On January 1st, many of us will take on some lofty resolutions, telling ourselves that this will be the year we’ll be more productive, get fit, read more, or learn that new skill.
New Year’s resolutions are notoriously difficult to keep. A study found that of the 41% of Americans making resolutions, only 9% will feel they’ve been successful. Another study showed that 80% of resolutions are abandoned by mid-February. There are some slightly more optimistic surveys, but the point is that beating the resolution odds is going to be a challenge.
One study found that unrealistic expectations were the reason as many as 35% of resolutions failed. Another common reason for abandoning resolutions is a lack of preparation. Certainly, making them for the wrong reasons, such as social pressure, doesn’t set you up for success, either.
With so many resolutions getting left in the dust by February, it’s worth stepping back for a moment. Perhaps the way forward isn’t to demand drastic change from yourself as soon as the calendar flips over but to focus on what you’re already doing right.
Making an Anti-Resolution Resolution
The Anti-Resolution is an idea that’s been kicking around for a while. The idea is rather than saying yes to something new (“going to the gym”), it’s to say no to harmful behaviors (“quit eating ice cream before going to bed”).
But what if this went a step further? What if rather than seeking the areas you want to change, do the opposite and look for things you want to celebrate and maintain? What if your resolution was not to make resolutions and simply reflect on what you’ve accomplished?
This would encourage you to consider your journey and evaluate what you did well last year.
You can slow down and really think about your own process. Structure your mindset in a way that makes it easier to identify and maintain positive behaviors, and those will lead to progress. It’s much easier to continue something when you feel like you’re already part way there with a solid foundation.
Celebration > Resolution
Your key objective, and first step, should be to take the time to properly acknowledge and celebrate your wins. Not only will this help you sustain and build on your successes, but it will also shift your mindset towards positivity, self-confidence, and compassion.
Rather than a firm resolution that demands drastic change and for you to “do better”, reflecting on your gains puts the focus on the progress you’ve already made and on playing to your strengths. These are both things that will help promote your sense of self-efficacy, positively impacting your productivity and well-being in the long term.
Your Personal Year in Review
Productivity expert James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, recommends finishing the year with an annual review. It’s a great opportunity to take an objective look at the different pillars of your life.
While an annual review is typically seen as a chance to narrow down areas for improvement, it’s also a powerful tool for discovering areas where you excelled or are making steady progress.
A review enables you to pinpoint the habits that are serving you. It encourages you to learn from them, so you can maintain them and potentially apply transferable lessons to other areas.
The goal is not to be too prescriptive about what counts as success. If you have made progress towards a goal but aren’t quite there yet, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to radically change your approach.
There are many different strategies for undertaking your own review, and you’ll find many different templates online, like these from Todoist. Sahil Bloom suggests asking yourself questions such as “What did I change my mind on this year?” and “What created/drained energy this year?”
Don’t be afraid to mix and match techniques until you find an approach that fits.
Staying the Course
“My wealth has come from a combination of living in America, some lucky genes, and compound interest.” – Warren Buffett
Warren Buffett is well known for the importance he places on compound interest. The way you invest in yourself should be the same. Rather than trying to change who you are or going against your own grain, staying your course with small compounding growth is how great change can happen. As the expression goes, we overestimate what we can do in a day and underestimate what we can do in a year.
While striving for large-scale or drastic improvement can be valuable, it can also eclipse the role played by consistency and cause you to downplay what you’re already capable of achieving.
The temptation is to keep searching for that one productivity hack, new skill, or goal that will make everything fall into place. But by constantly focusing on the “next big thing”, you keep yourself from developing a steady routine and reaping the long-term benefits.
Focusing on consistency will enable you to improve your workflow in a manageable way and make it much easier to identify new techniques, opportunities, and skills that will truly enhance what you’re doing.
Wellbeing and Balance
Resolutions push you for more but also get you into the mindset that what you’re achieving now just isn’t good enough, causing you to overlook and minimize what’s working. In turn this increases stress, is poor for morale, and it inevitably further decreases your chances to succeed.
For a strategy that’s kinder to your mental health, recognize what has been positively impacting your well-being so you can continue that into the new year.
While it can be tempting to view January as a time for hard graft after the indulgences of the holidays, self-care and rest are not luxuries you need to earn. They’re a key part of your success as they ensure you’re working at your best and help prevent burnout.
By taking positive actions and making time for yourself, you’ll find it easier to navigate the January blues and create a firm foundation for what you want to achieve in the new year. Doing this early on will also make it feel far more natural to maintain a work-life balance later in the year.
Consistency and Continuity
In January 1863, Mark Twain wrote, “Today, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient shortcomings considerably shorter than ever.”
Rather than trying to tackle perceived shortcomings with an over-ambitious resolution, take a different approach. Make 2023 the year of the anti-resolution, and focus on your strengths and successes this New Year.
Concentrate on the aspects of your life that you want to keep consistent and the positive aspects you want to continue to develop.
If you are still tempted to reach for the resolutions (and we don’t blame you at all – the quest to do better is part of human nature), remember to base your goals on where you are in the present. Make sure you have a process in mind for everything you want to achieve and that they align with how you work best. Optimizing for success requires you to work with reality, not against it.