Breaking The Resolution Mindset

Who is this for? Those who continue to attempt, and fail with, New Year’s resolutions.

Like many, I’ve always taken this time of year as an opportunity to assess the year that was and plan for the year that will be. Like many, I used to set some very specific resolutions for myself. And, like many, these rarely made it past the first few days of the year. Having gotten pretty good at setting and failing at resolutions, I started looking for methods that would make a larger impact on my life and, hopefully, last more than a few days.

Over time I’ve settled on two tactics that have had made a greater difference in my life.

The List

I start my year-end process with a thorough GTD-style review where I look over all of my open projects, goals and areas of focus. This goes a long way towards getting a few stalled projects back on track (it also forces me to kill a few as well), but it’s the annual postmortem that follows that has proven to be a big help.

After I’ve looked over the things I’ve decided to do, I set my sights on a far more challenging mess: the human that decided to do them. Each year, I have at myself. I sit down with a Word document and a stiff drink (ok, several stiff drinks …), then I start writing down all of my self-directed frustrations and perceived shortcomings. I don’t bother too much with the accomplishments. For me this isn’t really about feeling good or bad about the past year, it’s about determining what needs to change. My intent is to get as clear a picture of my major and minor challenges as possible. I treat this like a GTD-style brain dump, except instead of the things I have to do, I attempt to uncover all of the things about myself I’d like to work on. This isn’t a particularly pleasant process, but for me it’s a useful one.

The Words

From here, I start to organize the list and try to identify patterns as well as some key areas I’d like to work on. The list is daunting, but I don’t bother trying to convince myself that I can tackle this all in one year. Cleaning up this list is a lifelong pursuit and often a failed one at that.

What comes next is taken directly from Chris Brogan. I don’t start making projects. I don’t try to enforce sweeping change. I just use the list to determine three words that are meant to guide my year (here are my words from 2011, 2012 and 2013). These words serve as a filter for my choices and a guide for my year. Eventually I have to turn these vague desires into actual projects with measurable progress, but there’s plenty of time for that. 365 days, in fact.

So often our resolutions are determined in a weekend, and they tend to last as long. You look down, notice you’ve gained some weight and resolve to lose ten pounds. It’s not something you really care about, it’s just something you feel you ought to do. Stop that. This year try putting in more time and more thought. Do the upfront work, really determine what you’re up against and then find a way to make some progress before you have to do this all over again.

These steps might help, but—as is often the case—how-to advice like this falls short. The frustrating truth is that, like me, you’re probably going to have take time to experiment. You’re going to have to find your own way of breaking out of what, if you’ve read this far, has almost certainly been an unsuccessful resolution mindset.

4 Responses to Breaking The Resolution Mindset

  1. I completely agree. Customers air their complaints and praises via social media everyday (I even did so last week!).The companies who integrate customer opinion on a deeper level are the ones who will succeed. No more deleting complaints on your company web page! Customer voices can now be heard nationally, and corporations have no control.
    I am interested to watch this all unfold- and especially can’t wait to be apart of it on both sides!

    • I just hope customers also choose to use that power for the right reasons. Understanding is going to be required on both sides of the fence if this is going to work. Otherwise businesses will pull back on this kind of communication.

  2. Hi Michael- I’ve listened to your podcast for months and months and first want to say this is a beautiful website. I have found the content very helpful and I’m not sure why you have mentioned several times on your show that it has not materialized the way you would have liked. I guess that means readership? Anyway, I just want to say I have noticed you do tend to reflect on all that you need to improve- your “self-directed frustrations” and “perceived shortcomings.” Might you consider reframing so that you DO take into account your accomplishments? Add in “I’m proud of this and this” and reflect on what DID go well? Yay, you have a new job! Yay, you’re a semi-famous podcaster! You’re a great dad! Did you navigate challenges that might have seemed impossible a few years ago? Then take that and say, now how can I be “even more amazing” and make things better (or “wildly successful” as quoted by David Allen) Then say “if I don’t reach these goals, well hey, I’m still amazing?” Stand on the shoulders of your accomplishments and THEN reach for more. You don’t have to plan self-improvements based solely on what you perceive as screw-ups. Settle for less-than perfect in yourself and never underestimate how far you’ve come. Hopefully then you’ll switch from maybe feeling like a chronic underachiever to- just maybe- contentment? And, oh hey, why not throw in happiness too? : ) I have been there and reframing my internal dialogue has made a huge difference. Thanks again for your show and Happy Holidays- from Cindy in Tacoma WA.

  3. Have you tried doing this quarterly? I’ve been doing a quarterly review and find that it’s been helpful. In fact, trying to plan for an entire year seems daunting and maybe a bit unrealistic given how fast everything moves in my life.

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