Why I Hate New Year’s Resolutions

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I have never been a fan of New Year's resolutions — mostly because most people make a habit of giving up on their goals. I like setting goals based on my birthday -- a private date that’s just for me and not for anyone else.

I used to work in a business that derived a lot of its sales from customers making New Year's resolutions. You could always tell when people would give up on their goals, based on when sales in the new year would drop.

In that business, it was March 15th. After March 15th each year, sales would drop like a rock. I guess that was the date most people gave up.

In addition to changing the day of the year by which to base one’s goals, I’ve also been playing around with not setting goals at all. Instead, I’ve been experimenting with setting “intentions.”

So as opposed to setting a goal of “losing 10 lbs by X date,” I’ve been focusing more on setting the intention of being healthier in every aspect of my life every day.

The problem with goals is if you miss it or you run into a setback, it’s very easy to get discouraged and to give up. In fact, getting discouraged and giving up is so common it’s the norm.

What I like about intentions is that every day is a new day when it comes to intention. If my intention is to be healthier in every aspect of my life, even if today was a bad day or last month was a terrible month, it’s okay.

That’s because today is a new day, and the same intention can be applied to today with no spill-over effect from whether you fulfilled your intention yesterday or not.

I had an incredibly busy and stressful year end. Despite my intentions, I did not get much exercise in at all. But today, my situation has changed and I followed through on my intentions and was able to make it into the gym.

It felt good to exercise again. It was hard. My body fought me on it. But it felt good by the end.

I know this idea of intentions contradicts my prior comments on setting specific goals. But hey, this is the real world and I go with what works -- as opposed to what can be elegantly defended in an intellectual sense.

My current take is to set specific goals when the specificity of the goal is important and the objective has a definitive deadline. I like the idea of setting intentions when you’re focused on something that is more a way of life and/or a way of being.

For example, it is my intention to be emotionally available, safe and present to the important people in my personal life. It’s hard to set a numerical goal on something like that. I suppose I could set a hard target on having three meaningful conversations with family and friends each week.

But how exactly would you define what’s a meaningful conversation versus what's not? Also, what if you only had two meaningful conversations this week. Does it mean you “failed?”

I tend to think not.

So what are your intentions for this year?

It’s worth thinking about now... and re-asking yourself this question at the start and end of each day.

 

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10 comments… add one
  • Anna Jan 6, 2015, 6:01 pm

    Hello Victor,

    Great read. This reminds me of another blogger I recently discovered, James Clear, whose material about forming habits instead of goals is very good. So instead of the typical goals, I’ve now gone the route of habit forming.

  • Helene Jan 6, 2015, 8:21 pm

    Hi Victor,

    I’m a long time reader although it’s the first time I comment. It’s also the first time I made resolutions, and actually, the only time I felt like I really intended to change something in my life.
    What I mean is, I never thought of resolutions in any other way than intentions. I would never take a resolution like “losing 10 pounds” seriously as I know for sure it wouldn’t work!
    My favourite sentence: “even if today was a bad day or last month was a terrible month, it’s okay.”
    “It’s okay” is my motto for 2015.

    Thanks for your insight in all aspects of life and work, I wish you all the best for 2015!

  • John S Jan 6, 2015, 9:24 pm

    Well Victor, you are clearly the best mental gymnast I have ever observed.

    My personal view is that one must be flexible enough to quickly adapt to life’s realities, smart enough to know when to adapt, and thoughtful in how to do so.

    Adaptability combined with resilience can enable one to achieve “great” success. No matter the form success is measured.

    For the thoughts you have shared with all of us today, you get a “10”.

    Thank you.

  • GIANLUCA ORLANDI Jan 6, 2015, 11:14 pm

    This resembles the principle of one of your previous blogs that was about the benefits of focusing on the “performance” rather than on the final target…

    If you focus on the performance (intention) the price will come along with it.

    I love it!

    Thanks Victor

  • Kaajal Bhatia Jan 7, 2015, 12:42 am

    Hi Victor

    Happy new year to you! When I first read this article in the morning, I realised that I wasnt the only one that set a Birthday resolution. Afterall it would be a promise that I’d keep for myself. Because of this I started eating right and exercising. I promissed to myself that I’ll pick up a new skill every year. Thanks to that I have picked up violin, power yoga and I’m on my way to get a driving license.

    Thanks to that I feel much accomplished at the dawn of every birthday. I think most of our resolutions are taken to influence others perception about us, but once you follow your own resolution selflessly you will definitely see results!

  • Volha Jan 7, 2015, 12:52 am

    To be honest I love new year resolutions. Looking at my resolutions notes over the past 5 years, I can say pretty much everything I wrote down – came true. It programs me in some sort of way.
    The process of defining my new year resolutions starts long before actually 1st of Jan. First I analyze my ‘performance’ and do reality check on how am I catching up in relation to last year goals. Second, I set priority areas for new year, i.e. where I will focus my time, my passion , my energy, etc. and Finally, I try to come up with some goals or intentions ( it is THE SAME when It comes to new year resolutions). This process reminds of strategy definition with SWOT analysis. In fact, it is technically identical processes, which require analysis, planning and great deal of coordination.
    I divide my goals into tangibles (which are specific results I would like to see next year) and intangibles (which are intentions, as you define them). On another dimension of the matrix, the goals are segmented as personal, family, career and social (could be more). When defining goals (or intentions) I also focus on skills I want to develop in myself. For example, couple of years ago, I have decided that I am quite rubbish in organizing things. So I gave myself couple of very much stretchy goals, which required sorting out admin stuff. For example, in 2013 I have provided entire vacation for our family and my sister’s family in three countries. Considering that I really hate booking hotels and tickets, finding deals and organizing entertainment, rent car, etc. – this was quite a challenge. This was family related goal. When it comes to career – I got myself involved into things like meetings management, organizing corporate events, etc.
    Personal goals, related to personal growth and development, are the most difficult to define and achieve. Last year, one of intangibles was to sharpen communication skills, networking etc. This year, I focus on (surprisingly enough) – dealing with bullying at workplace. Last year, I got fed up of toxic psychopaths who demoralize and destruct the team. Although bullying at workplace is a separate huge and important topic, there is no any estimation of economic cost of this phenomenon, to cut it short – I would like to develop a strong stamina which helps me to neutralize ‘the bully effect’ and develop immune system against it. I want to have special communication skills (none-verbal), which would allow me not only to become more politically astute, but also to deal with difficult situations at low personal cost, keeping integrity untouched. This year, 60% of my goals are family related. I will teach my son maths myself using my own program. I will dedicate weekends entirely to the family, etc, etc.
    When it comes to career, I have some specific tangible objectives which I have defined for myself and they are not related to job KPIs. The general intention is to stay where I am and do what I do, I don’t want to get promoted and change jobs this year, no.
    Well, this is an approximate skeleton of new year resolutions. The key is to remember your goals and intentions every minute of your life. If you have true intentions and really motivated – it is easy thing which comes automatically.
    Another key is not to set too many meaningless goals which you forget and give up upon. You don’t have to print out your resolutions and look at them every time. Once you write them down – keep them away, you may only need them at the end of the year, when you define your next goals. And final key – is persistence and resilience. Nothing will work, if there is no persistence. Everything you do has to be regular, has to have sufficient number of repeats, has to have some profound research and knowledge on the background. You don’t have to get discouraged when you don’t see immediate results, neither you should get discouraged when there are no results after many repeats. Imagine you are a sportsman, who has to do the same thing again and again, for many years, until you can dare to think you have mastered something. If the goal does not work this year – you may decide to transfer it to next year, if you still want it. Or you may throw it away, if it is not valid anymore.
    In any case, let your new year resolutions make you feel progressing year by year, and this is the most exciting thing about new year resolutions.

  • Zihao Jan 7, 2015, 4:46 am

    Great insights Victor! What you call intention I call it mindset, but the idea is the same. People with an outcome-oriented perspective are easily subdued by time. Setting short term goals as opposed to long term ones certainly helps but awesomeness is a life long project that needs a transcending state of mind to carry. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • Einat Semel Jan 7, 2015, 6:13 am

    Hi Victor,

    I often read your posts via my email.

    My resolution for the year of 2015 if to find the job i love and what I really want to do. Right now I can’t answer the questions “what I am really passionate about?”. Versus “what am I good at?”. What do I LOVE? Is it being creative and creating something out of nothing? Is it managing people and helping them? Is it in teaching? Is it in strategy, working with a team and then working towards a goal? What would make me go to bed with a smile and say “man, I love what I do in my life. I’m so satisfied right now”. Because once I find that passion, I can find that type of position in any industry. I am focusing on that right now. Hope to find my way.

    -Einat

  • Manuel Jan 7, 2015, 10:46 am

    Hi Victor,

    I have only one New Year Resolution and this will be to find out which New Year´s Resolutions should I really set, in terms of which would report me more personal happiness and proffesional success. As you see a really challenging Resolution…

    Greetings from Spain!
    Manuel

  • Darryl Jan 10, 2015, 2:47 am

    Victor thanks for the read. It has been a long time since I made a New Year resolution. I have a background u
    In the Army and the term we use is an”aiming point” which encompass must do; want to do and projected to do based on mission assignments. For me, I have aiming point of improving Spanish language skills. I know that given time and challenge, that I will not be fluid at the end of the year, but want to greet the Spanish speakers at my favorite taqueria with a hardy “bonjour como tele vous”

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