New year's resolutions seem like such a good idea, except most are in the bin by February which is why they're best avoided
This isn't to say you shouldn't be looking to make this year even more kick-ass than last year, or that you shouldn't be setting goals and making plans to raise your life, sports and work game to the next level. Absolutely not. It's just that new year's resolutions are a terrible way to do this.
The fact they only come around once a year plus the baggage of cultural hype they come loaded with combines terribly with our own desire for improvement that we end up over-reaching to almost comical proportions. This is all thanks to a little known effect I'm calling the 'new years resolution stupidity filter', or 'NYRSF' for short.
So let's say you'd like to be more consistent with your training this year. That sounds pretty reasonable no?
Indeed it does, but now let's put it through the NYRSF and see what that resolution actually ends up looking like:
"Run 100 miles a week, a sub 3-hour marathon in April, and my first 100-miler in July while maintaining a 365-day run streak for the year"
What about another popular goal, like wanting to lose some weight.
Again, a very reasonable, sensible and worthy idea. But when we run it through the NYRSF, it turns into:
"Lose two stone (28 lbs), hit 3% body fat, get a six-pack like Brad Pitt in Fight Club, and look great in skinny jeans".
Because once a goal has been turned into a new year's resolution, it is invariably magnified into something all but impossible with the end result that you very quickly fail to hit your targets. After all, a 365-day run streak for example only takes one missed day to fall apart.
Then you become dispirited at being off-track so quickly, and - by February at best - your resolution is in shreds.
And because it's a new year's resolution it can't be reset again until next year, by which point you'll be so fired up at this year's failure you'll probably make the target even harder, with predictably worse results.
Instead of falling into the new year's resolution minefield, here are three tips to skip merrily through the goal-setting field of dreams and make this year one to remember:
1 How do you eat an elephant?
Slowly, and with a small spoon. The point here is that when you have a huge goal, you need to break it down into manageable pieces. So for the training goal above, a better idea would be to plan to train twice a week January-March, and to raise it to three times a week from April.
Manageable, fun, flexible, and keeps you on track to your goal all year. Plus, resetting every few months provides regular opportunities to change course as needed, rather than restricting you to an all or nothing annual blowout.
Elephants - small spoons required
2 Make winning super-easy
Set yourself up for winning easily on your road to achieving those goals.
Too often we set ourselves up for failure by stacking the deck hugely against ourselves (365-day run streak anyone?). We're left with multiple chances for failure and lottery-winner odds of actually achieving our target.
Take the weight loss example above. If the goal instead was 'lose some weight every month' then bingo, you just increased your chances of success massively. Repeat that for a year and you'll be a totally different person at the end of it.
Awesome, I got out bed before lunch! Make winning so easy it becomes addictive
3 Celebrate achievement and use it as fuel
Which is where celebrating comes in. Now you've made the wins easy and bite-sized, remember to celebrate your achievements every month with a reward of some sort. Doing this reinforces the good feelings that come from achievement, and makes you want to do more of it.
You can also use this proof that you've already achieved a step en route to your goal as proof you have what it takes for the next step.
4 Big success is only the compounding of small achievements
It's the repeated small pieces of excellence, compounded over days and years, that translate into major, sustainable and lasting change. There are no silver bullets other than showing up, doing the work, rinsing and repeating.
After all if you can be just 1% better every week, you'll be transformed in a year, unrecognisable in three, and superhuman in ten.
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