. I abandoned heels in favor of a fantastic pair of black lace-up boots that go with nearly everything. I get my nails done because it makes me feel polished. My hair color changes with my mood, and you may see me rocking a messy top knot or space buns. I’m a grown-ass woman, and I’ll do what I like. The decisions I make reflect what makes me feel confident, not what I should do according to someone else’s beliefs. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, and I believe this value alignment is a huge factor.
Ready for Adventure
I decided once my youngest child graduated from college it was time to take my empty nest on the road. This value was the catalyst and driving force for most of my more significant life decisions, like downsizing my house and giving up my car, but it also became a reason for every-day choices too. I said yes to long weekends with girlfriends, and to more social engagements, I would have previously declined. I also increased my exercise and overall activity, knowing that I wanted more stamina for bigger adventures like months in Scotland.
These six values haven’t changed since I wrote them down, but they’ve had a monumental effect on my life. I’m healthier and happier. I’ve spent time traveling with more adventures on deck this year. My relationships are strong and enjoyable. I’ve downsized my things, and only purchase something if I genuinely need it. Living according to values has brought me all the benefits of the New Year’s Resolutions, minus all the shame of failure.