We Set New Years Resolutions Already Expecting Failure
Going into 2021, I decided that finding out why my New Years Resolutions fail would be more productive than setting a directionless goal for myself like years past.
New Years Resolutions are an idea that bother me more with each year that passes, though I acknowledge that this is likely due to my horrid track record in maintaining them. Around this time every year, I set aside time – often way too much time – to assess my failures and shame, and set goals based around them.
These goals are often lofty, pointless, and merely a vessel to shame myself throughout the first two months of the year.
Looking back my past New Years Resolutions, and the goals I see others set, I have found the things that hinder their accomplishment rate. The red flags of my goal setting came in 3 forms pretty consistently:
- Shame Based Goals
- Goals That Didn’t Belong to Me
- Ignoring the Growth on the Path to Failure
Shame Based Goals
An unfortunate theme in goal setting is stemming them from shame instead of ambition. I have the ambition to get my productive routines down, but my goal (Schedule out each day ahead of time) revolves around the shame I feel when a task or event slips through the cracks. If the focal point of the goal is shame – there is no doubt this New Years Resolution will fail. We need to utilize habit based goals.
When we rely on shame based goals, we march ahead with our eyes fixated on what’s holding us back. Ambition, and habit based goals are realizing that you have the control to let go of the rope sometimes.
How Can I Set Goals That Match My Ambition?
Going back to my productivity goals – I have to re-frame them. I have to reshape them from the lofty, weightless goal to an achievable habit instead of a “to-do”.
Beneath the misdirected goal of “have every day fully scheduled” is actually a much deeper ambition. There is a vulnerability being leveraged there. The vulnerability is the shame in those moments in each day where I feel lost. Where my energy starts to fade, my focus is harder to reign in, and I struggle to accomplish the tasks that sit in a pile before me. Worst of all, the times where someone reaches out to me to say I missed a deadline. My “New Years Resolution” self wants to schedule out each day like Elon Musk, Bill Gates, or other ‘successful’ figures.
This is ultimately going to fail miserably. First of all, my work schedule can suddenly be dominated by the ‘little fires’ that pop up through a day (Little fires mostly meaning printers.). Even without all of that, I have 3 kids at home and one more due within weeks… Inhales… I have to accept chaos at times, and choose patience over anxious punctuality.
Thus uncovering a deeper vulnerability… The fear of the unexpected.
A surprise ‘we have this today’ does not mix well with me, and is the vulnerability that rings in the background when I set a weak New Years Resolution like a no compromises schedule regiment.
The Habit Based Goal
Instead of focusing on the uncovered shame, habit based goals allow me to look ahead to the actual person I want to be. I have an ambition to be organized, so I have to picture what that would look like. Spoiler alert – It doesn’t need to be everything scheduled out perfectly.
My ambition to become organized starts with a new rule for myself. A new rule, or a habit, is notably one small effort towards a bigger goal. Instead of building a regiment (scheduling every day) I will create a rule (A habit that needs to happen).
“The Immovable Object Rule” is what I am calling it – a slight nod to wrestling legend Gorilla Monsoon. This rule is simply taking extra note of upcoming events and to-do’s that are ‘immovable’ in my schedule. These are the things that must be noted in my calendar (with notifications and reminders) because they cannot be missed.
I think a normal person would call it prioritizing, but I had to make it complicated before it made sense.
By focusing on this habit of noting the most important upcoming events, I begin setting a framework for myself of identifying priorities clearly. When the immovable objects are in place, the smaller, time insensitive items will fall into place more orderly.
Goals That Do Not Belong To Me
So far, we have covered basing goals on shame as a major pitfall. An unexpected way this sense of shame can manifest in your life, is drawing your goals from other peoples ambitions instead of your own. There is an almost unlimited shame well when we compare ourselves to others in that way.
I have seen this a lot in myself and others, especially in fitness goals. Fitness goals are probably the first thing you think of when I say New Years Resolutions fail. Often, if we are around others who are setting lofty New Years Resolutions based on fitness, we tend to want that for ourselves. Sometimes in envy, and other times in a misfiring attempt at accountability partnering.
When you set your goals on outside sources, your inner ambition is bound to disengage with it.
Ignoring The Growth That Comes With Failure
When we set the ‘typical’ lofty goals, and our New Years Resolutions fail, we can often miss all of the growth we accomplished on the way to that failure. We may have ultimately not achieved what we set out to, but we took the steps and built a framework for a future attempt at a goal within our scope.
A misstep can just be a dance move if you find the right rhythm.
If I was to dive headfirst into the resolution of scheduling every day, I would almost surely fail eventually. Things would become complicated, and my system would crumble. Though on the way to that failure, I would learn the types of patterns and schedule shapes that work the best for me. I just need to lose the shame-tinted lens of failure.
By focusing on my ‘Immovable Object’ rule, my scope is narrow enough to let me notice the patterns, without the sting of failure overseeing it all. A sense of impending failure will cause mistakes to happen, and distract us from the achievements. Failure is a fixation our shame.
So We Know Why New Years Resolutions Fail – How Do We Set One That Doesn’t?
Speaking of failure as a fixation of shame, I have now broken New Years Resolutions down to their failing nature. I should take my own advice, and dive into the right way to set a New Years Resolution.
It’s fairly simple actually. If shame based, impersonal goals cause us to miss our growth – use the opposite.
Find what you are proud of, instead of what you are ashamed of, and build your goal to deepen it. Make it mean something to you, and track your growth along the way no matter how small and incremental.
I will use my own examples again. My initial left field goal was to schedule out each day to become organized to my max potential. That was aimlessly based on something I am ashamed of. Buried in there is a nugget of pride. I want to be better organized, to allow myself to create more and work on more projects.
My New Years Resolution should be based around my creativity based pride. I am proud of the amount of work I put out last year, and I want to go up from there. Expanding my creative interests, and inspecting what makes them tick.
I have already manifested a portion of this, launching a new side project, InTake Wrestling – and have reworked my InTake Create routines to take each topic further. On top of that, I have taken a serious approach to my daily journal practice which allows me to track progress and motivations.
I still reject New Years Resolutions as a concept – I think they are overall more damaging than helpful – but they have a way of persisting through the rejection. If these types of goals are going to sprout in my ambitions anyway, I may as well do it properly and explore what actually made my New Years Resolutions fail in the past.