The new year is only a few days old and I’m already starting to slack off on my resolutions. Not a good start, I guess so I decided to do a bit of research as to why that is.
The short answer: I’m human!
The long answer is this:
1. Resting comes easier than working
One of my new year’s resolutions is to watch less TV and read more. I want to break my habit of getting my tablet out at night to watch something on Netflix. The list of books I want to read keeps growing but my actual reading time decreases. I want to change that so I made the resolution to finally get through my list of books rather than to get through my list of Netflix shows.
Now, the problem with that is that I am human and therefore prefer procrastination over activity. I rather sit on the couch and have something visually presented to me than to work my eyes, make sense of words, and hold a book (or a Kindle in my case).
This retreat to passivity doesn’t just apply to me watching TV but to almost all aspects of life. It’s easier to put something off than to deal with it. ‘Getting around to it’ is all too often a synonym for ‘never getting around to it’.
2. Overambitious resolutions
The next problem with New Year’s resolutions is that they are mostly done in a state of overambition. We make them in an attempt to better ourselves overnight and in sometimes radical ways. The problem is though that we can’t change overnight and we can only fail at our grand life expectations.
And once we fail once it’s even harder to get back on track.
Yes, my goal of getting through my reading list is ambitious, just as ambitious as not watching Netflix. I don’t want to make excuses but I do try to cut myself some slack. A night spent without reading is not a bad night, I tell myself.
Cutting slack is a way of telling myself that it’s okay to slip but it doesn’t mean that I’m giving up. Or, sometimes it means that I might have to reconsider my original goal and think about how it fits into my life.
3. Changing habits is difficult
Essentially a New Year’s resolution tries to change a bad habit in our lives. The problem is that habits aren’t easily changed. We are creatures of habit and those habits stick with us like glue. Just consider almost any trip away from home, away from the routine and from the known. I used to call things I came across as ‘strange’ when I first left home until they became normal to me. But this change took time.
Habits keep us sane during busy times but they can also make change more difficult. Just consider the distractions Leo Babauta lists in his post on Overcoming Our Biggest Obstacle to Creating Habits. They are all too familiar to me and have led to more than just one New Year’s resolution to fail.
What to do when a resolution is about to fail
So far my underlying assumption is that I’m going to fail. Not a great start to my resolution. I could even justify any failure with my daily life, my habits, and the fact that I simply made too many and too ambitious resolutions.
However, before I admit to failure I usually try something else: turn a resolution into a challenge.
Rather than setting out to do or not do something for 365 days I think about it as a challenge for the next 30 days, sometimes even the next 14 days. That way my intention becomes more manageable.
Setting myself challenges is a way of trying something without fully committing to it (just look at my no-supermarket-challenge). It’s much easier to stick with that than to have a goal that seems unreachable at the beginning of the year.
The next benefit of a challenge over a resolution is that I can feel really good about myself when I complete it. I sometimes think of little rewards for myself when I reach a certain milestone.
Speaking of milestones, they are overall more important than the challenge or resolution itself. Having small and achievable goals (and reaching them) will boost morality while failing at large goals is detrimental.
I know that will have to work hard to keep my New Year’s resolutions. I might turn them into 12 individual challenges with little rewards at the end. But I’m still hopeful that I can stick with them for the entire year of 2018 and create new habits. After all, the year is only four days old, right?!
Happy New Year!