Why Your Resolution Is a Lie

You’re not only lying to yourself, you’re setting yourself up for failure. New Years resolutions in and of themselves aren’t bad, they are just usually too wide in scope, don’t consider things out of our control, and are poorly planned. All of these together make it unrealistic and unachievable. Reframe your resolution to make it happen. If you’ve never stepped foot in a gym before, regularly going n times a week is a dream, not a resolution.

Setting scope on your your resolution will help it become less pie-in-the-sky and actually realistic. Going to the gym three times a week isn’t an unrealistic goal. Going to the gym three times a week, every week of the year creates a lot more room for failure. Scope in this situation means what circumstances and requirements you’re responsible for in order for you to deliver on the promises of your resolution. Say you’ve already been going to the gym three times a week for, say 6 weeks. Good for you! When you made your resolution, you forgot about the cruise you were going on in mid-February to escape the winter grays and get some coastal sun. Now what? Going to bring your GoodLife with you? Going to take a week off? There’s nothing wrong with taking a break but if your plan was to hit the gym three times a week every week, you’ve now broken that. Adjusting the scope on what you resolve will help you set what’s most important for you. Is it being at the gym that’s most important to you or is it actually about getting excercise? When you’re on your cruise maybe you can do laps in the pool or go diving. That sounds like excercise to me. Scope can be a really complicated thing1 but what it really means is deciding what’s important to you for achieving your goal and leaving behind what’s “out-of-scope”. A tighter scope means smaller, more attainable chunks. Scope out the circumstances and requirements for achieving your goal for this week, then scope it out for the month and have these align with the goals of your resolution.

One of the worst parts about New years resolutions is all the things we have no control over. The first of these is when it happens. Starting off a new year can feel really good. Seeing 365 possibilities in front of you can drum up utter determination in all of us. It’s the timing that sucks. We’re coming out a a stretch where we’ve probably eaten the most out of all year and are in a habit of sweets and big meals. Our shelves are full of leftover baking—a problem we don’t have in my household—and we have to get rid of it somehow. It’s cold and gloomy outside in January. It would be a lot easier to work on a goal of running a mile everyday if New Years was June 1st and you could start your routine on beautifully clear summer mornings. But that’s not how it is. If we want to keep our resolutions, we have to plan them around what’s in our control. We only generally just consider our resolutions in the ideal situation when we should make our resolutions so they can function in the inevitable worst case scenarios. Say you’re doing well at becoming a regular at the gym, but today it’s -25 degrees (that’s cold whether it’s F or C) and just snowed 2 feet. Still planning on going to the gym? What if it’s like this for a week straight? Did your resolution plan for this crappy weather? You can decide to trudge through the cold and snow to make it to the desolate gym or you can stay wrapped up in bed with a steaming coffee and a good book. Staying home sounds like the better choice but what if that means you’ve broken your resolution? There’s nothing wrong with “I’ll go tomorrow instead” until you say that every day. Plan your resolution to be manageable in the worst case scenarios and less dependent on outside forces we don’t control.

Just look at the word resolution. Resolve, solve, solution. Is going to the gym three times a week a solution to you wanting to get in shape? Can we think about “hitting the gym” as a hack or a make? It’s not a quick fix so it doesn’t count as a hack but one of the important parts of a ‘make’ is that it’s an evolving and hopefully comprehensive solution you’re going to put into action. If you’re familiar with GTD (which I can’t recommend enough that you get familiar with, if not already) you know that anything you want to accomplish that requires two or more steps is a project. Getting ready for work in the morning is a project:

☐ Get my ass out of bed on time
☐ Take a shower so I don’t smell but mostly to wake me up
☐ Shave so I don’t look like those other East Village bearded hipsters
☐ Eat something so my mind doesn’t melt before lunchtime
☐ Brush my teeth after I drink my orange juice
☐ Don’t forget pants

This becomes second nature after a while but it wasn’t when our Mom was helping us do it when we were 5. If going to the gym every day was second nature, we would all be ripped. Until it becomes second nature, map out all of the steps it takes to make it happen and then start working on your project. Maybe it includes 3 things on the list before you even show up at the gym. Even if you do those things the first day but don’t make it to the gym, you’re making progress that you can see and track. It’s still important to get to the gym—that’s the next task. Planning things out up front will give you a better overview of everything that needs to happen, what you’ll easily handle, and where you’re going to need help.

Part of creating a project that’s intended to execute a solution (your resoltion) is setting goals and milestones that can be tracked. Arriving to the gym on Day 1 is a milestone but you’re not happy stopping there. Looking good in a bathing suit by summer is a goal but do you know what it takes to get there? Do you know if doing more cardio or using that machine-weight-thing that everyone sweats all over will get you there? Set smaller goals which have a clear path to attaining them. I know you want to be a regular Lou Ferrigno by the end of the year but why don’t we start with a near-term measurable goal; something like actually being able to get to the top of two, four, or eight flights of stairs at your office without passing out. Know what to do to make that happen? Good. Do it. Next? Lets get up that flight of stairs without being short on breath. Good for you. See how setting goals and milestones that we can hit then moving the bar up can give us a better chance? If we set a really high bar that seems so far away we can’t visualize a path to get there, we won’t get there.

Don’t lie to yourself about what you can accomplish. Set your circumstances and requirements to be only what’s most important to you, make that achievable under even the worst circumstances, and then treat your resolution like a project that has multiple steps, goals, and milestones that are each attainable and add up to accomplish your year-long goal. Now that sounds like a solution.

Next, I’ll write about my resolutions and how they fit in these guidelines so I can make them happen.

  1. I’m going to do a bigger post on scope. If it’s confusing you, let’s chat about it. Get ahold of me at one of the link below.↩︎