Why do we fail? | New Year’s Resolutions.
Starting off the New Year strong - a week late. I ah, just wanted to wait until Christmas is over, because in our house we celebrate the twelve days then Epiphany on January 6th. Anyway onward we go!
The New Year: a time when we think that everything changes at that magical stroke of midnight. Where everything is fresh, full of hope, and we all begin anew. We resolve monumental tasks, and convince ourselves that all will be accomplished, regardless of what may befall us. I’ve got to admit I love these dreams we build up, but am slightly amused that we think we need to wait until one day to start them.
Resolutions are a long time tradition dating back to the Ancient Babylonians. The idea of setting goals to you desire to achieve during the year is admirable, and a good way to measure improvement. Unfortunately, most resolutions are abandoned within the first month of the year. We set these high lofty goals, only to give up on them so quickly. Why do we fail? Our intentions are strong when we set the targets, how can we ensure achieving them? Below are three reasons I find that cause us to fail; AND ways to avoid these pitfalls.
1. We don’t set the right goals.
Yes, often my resolutions are wrong. I’m going to guess yours are too. Hear me out. When your resolutions are solely for yourself, are you really improving? Christians often make the same resolutions as everyone else with “lose weight” being number one. Sure, weight loss can be an admirable goal, but only if the reasoning behind it is bigger than yourself.
Instead of self-centered motivation what if your resolution was other centered? It is easy to let things slide if the goal is only for yourself but harder when others are dependent on you. This works even if the “others” don’t know they will be the beneficiary. For example, if you resolve to be kinder to everyone; you could do this by doing one small act of kindness each day. The motivation is there because, beyond self-satisfaction, you see joy on someone else’s face. What if your resolution is volunteer more; animal shelters, schools, and food banks are always short staffed, and exist in even the smallest of towns. Each of those opportunities provide more than self-actualization. What if you wanted to become a better cook or baker, doing so could allow you to share more meals with other people. Or why not learn a new language so you can to talk with more people learning about their culture? What if your resolutions allowed you to build yourself while building a community? Now those are great goals and ones you are far more likely to keep.
Self-improvement is phenomenal, but I have found the best way to self-help is through helping others.
We need to be setting goals that are bigger than just us because we need communities, and need to build those communities. With “social” media making it easier for us to become less social, we must work harder to build relationships. Serving others is a great way to do this. Interaction with others is necessary for a healthy life, so whatever you choose to do it, make sure your resolutions have a little a little bit of community in them. If you only look to improve yourself you are a self-licking ice cream cone. It is significantly easier to achieve goals that not only improve you, but improve the world around you.
2. We overestimate while underestimating.
I’ve theorized for a bit that our resolutions tend to fail because we put too much into a single one. A major hope or dream is poured into a one line that we write on a checklist. The dream is fantastic, but expecting all of it to be accomplished at once is overwhelming. If you break it down into more bite size pieces you are far more likely to be successful because you are measuring the milestones to your success. You (we) need our goals to be well defined, actionable, and measurable. Resolutions that don’t meet those criteria just remain wishes and dreams.
Matthew Kelly once wrote [paraphrased], “People over estimate what they can do in a day, and underestimate what they can do in a lifetime.”
An example: Learning a new language is ambitious, and to learn an entirely new language one in a year is a challenge. Add on work, kids, chores, errands, house maintenance, etc. it becomes monumental, even more so if you have no one around you who knows the language (seriously speaking the language with someone makes a big difference). So how to make this resolution a success? First define how much of the new language are you going to take on! Instead of knowing 10,000 word in a language (considered the level of vocabulary necessary to be fully conversant) what if you define the goal a bit better? As a tourist you need to know around 300 words; or to be conversational you would like to know around 700-1000 words. Then make this more tightly defined goal actionable and measurable. Learn one new word every day for a whole year.
Will you know the language fluently by the end of the year? No. However, you will know 365 words, and will have dedicated real time to learning a new skill. After two years you’ll be somewhat conversational, and three even more so. Now you’ve learned a new language, not in one year, but three. See if you simply state I want to learn a new language this year you’ve set yourself up to fail, because you’ve overestimated your time. Yet, if you don’t think you can learn a new language in three years you’ve underestimated yourself.
Something else that helps makes resolutions more achievable is having a word as a guiding principle. An overarching theme for the year, if you will. This new trend of having a word for the year works great in combination with goal setting because it helps on the day to day when you’re not sure if you can work on your resolutions. Looking for a word? My pastor mentioned that the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) are a great starting place, even if you aren’t a Christian you will greatly benefit by building these character traits.
3. We measure success wrong.
This is a big one. A goal is not a single event, but a series of successful steps towards an ultimate end.
Did you only met half your goal today? GREAT JOB! Only worked an hour on your resolution this month; marvelous – that is an hour more time dedicated to it; better than zero. Instead of reading the previous lines as failures, look at them for the successes they are. You have put more time towards things that better yourself and your community.
I recall reading a book many years ago called The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle wherein he discusses how often we don’t recognize success when it happens. We’re only looking to the peak of the highest mountain, not recognizing all the smaller summits we’ve already climbed. Moreover, there is this assumption that if things aren’t perfect the first go round then we must have failed, we aren’t good enough, or the resolution it isn’t worth our time. No. Do not measure your life’s success through perfection, you’ll never see yourself as successful then. It is so easy to talk down to ourselves, and then do nothing to improve. Staying in the same place is comfortable, and seemingly painless, but ultimately holds your back.
Granted measuring success is difficult at times because success looks different to everyone. For example, if you are suffering from depression, and you brushed your hair today; then congratulations you have had a successful day! You don’t have to use the yardstick of comparison to others. You only need to measure your success as defined by you, for you. Say you are learning a new skill – like blacksmithing – and all you have done is to make three ugly nails; fantastic you’ve started! That is three more than before; but not only have you started, you will improve, you will get better. Certainly a lot better than if you had done nothing.
So don’t set yourself up with lofty goals and criteria that will cause you to fail. Build to your goal over time, count your smaller successes for the victories that they are. Over time you can move a mountain if you take one shovel of dirt at a time, each step on the path adds to the one before. Will you have setbacks?, sure from time to time, but improving yourself is a long, important process. One that takes a lifetime. Remember picking up the pen and drawing only flowers is far more successful then never picking up the pen at all.
Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway. – Earl Nightingale
As for me, I’m still learning how to do all these things in my list below. Yes, it’s difficult to recognize successes, not overestimate my time, and make sure I’m serving others well. Nevertheless here is my list because accountability is important in achieving goals as well.
Word of the year: Joy
Host people more often.
Cook through one cookbook this year.
Nurture my new and old friendships.
Learn how to make gluten free croissants.
Hone in on my sense of style.
Spend more time blacksmithing & playing my violin.
Sew one dress.
Get a job.
Need a little help to plan your year? Download a 2022 New Year’s & monthly worksheets below!
Got a resolution? A word? Do you skip the whole notion entirely? Share whatever you do below in the comments!
365 days in a year. 365 New beginnings.