Just because I wasn’t sticking to my New Year’s resolutions didn’t mean I was destroying my chances of reaching those goals
I’ve started seeing resolutions and habit-building in a completely different light.
I started 2021 with big goals.
This was going to be the year when I’d quit my “stable” and “secure” job to become a full-time writer. I was going to impact lots of lives and finally realize my childhood dream and prove to the world that, no matter what they say, it is possible to make a living by doing what you love.
I even designed the first page of my planner so every time I looked at it, I got reminded of how much needed to be done and how far I could go.
To stick to my ambitious goals, I made the following resolutions (or shall I call them habits?) to reach my goal:
- Write five Medium articles a week.
- Record and upload two videos per week on my YouTube channel.
We are a couple of weeks into the new year — and I haven’t written a single article. When it comes to YouTube, I have only uploaded one video so far, that too after overcoming insane amounts of internal resistance.
This isn’t because I got lazy or that my enthusiasm ran out. This happened because my father was hospitalized on 31 December and had major surgery. I’m in the middle of a family medical emergency, and I haven’t been able to stick to my resolutions. This didn’t lessen my sense of guilt or the feeling that I wasn’t doing enough to make my dreams come true.
A few days ago, I had a mini-breakdown where the magnitude of all that I might be potentially missing out on crashed down on me. I couldn’t help thinking about how I’m a terrible person for lying to myself and selling myself short.
I won’t lie. That was a dark phase.
It took tremendous levels of courage to pull myself out of the abyss. Through my reflections and conversations with a few friends, I came to a conclusion: just because I wasn’t sticking to my New Year’s resolutions didn’t mean I was destroying my chances of reaching those goals. This wasn’t an easy conclusion and it took me several days to reach it. But once I did, I was able to view my resolutions in a different light and be more compassionate to myself.
This article is the result of the intense sessions of self-reflection and conversations with my dear friends. It outlines three concepts you can apply to your resolutions to make sure you stick to them. It lays out science-backed ways you can hold yourself accountable and turn your habits into goals.
Concept 1: Ditch the “From Now On” Mindset
A major mistake I made while considering my resolutions was my inability to look at anything other than the big picture. When I said I wanted to write five articles a week, it meant I wanted to write five articles a week from now on until the foreseeable future.
A conversation during Coach Tony’s Office Hours with Andrew Zimmermann, research advisor at Behavior Design Lab, Stanford University, opened my eyes to the mistake I’d been making. Instead of designing resolutions with the “from now on” mindset, it gets easier to stick to them if you design them with the “try for a set timeframe” approach.
The Fogg Behavior Model designed by BJ Fogg, the founder and director of the Stanford Behavior Design Lab, discusses how a new habit or behavior can be adopted into one’s lifestyle. This model was developed after experiments conducted on thousands of people and considers both the degree of familiarity with the new habit and the time it takes to adopt that habit into daily life. The schedules are ordered as:
- One-time behaviors that take little effort to perform once. These take little effort because there’s no commitment involved. For example, “I’ll write one article today.”
- Behaviors that last a period of time; in other words, behaviors that have an intended duration. An example would be “I’ll write every day of the week for 30 days.”
- Behaviors that are a permanent change. In other words, these are always performed and become a habit over a period of time. For example, “I’ll write something daily.”
Similarly, the degree of familiarity with the behavior is categorized as unfamiliar or familiar, and the type of behavior change is depicted depending on whether you want to increase the frequency, intensity, or duration of that particular behavior or decrease it.
If you try to build a habit with the mindset that you’ll do this every single day for the rest of your life without considering the timeframe or your degree of familiarity with the new habit, the chances of not succeeding are higher. A study conducted by the University of Scranton’s Department of Psychology found that 77% of people maintained their New Year’s resolutions for one week but only 19% could stick to them for two years.
How you can adopt this:
Take the new habit or resolution one timeframe at a time. Instead of saying “I’ll go to the gym three days a week”, try saying, “I’ll go to the gym three days a week for two weeks, and see how it works for me.”
The “from now on” approach forces you to be harsh on yourself. It allows you no room to forgive yourself for the times you couldn’t stick to your resolution. If you miss it even a few times, you’ve failed.
In contrast, if you set timeframes and try out resolutions on a trial basis, you can assess the time, effort, and energy it requires for you to keep working on the habit. If it’s more than what you’re willing to give, or if you fall short a few weeks in a row, you can re-adjust your priorities and get back on track without feeling like a failure.
Instead of designing resolutions with the “from now on” mindset, it gets easier to stick to them if you design them with the “try for a set timeframe” approach.
Concept 2: Keep the “Return” Tag Attached
Imagine you purchased a new iPhone after being a loyal Android user for years. You played around for a few days, tried out all the features, and eventually realized that the iOS environment isn’t meant for you. You’re an Android person through and through, and you aren’t liking your new phone at all.
What would you do in such a situation?
Would you blame yourself for not being able to adjust to a new operating system? Or would you check if the phone’s still within its warranty period and exchange it for a new one?
This seems like such an easy answer when it comes to buying a new phone. But when you buy into a new habit or try making a new resolution work, why are you so intent on judging yourself too harshly if the resolution doesn’t work for you?
When I understood this, I came to the conclusion that to be a successful writer, I needed to write consistently. However, since I’d already written so much and built a strong catalog of already-published articles, I didn’t really need to work on it every single day without allowing myself the leeway to breathe.
My goal was the same. As were my aspirations. My method to reach there had changed. My resolution was still to write as much as I can, but I’d no longer consider myself a failure if I failed to stick to five articles a week.
How you can adopt this:
If you couldn’t stick to your resolution, you are not alone. Despite our good intentions, people are pretty poor at changing their own behavior. Don’t blame yourself.
Instead, consider the fact that maybe the resolution wasn’t right for you. Maybe your perception of the value it promised was higher than what it will actually provide. Or maybe you didn’t know the true cost of the habit — which now turned out to be a price you aren’t willing to pay?
If a habit or a resolution doesn’t work for you, consider the big picture and try to understand how this new habit aligns your aspirations towards your goals. If you can have the same aspirations and achieve the same goals with a different daily habit, maybe you can re-structure your resolution around that.
If you can have the same aspirations and achieve the same goals with a different daily habit, maybe you can re-structure your resolution around that.
Concept 3: Focus on the ZEAL, Not the Numbers
Another important conclusion I came to was: when it comes to resolutions, numbers are not as important as your enthusiasm to see yourself through.
My goal was to write five articles a week, but I failed to stick to the numbers. Yet, how could I consider myself a failure when the zeal, that hunger, the spark to make my dreams come true was still very much alive?
I was still interested in being a full-time writer. I was still interested in sticking to the resolution of 20 articles a month once things returned to normal. There’s no rule in the universe that says missing 15 days of skipping a habit will ensure my resolutions are bound to fail.
Why was I so inclined to judge myself harshly then?
How you can adopt this
Sometimes, even when you are fully committed to seeing your dreams come true, there might be situations that prevent you from getting there. It’s important to recognize the moments when you aren’t working versus the moments you can’t work.
That being said, sometimes it can get hard to differentiate between the two. Here are my two cents on how to know whether or not you genuinely haven’t been able to stick to your resolutions because of your circumstances:
- Deep down inside, your heart will know when you’re simply making an excuse.
- Relaxing and chilling are different from resting. If you’re exhausted and all the muscles in your body are screaming for rest, you’ll know it. After all, your body knows better than any doctor when it needs to unwind and take some time off.
- When you’re sleeping, try to understand if you’re legit tired or just plain bored. The former is necessary; the latter, probably a luxury. It’s up to you to decide whether or not you can afford it.
When it comes to resolutions, numbers are not as important as your zeal to see yourself through.
New Year’s resolutions can be daunting — because they are so easy to slip up on. And once that happens, it’s difficult to get back on track. I found myself blaming myself and considering myself a failure when I couldn’t stick to my resolutions in the first two weeks of the year. This led me to a dark phase.
With tremendous strength of will and a circle of compassionate friends, I managed to pull myself out of it. Summarizing the lessons I learned, here are three ways you can be compassionate to yourself and stick to your New Year’s resolutions:
- Don’t make a resolution with the mindset that you’ll keep doing it for the foreseeable future. Instead, try it for a few weeks, and if it fits into your schedule, you can keep working on ways to incorporate more of the habit into your life.
- If a resolution doesn’t work for you, don’t blame yourself. Rather, blame the habit because it probably wasn’t meant for you. Keeping your aspirations and goals in mind, try designing a different resolution that would work better with your current lifestyle.
- Don’t be too strict with numbers. On bad days, even if you failed to reach your target, if your desire to see that dream come true didn’t die out, you can still get back to building the habit when things work more in your favor.
At the end of the day, your resolutions should be tailor-made to fit your life, not the other way round. If you’re passionate about realizing your full potential, you must understand a few slip-ups along the way won’t put you off track. In the long run, they might not even matter.
The biggest thing you need to remember while working on your resolutions is that you need to be compassionate to yourself and celebrate small successes, no matter what.