Why I hate New Year’s Resolutions

Let’s be real:  Who here has ever made a “New Year’s Resolution” and actually managed to keep it all year?  I’ve made resolutions as ambitious as “get on Broadway” and as un-ambitious as “floss more” and making a resolution has never really helped me accomplish anything. I don’t consider myself a lazy person in most regards (except maybe when it comes to doing my hair in the morning), and yet every time I make a resolution for the new year, I find it doesn’t happen.

I’m sure your experience is similar.  Does your list from 2011 look something like the one to the left?

I subscribe to Seth Godin’s blog, and he recently observed:

GTD, 18 minute plans, organized folders… none of them work as well as you’d like. The reason is simple: you don’t want to get more done.  You’re afraid.  Getting more done would mean exposing yourself to considerable risk, to crossing bridges, to putting things into the world. Which means failure.  The leap the lizard brain takes when confronting the opportunity is a simple formula: GTD=Failure.

If this is true, it means that our fear of failure keeps us from doing the thing we want to accomplish.  Sure, we want to get in shape, but what if we try to make that change and it doesn’t come to pass?  What if we want to “audition more” or “book our first National tour” and it doesn’t happen no matter how much we audition or how much we try to improve our skills?  

We are hard-wired to resist change.  It’s hard to bypass the “lizard brain,” as Seth calls it, that wants us to be safe and is looking out for our survival.  Telling the lizard brain “I resolve to make this change and this is how it shall be!” creates a lot of subconscious (and usually also conscious) resistance.  

So how do we get past it?

I use three strategies that I’d like to share with you in hopes that it might actually help you tackle whatever resolutions you have this year.  Let’s not call them resolutions.  Let’s call them, commitments.

Strategy #1: Setting up drop-dead dates that hold you accountable to something or someone other than yourself.

So a bunch of times I’ve gotten and idea for a dance piece I wanted to make and it’s sat in my head.  For months.  Or a year.  Unless… I managed to book a performance date or the festival was coming up and I HAD to finish the piece or waste all the money I had spent on rehearsal space and tell my dancers and audience members “sorry guys, you aren’t having a show after all.”  This blog is an example of me being accountable to someone other than myself.  I have to keep posting for my readers! (Blogs with deadlines are a great way to get your butt in gear).

Usually an overly ambitious deadline or timeline will ensure completion even more.

Of course, this can be stressful and is not the most ideal strategy.  I think the key is an external form of motivation.  This is hard to find with resolutions like losing weight, getting in shape, quitting a bad habit, or anything that seems to only involve ourselves.  Try to make it external.  Maybe you can find a fabulous charity event to attend and you’re determined to fit into a dress you haven’t worn in 5 years.  Find a friend to go with and set the goal to fit into the dress by the time of the event.  Then, all the actionable objectives to help you accomplish that will naturally fall into place.

Strategy #2: Take baby steps

And I do mean BABY steps.  The biggest problem with our brains and the psychology we deal with as far as our own barriers is changing patterns.  Usually we try to bite off more than we can chew.  We insist we are going to go to the gym more and so we spend 19 hours at the gym the first two days… and then only 1 for the next week and then none the rest of the year.  It’s because we make a big drastic sudden change instead of a gradual one.  Our psychology resists it.

I suggest starting with the absolute possible smallest change in behavior you can make.

For example, when I finally got fed up with my dentist yelling at me about plaque every time I went in, I knew I had to floss my teeth every day.  I hate flossing.  Most of the time I wouldn’t because I would floss all my teeth after not flossing them for awhile and it would suck and my gums would hurt.  So instead, I flossed ONE TOOTH each night.  After a short period of time I started to think “well I’m already flossing one tooth, I guess I can floss two.”  And it would increase from there.  Now flossing my teeth is almost automatic.  In fact I feel gross if I don’t do it.

My suggestion then if you aren’t getting to the gym as much as you’d like for instance – find the times when you can normally go to the gym, and just go in and then leave.  Don’t even do an exercise.  Just GO to the gym, say “oh hey I’m at the gym” and leave.  Sounds ridiculous I know, but you have actually GONE to the gym.  Then the next time, go and just do 10 crunches, or get on the treadmill for 5 minutes.  Sooner or later your brain will say, “hey, I can do more than just this!”  And you will.

Build it up in baby steps. After all, you do have the WHOLE year.

Strategy #3: Be gentle with yourself

If you’re anything like me, you serially beat up on yourself, metaphorically speaking. Nothing is good enough.  The curse of being extremely disciplined is that you always think you can do more, or that you didn’t do enough.

If you lost 5 lbs last week and gained 3 this week, don’t start beating yourself up over it.  It’s a pattern of progress over a longer period of time – much like making deposits in an investment account – that matters.  Fluctuations are normal.  One performance will suck and the others will be amazing.  But are you consistent?  Do you do your work?  That’s what matters.

Refrain from judging yourself or your performance.  Be gentle with yourself.  Put these thoughts out of your mind.  After all, you’re only human.

Put in the time, do your work, be consistent and commit without judging.  You’ll get there.

I wish you all the best tonight and for the rest of the year.  This time is a time of reflection for a lot of us as we continue to forge ahead.  I’m cheering you on in 2012 and looking forward to the best year yet.

Now quit readin’ and go get your party hat on!!

See you next year.

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2 thoughts on “Why I hate New Year’s Resolutions

  1. Great points, Katrina. I would add that it’s a cruel trick of nature that while that lizard brain resists change, change is the only constant there is. And the name of the game (if the dodo were still here, he/she would tell you this) is: change OR DIE. Fortunately, we have several million neurons piled on top of the lizard-brain neurons that equip us to override the lizard brain when necessary, and in fact are the key to our survival over all these millennia. It’s not because we have great defense or offense (no claws, fangs, speed, etc). It’s because we have the capacity to see a situation, understand what’s needed in order to master it, and do it. In other words, we can change in response to changing circumstances. All your tips are cognitive ways to override the lizard brain, which definitely has its uses, but shouldn’t be running the show. Happy new year. Love your blog.

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