Friday, January 9, 2015

Viewpoint: New Year's Resolutions and Why They Never Work

Happy New Year! Welcome to the ninth day of the year 2015, and know that this year, anything is possible.

To an extent.

I'll get something straight from the very beginning. I have the kind of personality that means New Year's resolutions really appeal to me. I like things predictable, structured, organized, and achievable.

In other words, I make plans; I execute the plans; I return victorious.

Except that when it came to New Year's resolutions, it didn't work. I made the plans. I tried to execute the plans, and sometimes succeeded for an hour, or a couple of days, or a few weeks, or even a few months. And then I failed.

What's the deal with New Year's resolutions? What's the appeal, anyway? And why, when we're so determined that our best intentions will be good enough this year, do we seem incapable of actually succeeding at the goals we set?

There's something refreshing about starting the year anew. It's like a chance to start over, or start something for the very first time. You're (relatively) well-rested after the holidays. You've (willingly or reluctantly) enjoyed time with your family and friends. You've spent too much money and eaten too much food, and now, you're motivated by not only the freshness of the new year but also by a healthy dose of guilt to make changes.

Where to start? What do you change first?

Best Intentions

My initial New Year's resolutions lists included a lot of things to do. In fact, they almost read like an adventurous bucket list: "Read two hundred (200) books this year" and "Write 5,000 words per day" and "Get up at 5:30 every morning to be productive before breakfast."

How many people reading this post know that those things somehow just never happened?

It's a case of that whole "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" idea.

Good intentions ... meaning to do well, planning to succeed, trying to achieve ... won't get you anywhere, sorry to say. I can resolve and resolve and resolve as hard as possible to make a million dollars in the first week of the new year, but given my current circumstances and my past, it isn't going to happen.

Resolutions vs. Goals

So I changed it up. What if I didn't focus on resolutions? What if I focused on goals instead?

Goals is a different word. It's less threatening, for one thing. It doesn't sound quite so ... I'm-dedicating-myself-and-my-sanity-to-die-on-this-particular-mountain-for-the-next-365-days committed.

All kinds of people make goals, right? Bill Gates probably has goals. Barack Obama has goals. Steve Jobs has goals.

Goals are manageable. They're break-down-able (I know it's not a word, but work with me here). You make a major goal, and break it down into manageable parts called objectives, things you can actually do that will move you that much closer to actually achieving your goal.

Say your goal is to lose fifty pounds in 2015.

That's a great goal. But if you wake up every morning and say to yourself, "This year, my goal is to lose fifty pounds!" you probably won't lose any weight. It's going to require more than that.

Like objectives.

If the goal to lose weight is Point 1 on the page, then your objectives will be sub-points: 1A, 1B, 1C, and so on.

Maybe Sub-Point 1A is to take a walk every day during your lunch break.

That's a tangible, measurable thing to do, and it will get you closer to achieving your goal.

Then Sub-Point 1B could be to eat a whole fruit (or protein, or both) each morning with breakfast.

There's another tangible, measurable thing you can do that will get you closer to success.

So, for the writers out there, your goal is to write a novel this year. 2015 will be the year of the novel. You've made the decision. You've resolved it. It's your goal.

What measurable objectives can you break that goal down into in order to achieve it?

Maybe things like ...

> Write 100 words in a notebook with a pen or pencil (I know, I know, almost going back to the Dark Ages here) before you get out of bed in the morning.

> Refuse to check email or social media platforms before noon.

> Write ten sentences before you sit down to breakfast.

> Start a spiral-bound notebook in which to write all the things you need to research for your novel so you don't have to interrupt yourself and get online (wasting precious time, energy, and focus) to find the answer right then. Keep it right with your writing notebook or laptop.

> Brainstorm character names or deep secrets while you work out each morning before work or class.

Measurable. Tangible. Things that will net you immediate results and get you closer to your goal.


One step further is to take your resolutions or goals and break them down into objectives that you can turn into habits. Consistency will be key, as will piggy-backing new habits on top of old ones.

Say you wake up every morning for work at 5:45 a.m. You don't have to get up until 6 a.m., but you like to hit the snooze button several times first.

Instead of hitting snooze when your alarm goes off at 5:45 a.m., take fifteen minutes to write. Pull a journal or notebook off your bedside table and just write something. Anything. Just to get yourself creating, first thing in the morning.

Enough mornings in a row, and that time becomes a habit. If you sleep in, get up late, or skip the writing and hit snooze again, you won't feel quite right.

That's because you've started a habit.

Or what if you always eat lunch at your desk every weekday and find yourself browsing Facebook or Twitter automatically?

Not that those are bad things, but what if you changed it up?

The moment you get back to your desk for your lunch break, turn off your computer. Seriously, all the way off. Or at least disable the Internet. Just for the lunch break. I know it'll be a challenge. (Believe me, do I ever know.) But without the Internet (or a computer) available, you'll have to do something, right?

Read a craft book on writing. Try something by James Scott Bell or Donald Maass, for starters, or anything published by Writer's Digest, the undisputed leader in the writing industry.

Or grab a notebook and write while you eat. Even 200 words during your lunch hour nets you 1,000 words per week (five work days a week x 200 words per day). Fifty weeks in a year times 1,000 words per week nets you 50,000 words, which is a perfectly acceptable first draft of a novel.

It's possible.

The Year 2015 and How It Will Be Different

 Make a habit. Commit to a habit. Start with just one. Tend it for a month or two, until it's ingrained, until you feel strange if you try to skip a day.

Then commit to another.

See where the baby steps take you.

After all, it's a new year. Anything is possible.

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What's your top goal for the year? Break that goal down into measurable objectives. Then, take each objective and find a way to turn it into a habit-forming behavior. What did you come up with?

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