When it comes to hopes for the new year, there’s a problem with New Year’s resolutions that maybe hasn’t come up in conversation before. Here’s a fun look at why I think resolutions set us up for failure, and three ways to improve the odds of actually achieving what we set out to do.
Resolution – Schmezaloution
New Year’s resolutions just don’t sit right for me. First of all, who says “resolution” any more? To me it’s a word that has lost its punch.
Instead, it brings to mind a committee somewhere in a smoky room passing pointless motions. I can almost hear the gentrified assembly clearing their collective throats, “… Aaahhhem, therefore, we resolve that July 15th be recognized as National Ice Cream Day” (actually a thing). Then, it’s off to the pub for a round of self-congratulation.
Or the word is found in company with other words like perspicacity, punctilious, and temerity – it just sounds forced. One might also find it in bad action-romance from the pulp fiction factory, “With steely resolve, Fabio hoisted the swooning Adrianne on his broad, muscular shoulders.” None of it is real.
Resolution may be about decision-making, but it can be other things, too. It might be the number of pixels on my TV screen. Higher resolution is said to be better, but if I apply that criteria to my own aspirations, I’m sure to lose focus. More than just a few is too many.
The verb resolve actually descends from the Middle English resolven – to dissolve, and from the Latin resolvere – to untie. So now we have to wonder: are we taking a word for undoing, and applying it to stuff we hope to get done? Not the hereditary roots we want if the aim is to take firm action.
To muddle things farther, resolve can also mean to bring an end to something, as in “Heated discussions did not resolve the matter to anyone’s satisfaction.” Not the best term if we hope to embark on a new course of action.
The waters are muddied, but it gets worse.
Sunken Ships and Hopes Run Aground
In other uses, the word resolution seems only to deliver the opposite of any qualities people hoped it might impart. In the days of sailing ships, the British Royal Navy had several different vessels christened HMS Resolution.
Of the first eight, seven suffered the following fates, in order: grounded, foundered (to fill with water and sink), run ashore, wrecked, run aground, broken up, missing and presumed to be foundered.
The one that sailed with Captain Cook on his second and third voyages appears to be the exception, but even she seems to have ended her days either as a Portuguese coal hulk, or maybe a rotting whaler at the bottom of Newport Harbor. Nobody is really sure.
And now, with its already sketchy genetics, we find the word resolution irrevocably tied to the idea of hoped-for accomplishments in the new year.
But we all know what happens to those: mostly nothing. According to some sources, 80% of us will have given up on those resolutions before the end of February.
Calling something a resolution is tantamount to launching our ship of hopes from the pier and driving it directly into a mud bank.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t set out to become better versions of ourselves in the New Year. But maybe we should go about it a little differently.
First, maybe we shouldn’t resolve to do anything. Why weaken our intentions with this word in the very act of describing them.
Let’s be clearer. How about goals? That’s a much more specific word. Also, there’s no HMS Goals with a checkered past to throw shade on our hopes for success.
So: New Year’s Goals.
Or even just: Goals.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, what can we do with these goals so that we have a chance of making it past February? Three ideas here.
Three Ways to Actually Get There
Attack it. Lots of goal-setters play defense, but playing defense is hard – we have to be everywhere, ready to respond to anything at all times.
Like resolving to not eat certain foods, there’s no rest from it; it’s hard to remain vigilant. A craving for sugar can ambush us from any direction at any time. Sooner or later the defenses will weaken and suddenly there’s a half-eaten doughnut in our hands and a guilty feeling in the back of our heads. We’ve set ourselves up for failure.
It’s far better to attack. Focus on the actions we WILL take, not the ones we want to NOT take. Decide to eat two helpings of vegetables for lunch and dinner before eating anything else. Now there’s less room for the other stuff to get in.
Stack it. There’s plenty that we are already doing that comes to us as second nature. We can take advantage of this with the idea of habit stacking. Just attach the new habit we want to cultivate to one of those things we’re already doing.
Seeking better dental hygiene in the New Year? Put the floss right next to the toothpaste, and do it right after brushing. Fitness? Change straight into workout clothes when you get home. Gratitude? When you sit down to dinner, say one thing you are grateful for before lifting the fork.
Track it. A well-crafted goal is a measurable one with a target end date. Use those two facts to create something that not only reminds you of the goal but also depicts your daily progress towards it.
Maybe it’s like those thermometer fund-raiser charts, putting marbles in a jar, or adding to a simple bar graph. Whatever it is, for added strength, share it on social media, and encourage others to encourage you to keep moving forward.
When we have a daily visual reminder of the progress we are making, adding to it can become a reward of its own. If the target seems a long way off, set intermediate goals, and celebrate success along the way.
No Resolve – The Takeaway
So this year I resolve to do nothing. Instead, I’m setting goals.
By adopting an offensive mind set, pairing new desired habits with old ones, and tracking progress visually, we will all have a much better chance of staying on track and moving forward.
Like anything worthwhile, it takes intentionality and effort to get there. The key is not just having a clear goal, but building a structure around it that helps us stay the course, even when our initial enthusiasm may have faded.
I have lots more tips and ideas to help you turn your goals into a reality. Check out my Goal Setting Mastery course if you want to learn more.
Whatever your aspirations in the coming year, I hope you resolve to do nothing, too.
But as for HMS Goals: Full Speed Ahead….