New year’s resolutions: defying gravity

Juan Moreno
6 min readDec 22, 2018
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Here you are once again staring at your phone’s calendar as another year is coming to an end. All the good deeds that you planned for the preceding 12 months seem now a distant blur. Once again life implacably got on the way of your new year’s resolutions, and for the past few months you have started to fantasize about when your next attempt will be. As you casually scroll up and down through your meetings, you are getting ready to start over the vicious circle of good intentions.

Your rational self understands that only a very low percentage of people who made a new year’s resolution were able to meet their goals. However, a generous dose of self-denial blended with a flood of marketing campaigns make you feel that you can beat the statistics. The world is going to witness your transformation into this “totally new me” that you are going to transform into, and probably you have already a mental image of your achievements. Even without taking action toward your resolution, you are already experiencing feelings of success by showing off our ambition well before you have actually accomplished the goal.

The method you are planning to use to change consists on achieving your resolutions through raw willpower: lose weight, turn down/off social media, read more, drink less, stop smoking, write a book, master a new language, learn to play an instrument, travel more, etc. Invariably you are putting all your eggs in one basket: the power of your own will.

The hard fact is that willpower is by far the least efficient tool to achieve anything that remotely ressembles a serious life change.

Something inside you probably recognizes the pattern, knowing that repeating the same strategy as last time is not going to work. And however you keep coming back year after year. This is understandable as we all want to improve ourselves, but it is very much like Schulz’s comic strip, Peanuts: Charlie Brown is trying to kick the football, and Lucy keeps pulling it away in the last second, making him kick the empty air and falling on his back over and over again. Anytime she screams: “Kick the ball, Charlie Brown!”.

If you are like me, you have felt like Charlie Brown in the past. After a few unsuccessful attempts to stick to the resolutions, you have been left with the bitter taste of failure, flying upside down and feeling stupid after missing the ball. It is frustrating, and probably you have reached the point where you don’t even want to try again.

It is time to defy gravity. I propose that you offer yourself a little bit of forgiveness. You just have to be more realistic when it is time to set new intentions, and maybe the best time might not be in the new year, when all your friends, family and colleagues are talking about outsized goals that will only put more pressure on setting yours.

Rather than sticking to the same resolutions that didn’t work in the past, try a different approach.

Part of the problem is that we often choose the most unrealistic goals under the false assumption that we can just “be a completely different person”. In the classic “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen R. Covey suggests to “begin of the end in mind’: It is good to have a clear picture of what do you want to achieve, but you also have to set a target that is realistic and which fits with the person you are today, not with the superhero you want to become.

To start, switch difficult or vague goals into more granular, outcome-oriented targets.

For instance, you may say you want to lose 30 pounds in 6 months. That is an engaging headline for an inspirational documentary, but the amount of sustained effort that you will have to put to make this a reality is setting you up for failure. I am not saying it is not possible, but you could instead begin with an immediate target that is more tangible: let’s say that for the next 5 days you use the steps instead of taking the lift at your work or apartment. You pivot your attention to a much closer goal and an easy to measure outcome. When you wake up in the morning, you are not thinking on 30 pounds of weight, you are thinking on a few flights of steps, so it is easier to tell to yourself “I can do that”. After the last day you will feel that your heart rate is going down and that those steps are taking less effort than they did on the first day.

I have done this myself, and it works. From then on you can keep adding enviromental changes (replace sweets with fruit at home, for example) and other short term goals to keep you engaged and making progress.

The bigger the goal, the more important these minor goals become.

Get Sh*t Done, a very entertaining book by Irish entrepreneur Niall Harbison, goes further on this idea of short-term lifehacks that trigger tangible changes in your life, without involving big declarations of intent. Say you want to start traveling more: Harbinson describes how he would look for the cheapest flight on Internet, buy it, and make his place available on Airbnb straightaway on those days. If you have the flexibility to work remotely, you can do it from the chosen destination, letting the rental income of your own place to pay for the trip. After your working day you are in this new city with plenty of time to explore. As a fan of live music, I have discovered jazz clubs all over Europe using this method. It is so much fun.

Taking this small-bite approach can strengthen your self-discipline and provide a sense of satisfaction with even the smallest success. Then you can keep building on top of it once you feel that the new habit is part of your normal life, and you don’t even have to think about it. Your brain then will not focus anymore on time-boxed goals and will pivot the attention to an short-term outcome based goal.

So ditch your big inspirational goals, one habit at a time.

Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

Some people talk about flourishing instead of fixing flaws: Often we want to be more this, to be less that… in short, we focus on an area in our lives in which we feel we are defective or lacking. This feels to me like starting with the wrong foot; negative outcomes are likely to be the result of negative premises. When you start taking small steps to change your life, you are focusing on your superpowers: those things you are good at and you were taking for granted.

I am aware that your circumstances and goals may vary. Obviously planning on eating more veggies is not the same as quitting heroin. But you can give a try to scratch those big resolutions and spend the next month preparing the right environment and switching your attention into bite-size habits. This change on attittude will lay a good foundation for even bigger transformations for months and years to come.

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Juan Moreno

Nomad. Addicted to jazz, books and coffee. The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent the position of my employer.