Adam Millican

new year’s resolutions

Many people use the start of the new year as an excuse to set some goals and targets, in an attempt to improve themselves in some way. Many people also fail to keep up their new year’s resolutions for a week let alone the whole year, so what’s the point and how do we make it worthwhile?

what is the motivation for trying a new years resolution?

Self improvement is a thing that can, by definition, help each and every one of us in some way, shape, or form. People like thinking about themselves in a future with realistically improved circumstances (or unrealistic, see daydreams / delusions), and the temptation of improving one’s circumstance probably contributes towards the urge to make wild claims around new year about how much they’re going to improve in the following year. So why does it nearly always fail?

66% of people who make new year’s resolutions break them within a month, but I suspect a lot of people put little effort or thought into them, using the time of year as an excuse to feel like they’re participating in something that will help them, and then forgetting about the whole thing shortly.

I’m discussing new year’s resolutions as an example of people making claims about self improvement, but the same ideas can be applied to lent, or ‘dry [insert month here]’ or any other time you want to turn over a new leaf and improve yourself.

So how can we succeed in making resolutions?

incremental improvements in target setting

Start on easy mode – aka aim low. Don’t start your resolutions with “I’m going to eat nothing but healthy food, nor drink alcohol or eat chocolate for the entire year”. It’s just not going to happen. OK it might, but it’s extremely unlikely.

Instead try to incrementally improve your resolutions. Perhaps cut red meat to start with, then excessively fatty or processed foods, then if you’re stable refraining from certain less important things for a while try and go for something more ambitious.

setbacks instead of failures

Let’s say you challenge yourself to not smoke for the entire year, and on day three you have a cigarette. What’s next? If you’ve set the challenge out in such a specific way that you can fail at it, then it will fail. If you alter your challenge before you start so that it can’t fail then that wont happen and you’ll never be forced to give up after one slip-up.

“I’m going to try to do less / more of X this year” is better than “I will / won’t do X for every day this year”, because at worst case scenario you have a setback to deal with, and best case scenario you’re making a gradual if not fast improvement towards your intended goal.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

In summary, whatever your new year’s resolutions were, and regardless of whether or not you think you’ve failed them already, self improvement is a thing we can all work on, so try and put more thought into any resolutions you find yourself making, before you make things hard for yourself.

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