– Or: If Wishes Were Horses, Beggars Would Ride –

Welcome to the Season of Resolutions! By the time this entry is posted, the first day of the two thousand twenty second year of our Lord will have commenced.  Fireworks, party hats, Traditional Music, senses of wellbeing. In this case, relief at having completed twenty-four straight months of 2020; which really, to be fair, has been the longest eight years of our adult lives.

Something that always crops up about this time of year – when people aren’t announcing just how thrillingly they crushed the previous year, how they intend to crush the upcoming year, or other metaphors for use of the waste management compression device – is that of the phenomenon of New Year’s Resolutions.

Generally speaking, the New Year’s Resolution is something that is made to improve some aspect of life.  Lose weight, exercise more, increase business, gain financial stability, feed the cat, better yard maintenance, finally mount the toilet paper roll the correct way.  This post is specifically about those resolutions that are so popularly made and how they have a nasty habit of disappearing into the land of lost socks.

Pontification warning: Most of this is opinion based.  I would love to be incorrect about most of it.  Feel free to hit me up where I am completely off base.

Supplementary comment: If you are the type who makes a resolution each year and sees it through to the very end, this blog is probably not describing you.  That’s awesome!  Please share your secret(s)!

What exactly are resolutions?

A resolution, as stated above, is an effort to do something that would otherwise not be done.  Many of those somethings are based on personal improvement.  There are not nearly enough widely shouted resolutions that involve other-centeredness – spend more time working the local soup kitchen, increase charitable contributions, go walk dogs at the animal shelter, use fewer words when blogging – so it stands to reason that we’re dealing with focus on the self.

There is nothing new in this. Altruism is a practiced art and few of us are artistic in that fashion.  There’s also nothing fundamentally wrong with wanting to make improvements in ourselves.  Some of those improvements would be of huge benefit to our health and well-being.  Unless we’re Michael Phelps, we probably need to exercise more.  Heart health is important, after all.  I personally could stand to relieve my back of a couple stone.  Entrepreneurs set their goals – both lofty and realistic – for the upcoming year.

Really.  There’s nothing terrible about any of this.  It’s all a great idea.

So why do new year’s resolutions have a reputation for either lasting for a few days/weeks (hours?) or just completely droping off the face of the Earth*?

That’s what I want to meander on about.

*The notion of falling off the face of the Earth sure seems like an endorsement of the Flat Earth Society, doesn’t it?  I assure you this is not the case.  Atlas is not below catching all those resolutions and storing them in his hope chest. It’s just a fun expression.  Let’s press on.

The science behind the relationship between resolutions and misfires

Two strong candidates for “why resolutions go belly up” are: Lack of Planning and Intent to Procrastinate.  Hear me out.

Sometimes it’s ok to just wing it and see what happens.  Resolutions are frequently lifestyle changes or big hairy audacious goals (oh how I loathe that phrase).  More often than not though?  Lifestyle changes require meticulous planning.  The change request is the result of something that is not presently “ok” that you have decided will be “ok” if X Y and Z are accomplished. As such, there are things that need to be in place to counteract the immolating magnitude of the two following categories.

Lack of Planning

The wishes quote above is something my mother always said whenever I wished for something relatively inconsequential as a kid.  New bike, more Transformers, the ability to go to someone’s house to play, more freedom, not having to eat liver.  The idea of wishes plays directly into our current notion of resolutions. These are things that we wish to happen.  Why do I use the word wish?  Because many times we get super excited about the resolution and it turns into a bit of “Golly gee, wouldn’t it be great if <insert thing here>.”

What the golly gee aspect of it lacks is planning.  A resolution without a plan is a wish.  A wish is something that would be nice to have.  Let’s use a few of the regular examples.

“I want to lose weight.”  Great! What is your plan to make it happen?  In detail.  Where are you at right now?  What are you presently doing that is preventing you from being where you want to be at in the first place?  Do you have a healthy goal weight in mind?  What changes are going to be made to assist? What are your benchmarks going to look like, on what dates will you evaluate them, and can you be prepared to possibly miss them and still continue toward your goal?

“I want to exercise more.” Spectacular!  What is your plan to make it happen?  In detail. Are you exercising at all right now?  If so, what does more look like to you?  If not, what are the barriers that keep you from exercising?  Do you have a target of what types of exercises you might be compatible with?  Can you build a schedule that does not significantly and negatively impact your life and commit to it?

(this is starting to turn into a confessional.  uh oh.)

Intent to Procrastinate

If we are making a resolution to change something about ourselves, we’re potentially already in a state where there is some degree of dissatisfaction.  The core of the resolution already is “I’m displeased.”  The resolution is being built around a frustrated foundation.  It’s worth noting that not all resolutions are founded on this notion.  Conversely, if you take a look at several sources for Top 10 New Year’s Resolutions – like this one from Parade.com – you will see a theme.  Something isn’t right and it needs to be made right.

Very often, New Year’s Resolutions are plans to do something in the future.  Not now. Later.  On December 26th, our first-world bodies are often bloated from food engorgement.  Yuck!  Our bank accounts are less robust.  Now?  We are going to Change All the Things. ……. After the new year starts.  Not today.  It’s “Twixtmas,” so definitely not tomorrow, but later.

This is a set-up for procrastination.  We now have permission to put it off to later.  Which means that when it’s later and something is sideways, we have permission to put it off to later again.  Whoops!

We are all at once our own worst critic and most empowering enabler.  Quick to judge ourselves for failings, quick to let the things that would counteract those failings sliiiiiiiiiiiiide.

The solution to this one is to … well … not make a “New Year’s Resolution” but rather to start right now.  Seriously.  Get after it!  Don’t wait until January 1st, do it now! Pitter patter, let’s get at ‘er!  Tick Tock!!

To be resolute in resolutions.

Welcome to the department of redundancy department.

So here’s my theory.  In order to successfully carry out the dictates of a resolution, we must be resolute in our resolve. Unbending in our desire to accomplish The Thing.  One fantastic way to see a resolution through to either a specific goal or a changed pattern is a plan.  A reasonable plan, at least.  Details.  Specifics.  Timelines.  Benchmarks.  Calendar dates. A spreadsheet. Deliverables!  ACCOUNTABILITY!

(that was a whole lot of naughty words strung together up there just now)

Here are two examples of each side of the coin:

Exercise resolution that might not fly: “I am going to start running a 5k TODAY.”
Exercise resolution that might fly: “I am going to start a Couch-to-5k program TODAY (Monday), Wednesday, and Friday of this week, and every week for the 9 weeks of the program.”

Why would the first one not work?  If you are not a runner yet, getting outside or on a treadmill and trying to run a 5k will be torturous.  Even if you are a runner, a 5k might be torturous!  The fastest way to give up on a goal is to be unrealistic in the steps.  0 to 5k in a day is absolutely unrealistic in this context.

Why would the second one work?  Goal, Schedule, Timeline.  The program has deliverables and benchmarks.  It builds incrementally to a goal over time, not in a blitz.

Side note: I am not endorsing this or any other fitness program.  I’ve done Couch-to-5k three separate times, I loathe running, and it worked all three times.

Long overdue conclusion

Knowledge is power.  Now that we know some of the barriers, we can do something about it.  Most of us have upcoming goals.  Some of them are easier to accomplish.  Some are short term.  Others are long term.  “Get back on the treadmill” is both!

Do you have any specific plans for the upcoming year?  I’d absolutely adore the opportunity to hear all about them.  I would also love to hear what your plans are!

Until next week,

-= george =-