Vision to reality, just how is it done? Why do some people keep their New Year’s Resolutions while the majority don’t? The secret is cheating - or, rather, defining your goals in a way that can actually be won.
I always keep the majority of my resolutions, and usually I do them all. This is true even though I set mine over eleven categories. The main reason is that I see it as a game, and part of that game is constantly experimenting on the rules of play.
The best cheat is to pick a resolution for something you already do. For instance, I resolve not to smoke a single cigarette in 2020. This is easy for me because I’ve never been a smoker, and why start now? When nurses ask me if I’ve ever smoked I refer to it as “a really expensive way to smell bad.” At least hauling trash has innate dignity and earns a paycheck.
This is part of the trick - first, to regard the arena of the goal with humor. Second, frame the keeping of the resolution as something attractive, and the not-keeping of the goal as something low, gross, dumb, annoying, or whatever other quality makes you shy away from it.
This can be a problem if you have low self-esteem and don’t see yourself as worthy of having nice things. Nice things like dignity, self-respect, a savings account, loyal friends? Building your sense of entitlement can help here. Start by giving yourself credit for all the positive things you already do. (Flossing, not being an axe murderer)
For every goal or resolution, there is someone who will repeatedly try and fail at it, and someone else who does it every day without thinking.
Keep that in mind.
I ran a marathon - if that’s on your goal list - and I believe I will do it again. Millions of people have, and that’s part of what convinced me that I could if I wanted to. On the other hand, it took me three tries to pass the test to get my driver’s license at age 29. I share this because driving a car is something most people never think about, something they learned with eagerness and that they see as giving them freedom.
What if your resolution gave you freedom, too?
Learning to drive was far harder for me than training for a marathon was. Driving made me sob my heart out in public, but running never did. This is because I framed driving as a “must-do” and training for the marathon as a personal milestone. I felt that society was forcing me to do something I was bad at, that if I didn’t learn to drive before I turned thirty then people would think there was something wrong with me, that I struggled with driving because I was stupid. Meanwhile I understood that having my marathon medallion would be metal AF.
If one of your resolutions does happen to revolve around something that “society is making you do,” check with some neutral third parties to make sure you’re right. If it’s true, that you really “have to” do whatever it is, then try to focus on the positive outcomes after you’ve reached the goal. Freedom from the obligation. Proving people wrong. Building character and firming up your resolve. Surviving difficult things gives you greater ability to survive difficult things.
(I’m trying to think of things that a person would literally be “forced” to do by society, and all I can really come up with relates to incarceration, being on probation, wearing an ankle monitor, etc.)
It can help to compare your resolution to actual prison, slavery, medical cataclysm such as being in a coma, or other severe situations. Most of us forget that our lives are really pretty boring, comfortable, and routine, and that our struggles fall well within the median for humans.
There are two types of goal: push and pull.
A pushing-away goal is trying to get away from something, like debt or being on medication. A pulling-toward goal is moving toward something, like buying a house or getting a GED. Most goals can be framed either way, and in that case I find that it’s helpful to do both, to think of the goal both ways.
I resolve to pay off my debt/I resolve to increase my net worth.
I resolve to quit smoking/I resolve to be considerate of my lungs.
The main trick is to use the right terminology to get a win for your resolution. That means taking the time to understand just what it is that you’re trying to do. The reason you aren’t living your dream already is probably that you don’t know how. (Either you don’t know how or you never wanted to before; those are the options).
If you WANT TO and you KNOW HOW then you can and will quite literally do anything at all.
A “resolution” is a statement of intent.
A “goal” is a specific, time-bound result of action.
Neither of these is a “plan” or a “project” or a “mission” or a “quest” or an “experiment” and neither of them may have anything to do with habit formation. I often use “resolution” as a broad category descriptor, while getting more specific during my yearly planning.
Personally I find resolutions far, far more effective than goals. Most people, myself certainly included, will commit to a specific goal that they aren’t able to do, and/or a goal that does not lead to their intended results. For instance, the year I ran my marathon, I gained 8 lbs. If my intent was to “lose weight” that year, then I would have technically failed even though I put in a huge amount of effort and achieved a major milestone.
How will you know when or if you have kept your resolution?
That’s the real trick. Most people think they are making a resolution when what they said really isn’t a resolution at all, and that’s why they quit. For instance, “lose weight” is a shambles of a resolution. What, forever? Until you get to zero? How on earth do you keep a resolution that is phrased that way? Does it count if you lose half a pound and then gain it back? What on earth does the finish line look like?
Maybe we just start saying “I resolve to figure out what’s involved in...” - whatever it is. Learn more about it, that’s all, and then see if we’re still interested.
What we’re really asking ourselves to do is to change, to figure out how to make our lives easier, better, or more interesting. Just because we don’t know how to do it yet doesn’t make it impossible. Just because we’ve tried and failed many times doesn’t mean we’re incapable. We have the power to choose great visions for ourselves, and if that isn’t worth trying, then what is?
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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