Only 8% of people who make formal New Year's Resolutions actually keep them. If that sounds terrible to you, crunch the numbers. It represents about 11 MILLION PEOPLE, more than the entire population of Los Angeles County. About the same number of people are kicking butt at New Year's as the amount who watch the Emmys or Monday Night Football. If you have been sitting around believing all the pop culture naysaying about how "ner-nuh-ner, resolutions don't work, myeh-myeh-myeh," then you're certainly not listening to anyone in the 8%. It's like you want to take an art class, but the instructor is all, "you guys suck, why bother, just snap your paintbrushes and head back out the door. It'll never work."
Never believe anyone who says something will never work, unless of course they're explaining why you should not get sucked into multi-level marketing.
I've been making written resolutions since I was 10, most of which I kept. I haven't kept every single one of them, or at least I haven't done all of them in the first year I wrote them down. I have, however, learned a lot about how to make resolutions that I ACTUALLY WANT. Resolutions are the best way I know to figure out awesome things to do and then to do them.
The first thing to know is that you can basically write off January as a free period. What everyone does is to start out on New Year's Eve with this terrific motivational charge. Fresh slate! I am now going to do everything perfectly for the rest of my life! Then we wake up late on the morning of January First, exhausted and crusty from staying up too late, and the only perfection we feel is the feeling of PERFECT FAILURE. This is the primal New Year's mistake. True, it does feel great to do something awesome on the first day of the New Year, and if you have the energy, definitely do it. This is a great day to play with a new musical instrument or art supplies, to crack open a new journal, start a new book, try a new recipe, or do a foreign language lesson. If your resolution feels like giving yourself a gift, great. If it feels overwhelming and scary, 1. You wrote it wrong and 2. You think you're supposed to do a whole year's worth of change in one day. All of January is just for exploring the new idea, playing around with it.
I put my resolutions in multiple categories. A quest, a wish, a lifestyle upgrade, Do the Obvious, and a 'stop' goal. What I'm trying to do is to take the initiative to make my life better in certain positive ways, and also by stopping anything negative I'm doing. One foot on the gas, the other foot off the brake. Taking your foot off the brake can get you going faster than anything else. On the other... foot?... if you don't have your foot on either the brake OR the gas, you're just sitting there in a parking lot. That's why I try to have a long list of fun, interesting, positive things and a short list of negatives for the year.
Resolutions and goals work together, and they work best when they are pointed toward a specific vision. Let's say I want to learn to play guitar. My vision needs to be clear. Acoustic or electric? What kind of music do I want to play? Am I seeing myself performing, or just sitting on my bed? Do I want to sing too? Do I want to be in a band? Thinking out the details of this half-formed desire might make me realize, hey, it would be cool to already know how to play guitar, but in reality, I don't want it enough to follow through. Maybe I'll just listen to more guitar music. If I think about giving up this vision and I feel a rush of regret, I can push forward. My goals might be: choose and buy a guitar; choose a beginner piece to learn; schedule practice time a couple of days a week. My resolutions might be to display the guitar in an impossible-to-miss spot, like next to my couch, and to touch it every day. Ultimately, what I'm trying to do is to remake my image of myself into that of Someone Who Plays Guitar. I'm creating a new identity. Presumably what Someone Who Plays Guitar means to me would change each year, as I got better at it. My resolutions of keeping the guitar readily available and touching it every day might eventually look more like my carrying it around to parties or gigs.
Here are some examples of the different categories of New Year's Awesomeness:
Quests: Visit every country in the world; ride a unicycle from Seattle to Portland; run a marathon on every continent; meet your favorite celebrity; raise $10,000 for a charity; something so personal that every single person who hears about it thinks it's bonkers
Wishes: Friendship, true love, healing. I wished for a parrot and I got Noelie. This year I wished for vegan candy corn and I got that, too. If you are still cynical in your heart, skip this part, because your main wish will always be to protect your cynicism, and it will override anything else.
Lifestyle upgrades: A new pillow, getting your teeth fixed, getting an extra hour of sleep every night, packing a fancy sack lunch for yourself, learning to download podcasts, carrying a smaller/lighter daily bag
Do the Obvious: Get a job. Break up with that selfish jerk. Move out. Clean up this mess. Cut back on caffeine. Go to bed already. Pay off your debt. Throw your TV out the window. Clear out your storage unit. Delete that app.
'Stop' goals: Stop texting and driving. Stop biting your nails. Stop being a gossip. Stop snacking at night. Stop wearing hurty shoes. This is the type of goal that most people think of when they think of a New Year's Resolution, and this is also why we usually fail. 'Stop' goals only work when we realize we have been annoying ourselves and we are beyond disgusted and frustrated with our own behavior. This is not who I am anymore. I'm so done.
Sometimes something awesome occurs to me and I realize that it would be great for a different year. It's important not to over-commit. If you're pregnant and finishing grad school, that's plenty to be going on with! We overestimate how much we can do in one year, while seriously underestimating how much we can do in three years. What we're trying to do is to create a Future Self, and that takes tremendous compassion, because Future Self is already tired of cleaning up after us and paying off our debts. We want Future Self to have an easier and yet more interesting life than we do today.
Stuff I have successfully done due to my New Year's Resolution process: learn to raise one eyebrow, learn to make a decent pancake, learn to dance the merengue, run a marathon, get to the healthy weight for my height, have a conversation in a foreign language, learn to play ukulele, get my drivers license. This year my big one was to join Toastmasters and get over my fear of public speaking. It worked. Resolutions DO work if you yearn for them, if you believe they will make your life more fun, if you want them to come true, and if you know how to do it.
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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.