Resolutions vs. Habits

pexels-photo-288394.jpegA few weeks ago is an interesting time of year when lots of people (including me) become suddenly resolved to change. Call me a cynic, but I don’t know that I have ever heard someone say “well I make a resolution every year and every year I achieve them”. That doesn’t mean it has never been said. But I have never heard it.

 

So personally I feel like resolutions are an inevitable source of failure. And more than that, I feel it is something that is culturally acceptable to fail at. So while you might feel shame and embarrassment to fail, my experience has been that people won’t call you out on it. They might commiserate with you, but I feel there is usually not much judgment. Maybe your experience has been different than mine. But I don’t feel judged by anyone but myself. So this is the time of year that I imagine most resolutions tend to taper off.

 

So what then? Am I just resolved to never changing? Of course not. Change is inevitable. We fight and fight to maintain the status quo. But even if we hold on tightly to everything material and to every tradition, time marches on without us. The world is not in our control. Neither is aging. Neither is death. So change will always come. The biggest question is whether that change will be in a direction you choose, or a direction chosen for you.

 

Now some change is obviously outside our control. Some people have fewer choices than others, whether that be because of choices made in the past or simply because of the life they were born into. But you always have at least one choice. I remember reading (wish I could remember where) about a man during the holocaust that realized his entire life was out of his control. Everything was decided for him in the camp… except for his own attitude. So he determined to make choices to improve the one thing he had control over.

 

So what do I do instead of resolutions? Well I am by no means a poster child for change. But what I am doing this year is to have a personal master plan. This involved sitting down and making some 3-year goals in categories like health/fitness, relationships, and wealth/career. Then I narrowed it down to one objective in each category, and then broke each item down to a 1-year goal, then 1-month goal, and 1-week goal. So one of my focuses this year in the skills/personal growth category is to read 25 books this year. That translates roughly to a weekly goal of reading half a book.

 

Now that sounds an awful lot like a resolution. But it feels different to me. Maybe the only difference is that by not calling it a resolution, I abandon the semantic connotation that tells me I will fail if I make it a resolution. But I don’t think it is just semantics.

 

So what is the difference? I think one difference is having a plan. If I just say “I am going to read 25 books this year” and don’t have a plan, that is more likely to fail. Even breaking it down into a weekly goal is a huge step. Now I will confess that my plan to read 25 books is pretty weak. But it is better than nothing. Maybe you make a plan for your resolution. I never did. So calling it a plan instead of a resolution reminds me that I need to actually make a plan.

 

I will confess that I originally planned to read 50 books this year. That is what I wrote down in my master plan. But I realized that I was already starting to skim books more than enjoy them. Additionally my focus for this year is to write more, not read more. So I followed the advice from Finish and cut my goal in half (see my notes on Finish if you’d like).

 

This year I am also going to try to focus on habits. To hit a 3-year goal, I don’t think you can just willpower your way through it. You have to change underlying behaviors. So if my goal was to read a bunch of books, that is well and good. But if I take that goal and work out a plan to slowly change my reading habits or start a new reading habit, that is even better.

 

If you are curious about how habit transformation/creation works, you can check out my recent book summary of the Power of Habit. Or, even better, you could read the book. It was a very helpful read.

 

I have also been using the Loop – Habit Tracker app to track my habit progress. Tomorrow marks the 50th day in a row that I will have gotten up early and written for at least 5 minutes. Most days it is 30-45 minutes, but my habit is just to at least sit down to it every day. Data is helpful to discount the way you might feel about how often you have been doing on your habit (also from Finish).

 

Whether you made a plan or a resolution or something else, I wish you the best on your journey to positive change.

 

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