How to Make Better Resolutions

Here we are once again – ‘out with the old and in with the new.’ We know it as a time when the gyms, sidewalks, and trails fill beyond capacity with eager new exercisers, walkers, and cyclists. Sales of tobacco, liquor, and wine plummet. Our tables are crowded with fruits and vegetables and the fatty meats and sugary desserts have become scarce.

Our lives are so busy we hardly notice that days, sometimes even months can click by with little notice or progress. But when a new year rolls around; well that’s a whole different thing. We take it as an opportunity for the biggest party of the year, where with friends or with total strangers we celebrate or say good riddance to the year just past and we share hopes and dreams for a better one ahead.

And as we know that hopes and dreams require some action on our part, while sipping on our champagne, we share our resolutions to bring them to reality. We resolve to be better spouses or parents, to lose weight, to run a marathon, or to become better informed about politics, or the world in which we live, or maybe even to volunteer some time to make a difference in our community.

But in the days and weeks that follow, our resolutions, our lofty goals fade, blending hopelessly into the ordinariness of our daily lives. Usually by February, our resolutions are but a distant memory. Why is that? How is it that our idyllic goals can be so easily and quickly derailed? In a word, the answer is HABIT.

The habits we have formed in life are infinitely more powerful than the our resolutions and goals. Our habits are our best friends. They are the crutch we lean on in times of stress or uncertainty. They are our light when darkness surrounds us. In essence, our habits are WHO we are.

And if our habits are who we are, then the goals we set for the betterment of ourselves are in effect separate from who we are presently. In fact, our goals are usually sufficiently apart from who we are that it is not readily apparent to us how to attain them. If we are uncertain at all about the attainment of our distant goal, it is to our old habits to which we will cling, not those lofty new goals which are currently well beyond our reach.

Another word for habits is systems. Not long ago a member of our Wealthcare Advisory Group pointed out an article by James Clear entitled If You Completely Ignored Your Goals and Focused on This One Thing Would You Get Better Results? In the article Clear provides some examples of the difference between goals and systems (habits).

  • If you’re a coach, your goal is to win a championship. Your system is what your team does at practice each day.
  • If you’re a writer, your goal is to write a book. Your system is the writing schedule that you follow each week.
  • If you’re a runner, your goal is to run a marathon. Your system is your training schedule for the month.
  • If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal is to build a million dollar business. Your system is your sales and marketing process.

As stated earlier, our goals in and of themselves can become self-defeating. In several ways, our goals are apart from us. They are not who we are – yet. Clear provides three examples.

1. Goals reduce your current happiness.

When you’re working toward a goal, you are essentially saying, “I’m not good enough yet, but I will be when I reach my goal.” The problem with this mindset is that you’re teaching yourself to always put happiness and success off until the next milestone is achieved. “Once I reach my goal, then I’ll be happy. Once I achieve my goal, then I’ll be successful.”

2. Goals are strangely at odds with long-term progress.

You might think your goal will keep you motivated over the long-term, but that’s not always true. Consider someone training for a half-marathon. She may work hard for months, but as soon as she finishes the race, she stops training. This type of short-term goal setting can create “yo-yo effect” where people go back and forth from working on a goal to not working on one, making it difficult to build upon progress for the long-term.

3. Goals suggest that you can control things that you have no control over.

We can’t predict the future. But every time we set a goal, we try to do it. We try to plan out where we will be and when we will make it there. We try to predict how quickly we can make progress, even though we have no idea what circumstances or situations will arise along the way.

Goals and resolutions are vital for planning. Without them we have no purpose or aim. But as we live in the here and now, apart from our goals, we do well to remember that habits are infinitely more powerful than goals. Unless we align our habits with the requirements of attaining our goals we will ensure defeat for ourselves by relying on more familiar lifestyles that will surely conquer our lofty goals. The goal is important, but the habits, the lifestyle, the systems and processes are vital for accomplishing them.

Here’s to effective resolutions and a Happy New Year!