Struggling to keep your new years resolution? Don’t give up now.

The new years resolution thing has never really appealed to me because I have always found it a little judgemental. I feel like it is embedded in the Protestant work ethic: ‘Did you have a nice christmas? did you get drunk at new years? Well now it is time for you to become a better person: you must learn mandarin because your happiness is contingent on your feeling you’re ‘better’ than you were last year.’

Carrots are better than sticks, and new years feels like a stick to me. I  also get the impression that people are going to some lengths to improve themselves in the vague hope that it will make them ‘happier’ in a sort of general way. I don’t think this is the case. If you are  an unhappy person that can’t speak mandarin, and you learn mandarin, then you will make your self into an unhappy person who can speak mandarin. It’s not that you shouldn’t learn another language, just that your happiness shouldn’t be the motivating drive because it isn’t a very effective one.

Happiness is like the weather. It ebbs and flows as a result of circumstances and that is the point of it. You can’t have the sweet without the sour. The most effective thing you can do to increase your happiness is to write down three things that went well that day, every day. It is obvious that doesn’t make any tangible difference to your life. It just changes the way you feel about your life.

NB: As a result of writing that last paragraph I have just gone on amazon and bought my self designed for just this purpose. I will give it a go and see if I can notice the difference. 

Alternatively: you could book a Wine Ride. I promise it will make you happier. Book here

I feel like that was a small Strategic decision that could lead to a marginal increase in my happiness going forward.

The other problem that i have with new years resolutions is the word ‘resolve’. Most people interpret that as requiring and ongoing effort. There is an element of morality in this that seems people want to ‘resolve’ or endeavour to make a greater effort. People often adopt tactical solutions to things that really would be better handled strategically.

For example: If you want to walk more, a tactical approach would be: ‘Always take the stairs’. That is an ongoing determination to do something. So it requires an ongoing mental effort. If you want to walk more, a strategic approach might be: ‘Sell your car’. That is a one time decision that compels more walking on an ongoing basis.

‘Sell your car’ It isn’t very new years resolution-y though is it? it doesn’t have the sense of ongoing self-flagellation. You cant update people on how ‘project walk more’ is going. It is sort of self evident. Jim doesn’t own a car: therefore Jim does a lot of walking. There is no hand ringing, it just is. It also works. But if Jim determine to take the stairs more. That is much better because it can slowly ebb away at Jim’s will power until he finally cracks and gives up.

I know ‘sell your car’ mights seem like  the ‘nuclear’ option. But here is the thing, if you are not willing to sacrifice something substantial like a car to solve a problem, then how serious are you about solving this thing? If you are not that serious about solving the problem then why are you determining to do something for at least a year? Why is it a new years resolution? Why bother?

There some problems that have tactical solutions. Its just there aren’t any tactics that require a whole year to test, 5 weeks is all you need for most things.

A few years ago I started the 5:2 diet. Within five weeks I established it worked and that I could do it. I was playing with it. There was a clear down side, you have to fast for 2 days a week and that sucks. I wanted to see if the weight loss was significant enough to make that cost worth while. The first 5 weeks went well I did another five weeks. In those first ten weeks I determined that it was worth me adopting this as a permanent life style.

The advantage of taking a testing approach is that you might find an effective tactic that will help you achieve a goal. I am ‘happier’ about my weight. My health is better, and when my attention is focused on my health, i am glad i have improved it, but I remain essentially the same person, just skinnier.

The problem with the testing approach is it doesn’t allow you to imagine a future self that is inherently a better person, so it is less inviting an exciting. I also can’t attribute the weight loss to my own good virtue: I tried out a tactic and found it work for me.

Embedded in the tradition of new years resolutions is the notion that ‘better’ people with more will power are more effective. They achieve desirable out comes. This isn’t really true. Some people chance upon an effective tactic and find it easy to keep it going beyond 5 weeks and most people don’t and end up feeling let down.

It is a lottery. The people who stick to their New years resolutions get to feel great, because they can attribute their success to themselves, but the people who ‘fail’ have to buy another ticket next year. I think this tradition continues simply because enough notable exceptions get lucky and manage to make it work.

So what is the answer? 

Well the end of the year is a time for reflection. So if you must have a new years resolution and you are finding it hard to stick to use this simple trouble shooter i have drawn up. Click on the image to make it bigger. If it helps please like and share this post using the links bellow. Happy New Year!

How to fix your new years resolution

How to fix your new years resolution