Back on December 31st, 2016, I updated my Facebook status to:
No new year new me nonsense. I’m awesome and I will stay the same.
Clearly, it was intended as a joke at the time. But Facebook keeps reminding me every year on December 31st about this status update. And every December 31st, I reshare this post — a tradition that I did on December 31st, 2020 too.
The idea of setting a new year’s resolution never crossed my mind. It felt more of a societal pressure than a personal goal — everyone has a new year’s resolution, so why shouldn't I have one. And after this rollercoaster of a year, my thoughts on new year’s resolution got conformed.
In the aftermath of 2020, setting new year’s resolutions seems empty and unrealistic. The events of any given year can topple your plans and put everything on its head. If you are among the luckier ones of us, the downside of 2020 can be summed up by canceled travel plans, postponed weddings, and days spent in lockdown and social distancing. For the others, 2020 took the shape of financial insecurity, life-threatening disease, death, and lost time away from loved ones and family. So the question pops into my head:
Why would I even consider planning for a “new me” in 2021?
Don’t get me wrong; one should always try to self-improve oneself. However, the concept of limiting the time horizon of a behavioral change to a year is what bothers me. Self-improvement can take more than just a year or be achieved in less than three months if given the right conditions.
Let us discuss why setting new year’s resolutions is actually a bad habit and how we can change this habit to a more productive and realistic one.
The downsides of setting new year’s resolutions
Setting new year’s resolutions put a sense of pressure on us to achieve those goals within the year. Statistics show that 80% of new year’s resolutions fail within the first 30 days of the new year, and only 8% of us accomplish them. Failing to achieve the new year’s resolution allows frustration and a sense of defeat to infiltrate us.
The most sought-after resolutions, according to Statista, are saving money and getting in shape. Keep in mind that 92% of people will not accomplish these resolutions. I hated going to the gym in January because it is overcrowded. The number of people would significantly drop by mid-February, and everything would eventually go back to normal.
Resolutions are behavioral changes in someone’s habits. People seek therapy and rehab to change their behavioral habits because it is difficult to change them without professional and external help. Behavioral habits result from years and years of living; changing them within one year requires a tremendous amount of self-discipline, dedication, and effort. It requires a total change in our routines.
Resolutions are not goals; they are vaguer and tend to be a way to change ourselves towards more perfect human beings. However, what is the definition of a perfect human being? and when is it enough?
For example, if you started eating healthier and maintained this habit for six months, you will initially feel good about yourself and feel happy. However, the question now is what’s next? How would you maintain this happiness? Marianne Power wrote an entire book about this titled “Help Me!: One Woman’s Quest to Find Out if Self-Help Really Can Change Her Life.”
The bottom line of Marianne Power’s book is that self-help can teach us a lot. But, self-help will not aid us in achieving happiness or becoming perfect human beings.
The last thing I want to talk about here is what happens at the end of the year? If you are not in the 8% who accomplished their resolution, you will probably have the same resolution for the upcoming year and add a new resolution on top of it. A sense of defeat will take over you for not accomplishing your resolution, which will discourage you from moving forward.
Do this instead of new year’s resolutions
As previously discussed, resolutions are vague in nature, and they are rigid and do not factor-in life’s curveballs. If your resolution for 2020 was to travel more, you probably failed to accomplish this resolution.
To help you make the best out of this year and every year to come, let us discuss the following possibilities instead of a rigid new year’s resolution.
1- Set goals instead and track them on a regular basis
Every goal is a small project. Projects have a definitive end, and one can plan them with defined resources (time, money, and effort).
On the contrary to resolutions, goals have a clear end and target to achieve and accomplish. Even though it might sound that goals and resolutions are the same, they are not.
A resolution is vague in nature. A common new year’s resolution is to lose weight and get in shape. As you can see, there is no definitive end to this resolution, whereas a goal would be to lose a definite amount of pounds or kilograms in a fixed period of time.
Instead of “I want to travel more,” say, “I want to visit X cities this year.” Setting a goal allows you to track said goal regularly, and by the end of the year, you can track your goal in percentage. You will be somewhere between 0% and 100%.
A goal can be tracked whereas a resolution is a change in behavior.
Setting goals allows you to update and expand your goals within a fixed period of time. It also allows you to react in case of force majeure (take the 2020 pandemic as an example).
2- Choose a title for the upcoming year
The concept of naming a year is not new, and I did not create it. Susannah Conway packaged this concept thoughtfully. She creates a free yearly exercise book to support you in finding your word for the upcoming year.
“New year’s resolutions have never worked for me — in fact, I don’t know if they’ve ever really worked for anyone. They always sound like a list of rules that I know I will break by the end of January. They feel like a superficial fix to me. They feel bossy and rigid — I want to be inspired not instructed. Which is why I believe choosing a word as a guiding light for the new year works better because it feels so much more EXPANSIVE. A word can be embraced as a mantra, a meditation, a reminder, a promise. A word can be interpreted in different ways. A word can’t be “broken” — it feels gentler somehow.”
Personally, I haven’t used Susannah exercise yet, but I will try it this year. I usually name my years based on my goal for the year.
In mid-2016, I decided to start saving and to build an investment portfolio. I went to my financial advisor, and together we set up my very first investment portfolio. I was looking at the numbers every day and emotionally reacting every time I saw red numbers. Reading two books taught me how to look at the numbers objectively instead of emotionally.
I decided to learn more about the subject, and in 2017 my focus was on wealth. I read books and blogs about the subject. I bought an online course, learned about cryptocurrencies, and learned about real estate investing.
I liked the idea of having one subject for a year to expand my horizon, knowledge, and experience on said subject. 2018 was my travel year. I spend the year learning about “must-see” places and “must-have” experiences worldwide, and I traveled to three new countries. 2019 was my family year, and 2020 was my writing year.
I haven’t yet given a name to 2021. I’ll try Susannah's method for the first time.
3- Self-reflect regularly
Have you met yourself? What do you like about yourself and what you don’t?
Self-reflection is not a new year’s event. It is, however, an important exercise to go through every now and then.
Reflecting helps you develop skills and habits. It also allows you to review them and their effectiveness, rather than to carry on doing things as you have always done.
In short, it is about positively criticizing how you do something, why you do it in such a way, and if there is a better way of doing it in the future.
Reflection is an important part of learning. You wouldn’t do the same thing twice if the result from the first time were terrible, would you?
4- Start small and work upwards
I think this one is self-explanatory. When you set goals for the next year, do not oversell your goals. Do not set a goal to lose 70 lb in a year, but rather start small (e.g., 10 lb). Once you achieve the smaller goal, set another goal, and so on.
Dividing the big goal into smaller goals allows our minds to feel a sense of accomplishment. It works much faster than tracking only the big goal.
Achieving smaller goals will encourage us to pursue our undertakings further. Give yourself a tap on the back and continue to realize the bigger goal.