Why New Years Resolutions Are Pointless

What was your 2016 resolution? Seriously, don’t all answer at once…

If you can’t remember or are embarrassed you didn’t follow through, just stop. Stop it right now. Because resolutions are pointless. Only 8% of us actually reach our New Year’s goals anyway. So why do we set ourselves up, year after year, to proclaim something we inevitably drop less than 30 days in?

It’s in our wiring. We like to feel like we’re making progress. We want to grow. And if you’re blessed and cursed with a type-A personality, then growth in just one area probably won’t be enough. That itch to find the next box to check, the next challenge to tackle, or become next best version of ourselves, is never far away. The problem is, most of the biggies aren’t quick. They require persistence, sustained attention and effort. That’s why they’re worth it.

So how do you stay connected to what’s most important to you, when you’re being pulled in a million directions every day? And how do you know that what you’re chasing is really what you want, not just what you think will make you happy? The answer is simple. A clear priority.

This struck me when I read Essentialism, by Greg McKeown. He talks about how the word priority showed up in the 1400s and, for 500 years, it was singular. It meant the very first (or prior) thing. It wasn’t until in the 1900s that we started talking about priorities in a plural sense. But here’s the catch – you can’t have multiple “first” things. We’ve been fooling ourselves that many things could be a a “priority” but, in doing so, it’s actually meant that nothing is. 

In theory, resolutions should keep you focused throughout the year and move you a step closer to what you want. But most of our resolutions aren’t designed in a simple or compelling enough way to do that. We craft them like performance goals instead of something that’s grounded deeply in what we value or the life we want to create.

When I think about past resolutions or goals I’ve set, there are noticeable differences in the big ones I actually achieved…

  • Buying my first house. This was a tangible I wanted really bad. Not because it was time, but because I loved to entertain and host friends, and I longed to have a space to do that. Envisioning myself in my element kept me going while I worked hard to save money.
  • Travel. In my mid twenties, I knew I wanted to travel more. When Thom and I started dating, we shared that passion but never went as far to write out our bucket list of places. Instead we remained open to opportunities that serendipitously popped up and over the years have found ourselves in all sorts of adventures from New York, Portland, New Zealand to Bora Bora and even running a bed and breakfast in San Diego for a summer.
  • Losing weight. I’ve fluctuated a lot over the years. Failed resolutions look like “lose 20 pounds.” On the flip side, the only time I’ve really been successful is when I focused instead on how I wanted to feel. Making exercise and healthier food choices was my number one priority each day, and everything else – and I mean everything – came second.

So, should you stop setting goals each year? Or is it that we’re going about it all wrong and are craving a new way? Simple is often better and so is true for resolutions. Instead of making the typical resolutions, decide on a priority, or theme, for the year ahead. What is the one word that encapsulates what you want most in 2017?

Simplicity, clarity, and a strong why is the secret sauce to creating (and sustaining) the level of focus needed to actually get there. Maybe this year what you need most is to be more creative. Or perhaps you want to simply finish…a marathon or those half-done house projects.

Whatever it is for you, commit to starting this year different. Toss out the laundry list of arbitrary goals with the empty champagne bottles. And instead, connect to something you really want. You’ll have a greater shot at success if you go further and dig into the emotion behind why you want it.

There’s no need to over engineer the details about how you’re in fact going to get there – wherever that may be. Instead, stay open to opportunities for progress never losing sight of the word you set your sights on.

Make your one word the first thing you think about and let it be the ONLY thing you need to focus on.




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