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What Happened to Your Resolution?

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

It's March and it's time to have a real conversation about your goals for this year. I've waited a bit to write about New Year's Resolutions because at this point, if you can actually remember what that resolution was, the thing you're trying to do is getting real. The novelty has worn off. The work is harder and the intention has been buried under the usual list of to-dos. And because of that 80% of people have already gotten off track by February.

But I digress. This is not a post about how to stick to your resolution. It's about how to do something that's actually going to bring you to a better place.

Self-Destructive Goal-Setting

To be honest, I don't love resolutions because, in my mind, they're a clever way for our brains to beat the crap out of us instead of lifting us up. "This year," we say, "will be my year. I'll get that job I want, lose that weight, stop smoking, and finally get my shit together." This is great on the surface but in some dark corner a lot of us are really saying something else: "Last year wasn't my year. I don't like my job. I don't like my body. I don't have my shit together."

I can't tell you the number of times that setting a fitness goal has come hand-in-hand with a 10x daily self-shaming on the scale or in the mirror that's meant to motivate me in some way. "Ugh, you look like crap. You better go to the gym." it says. This is true for a lot of us, and this kind of "self-motivation" paradoxically leads us down a rabbit hole of coping with the negative feelings we cultivated. That means staring at our phones, ordering a pizza, and doing other unhealthy stuff to avoid thinking about everything we're not doing.

I have no idea why humans do this. My best guess is that our brains are built to solve problems, which is a great thing when the problem is external. But when you mix that problem solving machine with self awareness, well, your existence can become an unending unsolvable problem. And that's a recipe for a lot of nasty shit like anxiety, depression, shame, etc. etc. etc.

Don't get me wrong. Goal setting is awesome. Accomplishing things feels great and, if you accomplish something that actually matters to you it can bring a lot of fulfillment. But too many of us are setting goals based on what the world is demanding from us instead of what we really need in our lives. We set those goals with no real examination of why they matter to us. And if we aren't careful, the little saboteur in the corner can take over and turn our really well-meaning intentions into self-punishment.

Common Mistakes in Goal-Setting

If your New Year's Resolution wound up in the dumpster last month and you still want to make this your year, let's do a post mortem of things that most likely went wrong:

  1. The goal didn't matter to you as much as you thought it did. SMART goals have ben drilled into many of our heads in the corporate world since the 80s when they were conceived of but at is turns out, many of us have learned to set SMART goals just to make someone else happy and when we do that, the goal doesn't stick. We can't cognitively force ourselves into a logical framework that will make us do something. There need's to be an emotional component; some skin in the game. So if you'd like a goal setting system to help you get motivated, consider the SMARTER framework which takes your humanity and needs into account.

  2. You got ahead of yourself with the stages of change. The stages of what? Yeah, as it turns out, changing your behavior isn't like flipping on a light switch. According to the Transtheoretical Model Of Change, we need to move through a specific set of stages before we can hope to really change our behavior or hope that it sticks. Showing up to the gym on January 2 with gritted teeth and a goal to lose 20 pounds (Action Stage) is not likely to stick if we haven't really considered the damage our unhealthy lifestyle is causing (Contemplation Stage) and considering all of the ways that our efforts to get healthy might succeed or fail (Planning Stage).

  3. You focused on the outcome instead of the process. If you've come around here before, you've heard me talk about the book Atomic Habits a whole bunch. The concept that resonates most with me is that setting a goal sort of implies that happiness is way out in the future and that everything that happens along the way is work. And when our brains look at work, we usually start trying to find shortcuts. Instead, James Clear recommends the clever strategy of setting an aspirational identity rather than a goal. An aspirational identity is something that you can lean into every day. An artist, for example, could be someone who paints or writes every day. An athlete is someone who exercises every day. By looking at the goal in this way, you can find joy in the effort you put in today to act like the person you'd like to become. And at the end, living into that identity will ultimately lead to having your gallery show or losing 20 lbs.

  4. You forgot the gratitude. Sometimes, when chasing down goals, people actively throw gratitude out the window. People tell me they don't want to celebrate because they don't want to get complacent. Afterall, if you're content with what you have, you won't be motivated to go chase more, right? First, just read that again and think about the absurdity of trying to make ourselves unhappy so we will be motivated to chase more happiness. Second, that theory is flat out wrong. Gratitude is actually a motivator. It puts gas in our tank and equips us to take on the big challenges of life, firmly rooted in the belief that we have what we need to succeed. Gratitude short-circuits the way we're used to setting goals. Instead of looking at ourselves and pointing out the problems with ourselves that we need to fix (which inevitably causes shame and self-doubt), we start with the belief that we are good enough. And if we're good enough, we have the tools we need to build something even bigger. With that in mind, start with gratitude and keep practicing it as you work on your goals: "I'm grateful for this body", "I'm grateful for my ability to put words together", "I'm grateful for my intelligence, potential, and skillset which will help me land a new job"

  5. You did it alone. "If you want to go faster go alone. If you want to go further go together." I like this quote. I don't have any research to back up its validity. But in my guts I know it's true. We can do a lot in short sprints by ourselves but human beings really unlock our grit and determination when we're in the trenches with other people. We show up to the gym when someone is relying on us. We play harder when our teammates are relying on us. We deliver when someone else is expecting us to meet a deadline (and often fail when we imposed the deadline on ourselves). According to the research I've seen, having a strong relationship with someone else who cares about your goals accounts for almost half of the power of coaching.

There's Still Time

I've never been a huge fan of New Year's Resolutions. It's true that I get a little burst of energy when the New Year rolls around but usually it's in direct response to the amount of cheese I consumed between Thanksgiving and Christmas and the resulting shame that I desperately want to push away. I know I'm not alone in this. And even though I know better, I always find myself wanting to get my shit together around January 1. If you're still on track with your resolution, maybe you could let us know what works for you in the comments. And if you've noticed yourself stumbling in any of the five areas above, perhaps you can use what's laid out here to strengthen your resolve. If you've abandoned your New Year's goals, I invite you to start again with the lessons learned. Give these tools a shot and let us know how they work for you.

And of course, if you want the extra edge, reach out to us. One of our coaches would love to help you get a firm grounding of growing into the person you know you're capable of being.

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