“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupery
The Romans had new years resolutions, and I suspect they were just as bad at keeping them as we are (See The Meaning of New Years Day). The problem is we create them based on wishful thinking, the worst kind of thinking there is. While hope and optimism are great, they aren’t necessarily connected to reality. And for that reason it’s very easy to make grand resolutions, but much harder to keep them. We typically pick things for their emotional or ego potency, ignoring how unprepared we are to achieve them.
The desire is only one part of the challenge – even the definition of the word resolve expresses this:
- to come to a earnest decision about; determined to do something
- to separate into constituent or elementary parts
The solution is Divide and Conquer, another idea from the Romans:
- Pick one single resolution. Your odds of staying focused improve.
- Look at last years list and evaluate where you failed. Too ambitious? When did you give up? Use this self-knowledge to inform this year’s resolutions.
- Break any resolution into monthly or weekly goals so you have short term focus. Use a service to help track your goals daily. Or sign up for resolution accountability.
- Find a friend who can sign up to the same goal. There are tools that even let you place bets on your goals. We are social creatures, and our goals should be social.
- Write down the resolution and sign it. Seeing your commitment in writing has psychological power.
- Put your written resolution somewhere useful (e.g. in front of the fridge)
- Have a daily positive task – mark off a day on a calendar every day you’ve met your resolution. You get a positive visual reminder you’re on your way.
- Divide further: simply make a resolution for January, and re-evaluate on Feb 1st.
The American Psychological Association report on resolutions noted:
And while nearly 60 percent of people will drop their resolutions by the six-month mark, perhaps due to the persistence of old habits as well as reversion to earlier stages of behavior change, Norcross notes that those who make resolutions are still 10 times more likely to successfully change their behavior than those who do not.
Also see Woody Guthrie’s New Years Resolutions, which gleefully violate all of my recommendations.