Every November, I convince myself I’m going to do NaNoWriMo. I’ve tried for at least seven years running. Every year, not only do I fail to meet the quota, but I fail to write ANYTHING AT ALL. November is my worst month, between family travel and the weather and cold season and irresistible food photos tempting me to try new recipes. I publish over 1000 pages a year, and I routinely write at least double the NaNoWriMo word count. It’s not like I can’t do it. It’s just that any of the other eleven months would be better for me.
January seems to be that way for most people and New Year’s Resolutions.
I can help with that. I always make almost all my New Year’s goals and keep my resolutions, and many years I do succeed at all of them. The reason 80% of people fail at resolutions is because they structure them wrong, not because they “lack willpower” or whatever sad myth they’re telling themselves. January is just a bogus time to try to start a new project.
I’ve been following a structured annual review process of my own devising for several years, which is why I nail my goals and resolutions. Key to this is that I basically spend December laying out my plans, researching and working ahead on some of them, and then I often do nothing at all in January! The main point of my plan is to keep my momentum going in the second half of the year. I schedule quarterly reviews and publish my progress. Imagining the embarrassment of giving up and even forgetting my public commitments is a dark and scary outcome that keeps me from procrastinating.
January is only eight percent of the year. If you do nothing at all for the entire month, just lie around in your underwear tossing a baseball toward the ceiling over and over while listening to Van Halen, first of all, invite me over. Second of all, that still leaves you a full 92% of the year to work on the stuff that matters to you, and that’s still an A grade.
January sucks for goals, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. It gets dark early, the weather sucks, everyone is broke after the holidays, and what’s more, it’s cold and flu season. The gym is full and yet, paradoxically, everyone is talking about failing at their Resolution. Why would anyone set themselves up for failure like that?
Don’t choose a resolution that demands total and perfect adherence forever, with no skipped days. That’s the loser method. You’re absolutely guaranteed to miss days when you try to do anything, from going to work to being nice to your mom or your romantic partner. People don’t even bathe every single day! If a perfect streak is impossible even for easy, fun, desirable things you like to do as often as possible, how could it be possible for something complicated, hard, or scary that you don’t know how to do yet?
Perfection is a terrible reason for either a resolution or a goal, for a project of any kind. It means you’ll fail. It means you’ll feel like a loser even though all you did was make up a game that nobody can win. It also means you’ll be cruel and rude to yourself. What’s the point? Just slap yourself in the face and move on.
If you start something new on January First, how much progress could you possibly make in one month? Fluency in a foreign language? A total physical transformation? Turning in a book proposal? Um, maybe, but only if you’re a goal maniac with a lot of experience and you like gonzo journalism. Stunt projects can be really fun and inspiring, but the reason for that is that the high likelihood of failure makes it feel both more risky and less important. It’s still funny if you fail, perhaps more so.
Check this out. Say you set up a resolution for something you want to do. You do zero in January. You do it 10% of the time in February, which is not even three days out of the month. You do it 20% of the time in March, because you realized it wasn’t that hard and now you know how. You do it 30% of the time in April, because the weather is getting better. You do it 40% of the time in May, 50% of the time in June, and 60% of the time in July. You’re up to 70% of the time in August. In September, you hit 80% of the time, because it’s back-to-school and that makes you feel like working harder. You’re at 90% of the time in October. By November, you’re just doing your resolution all the time, because you’re used to it, and in December, you wish you had chosen a tougher project the previous year. It’s just part of your life now.
What is this thing that you’re doing? I dunno, but I do know that you have to choose some way to measure it because otherwise, how would you know whether you won or not?
I suspect people often choose resolutions they really want to fail, just for the bonding experience of comparing notes with friends and strangers. Oh ya, I totally tried to quit [eating so much ketchup, hate-watching TV, flirting with my ex].
January is for hibernating, for doing winter the way it’s traditionally done. Wallow in the dark and cold and wish for something better, like more money and more sunny warm opportunities to have fun with your friends. Those are good wishes. Resolutions are good wishes, also, and they’re a really nice opportunity to get more of that wish energy into your life. Simply choose something for the year that interests you and makes you curious, and refuse to start on it until mid-February, when everyone else has already quit.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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