You say you want a resolution.
Ah, a brand new year…
I like new years. I like the fresh starts; the “spring cleaning;” the quiet. And I like setting resolutions — and I’m pretty good at keeping them.
I’ve given up alcohol for months at a time, worked out more, eaten better, changed careers, started a business, written a couple of novels, and moved across the country.
I do, of course, miss and/or fail at some. Which means I’m either actually pretty good at “being in denial about how good I am at keeping them” or, more likely, pretty good at understanding that we should miss a certain percentage of our goals, otherwise we’re not being aggressively enough. (If you hit everything, you should aim higher.)
The biggest problem with New Year’s resolutions is our relationship with them — which really just means our relationship with ourselves.
We mess them up every year because we’re not looking at ourselves and our values and wants and needs in the right way. We fix that, the rest will follow.
PART I — CHOOSING
Step 1. Know what you actually want
And why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Too often, we choose resolutions because they “sound” good or others say we “should,” absorbing things out of articles shouting at us to “be more productive 10x!” or “have moar willpower!” because, hey, it sounds smart, right? But too often, we chase things that don’t make any difference or, worse, we don’t even want.
There are so many goals I’m so glad I never achieved.
When I was 15, I wrote that I wanted to be an architect and own a Great Dane(?) Pretty glad I didn’t do either.
When I was 19, I wrote that I wanted to “run a marathon” (lol nope), “earn a third major” (but y tho??) and “display artwork in a gallery” (what “artwork,”exactly??) I don’t want any of these things today.
Hell… when I was 5, I wanted to be a “Shamu trainer.” Dodged a real bullet there.
There were other goals I wrote down and accomplished — earning a Bachelors, adopting a mutt, seeing France and Spain, losing weight, publishing my work, earning a double major, starting my own company, and living “somewhere with trees” — so the point is:
Be fair with yourself. Accept that you may get it wrong, understand why if you don’t succeed, and take time to figure out what you want.
a.) Define what actually matters most
I can’t tell you what you want, because I don’t know you. But: you should.
We should seek what we want, get crystal clear on the 2 or 3 things that matter most, and stop agonizing over the rest.
A lot of people want to talk about “balance,” and how “everything else” matters, too. And yeah, to a large extent, of course it all does. But it’s not all on the same plane…
A great way to be mediocre at anything is to try to be good at everything.
That’s a recipe for a life of beige. And if that’s what you want, that’s fine — a lot of people actually do, even though they bullshit and tell themselves otherwise — but if you don’t, you have to focus and choose…
b.) Know what you’ll sacrifice for it
Everything in life has something shitty to deal with — everything.
Take responsibility of your life enough to know that you will suffer somewhere, and take agency enough to choose how.
When it comes to housing, you can only get 2 of the following 3: good location, low price, or high quality. Of these, I know I value location and low price, and rather than playing a run-around game of trying to “beat” the universe and end up with mediocre everything, I sacrifice “quality.” I’ve lived in places without kitchens (let alone freaking granite), without AC, with poor water pressure, old floorboards, scary, shared laundry rooms in basements— and I do not care, because I know what I value most — being close to where I want to be, and saving money — and I get it.
We have to do this with everything in our lives.
To get what you want, you have to know what you want, but you also need to be clear on what you’re willing to sacrifice — or “spend” — to get it. It is, as Mark Manson called it, “the shit sandwich.”
Stop trying to squeeze everything in.
2. Address the actual problem, not the symptom(s)
Get your head straight.
Some of the most bizarre, frustrating, and illogical advice I see is when people suggest that the answer to anything in life is simply to “make a plan,” or “make a habit.”
Dawg, who the hell are you tying to kid?
If life was as easy as “setting a schedule,” or “planning ahead,” or “writing it down,” we’d all be the masters of all domains by now. But we’re not.
Because people are more complex than that. Most of us know that sugar and alcohol and fast food and cocaine (jk) is bad, and many of us have paid a lot of money with the intention of consuming less of it — and yet here we all are, still doing so regardless.
Our problem isn’t knowing what to do (or planning to do it, or whatever.) It’s getting our head straight. It’s making it less about “THIS THING” and, instead, understanding why — why we revert to bad habits (with sugar, it often is addiction; with other things, it’s often self esteem) and why we want to change.
If we don’t value Joe Schmoe online telling us to drink bone broth and wake up at 5 for ice showers, it won’t be enough for us to keep doing it. And the reality is: our love for Joe Schmoe should never be the reason.
It should be a love for ourselves, and a desire to take better care, that guides us.
FIRST: develop the self esteem to want better for yourself
Then: build the belief that this will get us there
This will keep you from beating yourself up, berating yourself, dragging yourself through something, kicking and screaming and feeling run over.
Exercise, for example, feels good. The body does want to move. But the mind, however, he or she gets hurt. And if we don’t want to move, sometimes it’s worth being gentle — hearing what we’re protesting that’s so important we’re keeping physical movement from ourselves.
Fix that, and you won’t have to drag yourself every day.
(Best technique? Meditation.)
3. Frame it in terms of habits, not “goals”
As Mark Manson wrote,
“People usually don’t focus on habits because goals sound much sexier… There’s a clear image of a certain result in our head and that gets us excited. Habits, on the other hand, don’t sound as sexy… They’re long-term and repetitive, which makes them seem boring… You don’t get this rush of inspiration.”
Habits, however, are the thing that we control day to day — those are the actual things we influence. And habits are, over time, what get us the goal.
“Losing weight” means nothing. Even “eat better” is lame.
“Eat between the hours of noon and 8 pm only, high fat and low carb,” however, is something we can touch.
PART II —DOING
1. Redefine how you see yourself
a.) “YOU” are not the “negative” things
Self-hate will get you nowhere.
“Disgust” is a powerful motivator. I’ve gotten fed up with weight, drinking, jobs, partners, and finances all at different parts in my life and made remarkable changes with this emotion, so I know it can be a major incentive.
The caveat, however, is that you have to differentiate the “thing” from yourself, and feel disgusted by the “thing” as separate — not you.
You are not this negative thing. This thing is not your identity.
b.) The “positive” things are now who you are
Redefine your sense of “self” as them.
Around this time last year I wrote:
The best things we accomplish don’t feel ‘external’ to us or ‘optional;’ they feel ingrained as part of our identity. They just are, and then we act to honor them.
You’re not “on a diet.” The diet is not something separate from yourself; something you should be fighting, wrestling to the ground, grunting and negotiating and quarreling and lamenting. Rather, you are “someone with healthy eating habits.”
2. Redefine how you look at the habits or goal
a.) Focus on “attraction” rather than “aversion”
Direct your attention to positive incentives rather than forcing yourself to “just deal with” the negative ones.
Like most people, I loathe doing expense reports. I’ll wait until the last possible day (meaning: two weeks after), skirting and avoiding and dodging around it like weird Uncle Tom at Thanksgiving. I did this because all I could think about was how much I hated doing my expense reports. I lingered on that feeling, hating it. But when I finally refocused to something positive — say, getting paid, but to be honest, more specifically, the psychological relief of having it off my back — and thought about that benefit instead of the pain, it was so much easier.
b.) Focus on positive, not negative
And if you’re taking something away, replace it with something else — because nature abhors a vacuum, so if you don’t give yourself something else, it struggles.
Also, the brain is baby Groot. When we say “no __” or “don’t __,” all we’rre doing is re-feeding that back topic back to ourselves.
c.) Find (and use) the incentive that works for you
I once saw a therapist who peered at me over her bright purple suede heels and told me, as though it was obvious: “whenever you procrastinate at work, just remind yourself that these responsibilities are your job.” And I laughed a little inside, because clearly this lady knew nothing about me. We didn’t meet again.
I’ve seen people suggest “rewarding ourselves,” or “punishing ourselves,” using “tough love,” or pep talks — motivational bullshit written on mirrors. There’s the threat of shame, social proof, the allure of status or money.
None of these are my “thing.”
What works for me is: I have to believe. For me. I have to buy into the fact that I desire this thing, and that doing this will get me what I want. I can get down on the intoxication (and neurosis) of the game that is “discipline,” but I also need for it to be a “game.”
When it came to procrastination, for example, “yelling” at myself or “reminding” myself it was my job didn’t work. What did, however? The game of “let’s improve this, overall.” That, and the promise of feeling good — for me, not because “others” weren’t, say, mad — on the other side.
d.) If it’s not working, stop looking directly at it
The reason we don’t get the things we want is because we don’t want them enough — or we want them too badly.
3. Know that excitement and “motivation” will waver
“Motivation” is one of the biggest crocks of the universe, and nobody got what you want by only doing it when they felt like it.
4. Be mindful of mental masturbation
I love writing down goals. I’ve got monthly goals, yearly goals, five-year goals; a loose idea of what I want next week, six months from now, and by the time I’m 50. In particularly stressful times, I’ll rewrite them compulsively, gorging myself in watching the pen form each familiar letter and word.
Goal-writing is a nice first (even arguably “important”) step to accomplishing something —I like Napoleon Hill as much as the next guy — but “writing it down” alone is not how things are accomplished. And left to its devices, it quickly becomes another self-soothing compulsion; a circle-jerk that’ll only get you so far.
Plenty of people have accomplished things having never written them down, and tons of people out there obsess over lists they never achieve.
If you want to write it down, then do it. I do. But when you’re actually ready, you’ll know and just get it done.
5. Lighten up the hell up
Sometimes there’s just not enough humor in the world, and people take themselves too damn seriously.
And sometimes when they take this too far, they lost all sense of reality and end up with resolutions like “more grace” or “be more productivity” — things that mean nothing to anyone, even them.
My resolution: tie my shoes
I’ve got enough humor — I could list a dozen “joking-but-kinda-not-jokingly-jk-I-am-actually -joking… mostly” resolutions like those above. What I don’t have enough of is the other side: yo dawg, but for reals tho.
Heidi Priebe wrote a great piece on what self love is and is not, and pointed out that a lot of the things we do to ourselves are pretty negligent (read: unloving.) Things like drinking too much, saving too little, procrastinating, denying, avoiding, chasing things we don’t even want.
So this year, that’s mine. Doing things like getting the shoulder surgery I’ve been putting off for like five years, throwing out my stuff stored in my parents’ basement, cooking… engaging in things that should be engaged in — for me.
It’s fancy-free and fun to roll down the window of life, turn up the radio, and declare into the highway rushing by: can’t be bothered; don’t care! feels great.
But just like drinking or eating bullshit, it only works in moderation.
So that’s mine. And I won’t be just “writing it down” or “making a plan,” nor will I be “waiting until I’m motivated” or “forcing” myself regardless.
I’ll be doing what I wrote above. Because this is the way it’s done.