I have a complicated relationship with New Year’s resolutions. As someone who loves tools for productivity and self-improvement, New Year’s resolutions are something which I thrive at—at least when it comes to making them.
My New Year’s resolutions seldom involve diet or exercise like you stereotypically see from people at the start of every year. I don’t make lofty plans to make new strides in my career or relationships or buy expensive gym memberships. The closest I come to this vice is in my frankly unhealthy obsession with buying planners, which I know my ADHD brain will never let me use.
For me, New Year’s resolutions have always been more of an excuse to look back on the year’s accomplishments and shortcomings and make plans to do better the following year. I don’t put too much stock into how many goals I accomplished from my previous New Year’s list, as my priorities very often shift throughout the year. I started 2021 out with plans to finish and release an album of my music, but by the end of the year, I was making plans to go back to school for Physics.
Funny how things work out sometimes…
Also, I don’t like the way New Year’s resolutions are only focused on at the start of the year. If you actually want to improve your diet or exercise more, there’s no reason to wait till January 1st. You can just make the changes you want right away.
But there’s a bigger problem with the concept of New Year’s resolutions which I recently became aware of thanks to this video from GCP Grey about using themes. I’ll get into the concept more here in a bit, but for now, I’d like to touch on a few of the problems I’ve found with using New Year’s goals in my life and why I won’t be using them this year.
New Year’s Resolutions are Rigid
Whenever people make goals for the New Year, they very often are very specific about them. Meaning throughout the twelve following months, their goals have to remain the exact same without any room for compromise. This is counterintuitive for a number of reasons.
For starters, like I said, I’ve found my life doesn’t always follow the same path I set starting out. I tend to move in the direction of a thing I want, but the vision I have for what that’ll look like very seldom stays the same. Using New Year’s resolutions keeps you from being able to change your goals to be more suitable to your life without feeling like a failure.
Resolutions are too long-term
A year is a long time. At least, it feels like it at the moment. When I look back on my life a year ago, I’m astounded at how much my thinking has changed and what struggles I was going through back then. The year may fly by, but it’s still a pretty long period of time to try and grasp.
When making goals for the new year, we very often fall into a trap of time blindness: feeling like we have plenty of time to accomplish a goal, so why bother just yet? Maybe wait a few months and see if you feel more up to accomplishing your goal.
Additionally, it’s hard to pace yourself over the course of a year. Accomplishing big goals requires the ability to break them down into manageable steps, but traditional resolutions give us very little in the way of making tasks bite-sized. So you tend to very quickly burn yourself out with accomplishing a lot over the short term or completely changing your lifestyle or habits—but in the long-term, you very often end up worse off than if you’d changed nothing because now you’re burnt out and feeling guilty about falling back into old habits.
Habits aren’t changed with Goals
This is something in GCP Grey’s video that really stood out to me. When it comes to accomplishing human behavior, very little is accomplished in the use of big goals. You can say that you want to go to the gym every day or study programming for a total of a hundred hours over the year, but that mindset doesn’t do much to change your everyday behavior.
Habits are difficult to change because they very often feel comfortable to us. Making huge, sweeping changes may feel good in the moment, but unfortunately, it doesn’t do much for us in the long term aside from adding to the guilt of past failures.
The Alternative: Changing your thinking through themes
So for all those reasons, I decided this year to forgo the normal list of goals and to-do lists. Instead, I’m going to be taking GCP Grey’s advice and implementing my very own theme!
This idea is essentially to take the year and give it a designation for what you’re going to be focusing on. So instead of having a diet or exercise regimen in mind, you designate your year as the “year of health” and use that theme to make decisions accordingly. In my case, I’m going to be calling this year the “year of balance,” meaning with every action and opportunity I’m faced with, I’ll first ask myself, “what action will help me achieve the most balance today?”
By approaching the year from the perspective of a theme, you also open yourself up to moving in the right direction rather than accomplishing a specific goal. I’ll very likely fail when it comes to balancing my work, school, and family lives, but I can take that failure as a learning experience. At the end of the year, I won’t be asking myself whether I achieved perfect balance, but instead whether I improved at all and how.
I can’t currently vouch for how effective this strategy will be as it’s my first year trying it. But as someone who is often disillusioned by the garbage self-help advice that floats around Productivity YouTube, I feel like this is something that is at least worth a shot. It’s a huge improvement over the inherently flawed idea of resolutions and is a much healthier approach to traditional methods of self-actualization.