Resolutions fail so often because we are too vague about the details. We might really want to do the thing, we might really be able to picture ourselves doing the thing, we might even make a public commitment to do the thing. Then we stop. We blame ourselves for lacking motivation or willpower. We think we're procrastinators. We beat ourselves up for being lazy losers or for always failing at our resolutions. Really, all that happened was that we skipped a step. If it doesn't get scheduled, it doesn't happen.
WHEN am I going to do it? Say I'm planning to go to the gym. What time of day? Which days? What are my backup plans?
HOW am I going to do it? Say I choose a resolution like 'Spend more quality time with family.' On December 31, 2017, how am I going to know whether I kept this resolution or not? What does 'more' mean?
WHY am I doing it? Do I truly care about this resolution more than I care about my default behavior? Am I curious about it? Does it sound so fun and exciting that I want to jump up and down? Do I involuntarily break into a grin every time I think about it? Or does it sound like duty, obligation, and boredom?
As an example, last year I had an extremely boring goal. I wanted to digitize all my paper notebooks. Some could be scanned and some would have to be typed up, because my handwriting was too faint. This was THE MOST BORING RESOLUTION IN THE WORLD. I thought I might actually die doing it and that cobwebs would grow from my skull to the keyboard. All together, it took me weeks scattered throughout the year. I could have finished it in a month if I'd really knuckled down. It took me until the last week of December. I only finished by forcing myself. Now I'm really pleased with the results, because all this information is instantly available on my phone, instead of sitting in a closet where it was vulnerable to damage. There was nothing about it that would make me want to do it; it sucked. A reminder would show up in my phone and I would go "UUUUHHNNNNNNG." I just had to keep reminding myself that once I was done, I was done, and I'd never have to do it again. Thanks, Past Self!
Recognizing the emotions that are brought up by goals and resolutions can be a huge help in meeting them. If I feel guilty every time I think about scheduling family phone calls or visits, it's going to make me want to avoid this, even though I love my family and enjoy spending time with them. If I feel angry every time I think about going to the gym or losing weight, I'm never going to do it, unless of course I discover kickboxing. If I feel depressed and overwhelmed every time I think about getting organized, I'm probably going to be in the same state next year as I was this year. This is why it helps to make resolutions around how you want to feel.
I resolve to go to the gym at least three times a week, because when I come out of yoga class I feel the way I wish I would feel every minute of every day. When I don't go, my neck gets all stiff. I'll go Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, and if I miss one of these days, I'll go to the noon class on Saturday.
I resolve to set a bedtime alarm Sunday through Thursday, because I love how it feels when I sleep 8 hours and wake up without an alarm.
I resolve not to drink caffeine after noon, because I hate feeling irritable and snappy and then not being able to fall asleep that night.
Temporary mood repair is THE reason we do things that we recognize are a bad idea. Procrastinating, emotional eating, setting stuff in a pile to deal with "later," yelling at our kids, complaining, gossiping, binge-watching TV, obsessive gaming, and sleep procrastinating all have to do with mood repair. It's called "giving in to feel good." We reward ourselves for skipping what we "should" be doing to do what we LIKE doing. It's like giving your dog a cookie for biting you. Instead of going to the gym, I'll go straight home and drink wine! Yay!
We wait until we'll "feel like it" or until we're "in the mood." What this means is that we always feel like the same stuff we always do, we never feel like doing anything we aren't already doing, and we're never in the mood for anything not-fun. When we let our moods dictate what we do and don't do, we'll continue to get the results we always get. Resolutions are about DOING STUFF, regardless of what mood we're in.
The great thing about this is that pushing ourselves to do things, even when we're not in the mood, can eventually create that missing mood. I'm never in the mood to put on workout clothes and go out the door to the gym, especially if the weather is bad. But once class starts, and my gimpy neck starts relaxing, I remember how much I love this class. I feel great afterward. I have to try to recall this great post-yoga feeling every time I start talking myself into skipping class.
The point of resolutions is a lifestyle upgrade. We want to have fewer unpleasant experiences and more awesome experiences. We want our most boring day to be a little closer to our ideal routine. Making this happen requires focused attention, action, backup plans, and catching ourselves when we revert back to default.
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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