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How to design New Year's resolutions that work
Tips to help you craft a great self-improvement program you can stick to
Happy 2023! Chances are that you’re contemplating making some New Year’s resolutions, so let’s get you set up for success with a few resolutions that will unlock the best version of you.
#1 — Resolve to stop borrowing resolutions
Different people are different, so what works for you might not be what works for anyone else.
Understanding this is the single biggest step you can take in the direction of success. That’s precisely why I’m not going to do the standard guru thing of suggesting you copy my exact wellness plan after proving to you that I have a stack of credentials (I do) and I’m in shape (I am). My plan fits me, but you need a plan that fits you.
Quit borrowing other people’s resolutions
Whenever you’re tempted to copy your favorite celeb’s latest health plan, take a moment to think about some potential reasons that person is able to stick with it (assuming they are) which you might not know about. Do they have a private chef who prevents them from making food decisions? Do they secretly loooove cabbage? Is their job less stressful than yours? And so on.
If you’re following someone else’s plan and you’re struggling to stick with it, don’t beat yourself up.
Pretty soon, you’ll see a stack of reasons not to trust that their approach will fit you. Good. The sooner we crush your belief in hope and magic, the sooner you can get on track to self-improvement. Don’t resolve to stick to someone else’s plan, but do feel free to test-drive their approach (if it’s medically sane) to see if you learn anything about yourself in the process.
Make this your new goal: not to stick with a plan, but to learn something about yourself by trying it out.
#2 — Resolve to personalize your resolution
Even if you read the best scientific studies for inspiration, remember that those results are true on average… but no one is the average human. Start with what you know about “most people” and aggressively adjust it based on the highest quality of information available to you: self-discovery. Be your own test subject and study yourself!
#3 — Resolve to create a failure action plan
If your New Year’s resolution doesn’t come with a plan for what you’ll do if you slip up, that’s a massive red flag. Contingency planning is key. Build in a plan for adapting your approach if you fall short of your target.
If you’re not failing, then you’re not learning.
If there’s no built-in plan for handling mistakes and adjusting your approach, that also means there’s no plan for learning from your mistakes.
#4 — Resolve to learn from failed resolutions
Every time you fail, you have a shot at doing better next time… as long as you learn something from your experience. Don’t throw the learning opportunity away by doing either of these things:
Taking your failure personally and giving up.
Resolving to fix it with willpower. (It doesn’t work.)
To succeed in the long run, try to focus more on your learning rate than your winning rate. If (when!) you encounter a wobble, don’t try to solve it with willpower. Solve it by designing a better path to your goal.
#5 — Resolve to put your outcome goals first
Think critically about the design of your plan: what behaviors does it motivate, and are these behaviors helpful or risky to your overall outcome goal? If falling short of a target (e.g. you said you wouldn’t eat chocolate and you did) has a high probability of triggering behaviors you’ll regret (e.g. you ate the whole candy store), then it’s an unwise resolution.
Over-ambitious plans often backfire.
#6 — Resolve to hack your motivation
To learn the tricks to making your motivation stick, you need to be a smart psychologist and hack your own brain. For my deep-dive into this topic, take a small detour to my list of motivation-hacking questions to help you get to know yourself better.
#7 — Resolve to set realistic goals
Always keep the basics in mind to make sure you set realistic goals:
The lower the cost (in terms of money, effort, time, pleasure, attention, memory, happiness, and everything else) of following the plan you designed, the easier it is to stick with it
The higher the benefit to you, the higher your chance of success.
#8 — Resolve to …
…make 8 more resolutions which I’ve listed for you on my Medium blog. If you’re having fun here, head over there for the full list of the 15 best resolutions that’ll help you become your favorite version of you.
And don’t forget to check out my guide to hacking your motivation.
You can do it! Happy New Year!
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