We all know that New Year’s resolutions tend to wither and die an inglorious death by mid-Feb. But we want to set them, right? January feels like a new beginning, and we’d like to make it a good one, thanks.
The self-help world is full of alternatives to the traditional model for yearly resolutions, which usually gets dismissed. The received wisdom of this age tends to go a little like this:
New Year’s resolutions are a farce. If you want to do something different, take action now. You don’t have to wait for January to make a change.
Yup. This is true. But it’s January now (almost), and most of us feel a bit fat, hungover and otherwise Christmas-addled. So, let’s talk resolutions regardless.
Better ways to resolve
Last year, rather than resolutions, I suggested choosing a theme for 2019; a values-centered intention for the year ahead. Unlike outcome-focused goals, themes are a little more flexible. We can have our inevitable slips, learn from them, and still feel like we’re on track.
This year, I’m suggesting micro-resolutions rather than the ever-so-hopeful new year staples like losing 10kg, quitting smoking or finally writing that bestselling book.
These are small, achievable four-week challenges that you can set for each month of the upcoming year. They could shake up your 2020 just enough to sew the seeds for real change without burdening you with the threat of heartbreaking failure (and having to restart the mission in 2021. Ouch).
In 2018 — his “year of abstinence” — he gave up something different every month; booze, TV, junk food, etc.
Note: this doesn’t mean that by December he was living like a monk. He abstained from each activity or substance for one month only. He then made a decision about whether to reintegrate each habit (perhaps in a new way) before continuing to the next micro-resolution.
In 2019 — his “year of sustenance” — Allan chose a new positive habit for each month; morning meditations, poetry, active listening, eating only whole foods, etc.
Here’s what he had to say about the experiment:
After two years of micro-resolutions, some of these improved behaviors have had a lasting effect even though I stopped at the end of each month.
My wife and I meditate together most weekday mornings before work. I stand more in my office. My snacking is better, if still prone to weakness. I’ve improved my listening. In general, I’m going to bed earlier. I say “like” less, and so do my kids. And my tolerance for the kind of discomfort that leads to personal growth has grown.
Micro-resolutions embody the “slight edge” approach to change (see Jeff Olson’s book of the same title), which has been proven superior to grand goal-setting in countless studies. This is an endeavour best undertaken in the spirit of inquiry. The idea is to try something different and desirable for each short period just to see how it feels, what works, and what you can learn about yourself.
A challenge for 2020
What I plan for next year (and I’d love for you to try, too) is a combination of the two different approaches: themed micro-resolutions.
Pick a theme or value that you’d like to practice and improve on. Examples include things like creativity, compassion, courage, health, connection, etc. You might want to choose something that enhanced your year in 2019 and would like more of. Alternatively, you could think about the less-than-excellent moments of 2019, and then what you need to focus on in order to avoid similar discomfort next year.
Think of twelve small behavioural changes connected with this theme or value. If you’ve chosen creativity, for example, you could spend on month sketching daily, and the next listening to new music, writing rap lyrics, cooking from different cuisines…
Assign each micro-resolution a month, write a plan for how you’re going to execute them, and make sure they all feel achievable.
Planning is essential here. Be specific about what each challenge will entail. Will it require daily or weekly action? What will the task itself look like? Is there any preparation required? Do you need to enlist the help or support of others? Do you need to block out time in your diary? The better you plan, the easier this will be.
Finally, get everything in place for January so you’re set for two days’ time, and then have at it!
Journaling as you complete this challenge — perhaps weekly or monthly — is a fantastic way to both stay on track and make the most of what you learn. For added merit, you might want to incorporate some self-distancing into your writing. If you do that, you’ll get all the gold stars.
So, what’s the theme for you? Is 2020 going to be the year of love? How about the year of enthusiasm? Success? Savings? Shape your intentions and set your slight edges and it can be whatever you want it to be.