Browsing the archives for the new years tag.
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Is Your New Year’s Resolution Doomed by Uncertainty?


uncertaintyA resolution, whether it’s made at the New Year or any other time, is a fragile thing. It can get swamped by other priorities, be badly chosen and never bloom, die stunted from being planted with too many other resolutions, wither from inattention, or fail to thrive in any number of other ways. But even if we’ve chosen our goals wisely and pursue them relentlessly, there’s one necessity that can make or break us: certainty about exactly what we’re doing.

I’m running into this problem at the moment with eating habits. I’m training for a half marathon in the Spring, my first, and at the same time I want to eat lower on the food chain so as to fight climate change. I also want to manage my cholesterol better, since I have a genetic predisposition to cholesterol problems, but there are at least two major schools of thought on how to do that, and they’re completely opposed to each other. So do I want to eat better in the New Year? Absolutely: that’s a very important priority for me. Do I know exactly how I want to eat better? Well, uh …

It probably seems obvious that I need to understand exactly how I want to be eating before I can follow through, but the truth is that the traditional way of setting goals or resolutions skips this essential step entirely: we resolve to lose weight or to be more organized, to have more time with family or to increase our productivity–but the truth is, none of these are really resolutions or goals. They’re wishes, aspirations, the ways we’d like to see things turn out. They’re important to think about, of course, but in order to be successful we have to know what exactly we plan to do. Track calories every day for six months at and go to the gym at least three times a week come Hell or high water? Plan a family activity every weekend? Spend ten minutes every workday morning to organize tasks? Those are goals. Those are resolutions.

I’ll point a couple of things out about those examples: first, each one of them is quantifiable. You don’t have to guess whether or not you’re on track with goals like those. Second, they’re focused on what we do, not on what we want to have happen. We can largely control what we do; what happens then is a lot less under our direction.

If you’re working on a resolution for the coming year, good luck! You can find more articles on the subject at

Photo by norsez

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Willpower Through the Holidays: Some Helpful Articles


The holiday season, at least here in the U.S., is a troubling time for habits. Diets get blown, budgets get overspent, time with family can make for difficult emotional situations, and good habits get disrupted by travel and celebrations. For all the cheer and New Year’s Resolutions, the Thanksgiving to New Year’s period is a dangerous one. With that in mind, here are some articles from the site that may help with some of the tricky parts.

If you’ve been working on building a new, good habit (or on shedding an old, bad habit), you may be interested in reading (or re-reading) “How Long Does It Take to Form a Habit?” The key thing to take away from that article is not the time period, which depends on a lot of things anyway, but how habits are successfully formed: with consistency. If you are wondering whether giving yourself a break from your great new eating plan over the holidays or smoking a couple of cigarettes with your cousins is really such a big deal, the answer seems to be that it’s not the end of the world, but it’s going to be very disruptive and set you back a ways. Exceptions seriously weaken new habit formation.

That’s not to say there’s never a reason to ease up over the holidays, just that if we’re considering it, we should probably try to be extra sure we like the bargain we’re getting. If not, there are options, even if they involve annoying family members and breaking traditions. After all, stodgy family members and unhealthy traditions are not on your side if you’re trying to do something new.

On that topic, if eating is a concern, you may be interested in “How Not to Blow a Diet Over the Holidays” and (if things don’t go well, or if you’re reading this too late to prevent some missteps) “Recovering After a Failure of Willpower.”

If you expect there may be some family friction over the holidays, while those kinds of patterns can be hard to break, there’s some usable advice in the article “How Not to Get Into an Argument.”

Considering a New Year’s Resolution, or a list of them? They’re not always a good idea, and when they are, there are more and less successful ways to go about them: see “Should You Make a New Year’s Resolution?” and “Why New Year’s Is Such a Good Time to Make a Resolution.”

Regardless, here’s hoping you have a great time winding up the old year and that you start the new one with strong relationships, deeper self-understanding, and joy.
Photo by R. Motti

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Taking Stock for a New Year’s Resolution

Strategies and goals

In two recent articles, “Should You Make a New Year’s Resolution?” and “Why New Year’s Is Such a Good Time to Make a Resolution,” I’ve been looking at the idea of making or not making a New Years resolutions. In this article, I suggest a method for taking stock of life as a whole and coming out of the process with the single most useful resolution for contributing to happiness and success in the coming year.

  1. The first step is to inventory all possible goals through brainstorming, either on a computer or a pad of paper. It’s worth thinking about this in at least 2 or 3 sessions over several days, even if it’s only a few minutes at a time. These goals do not have to be your best, most selfless, or most meaningful ones: the idea is to simply get everything out of your head and down on paper. These can include everything from “Finally replace that taped-up basement window” to “Earn my PhD in Economics” to “Become a better parent.” They can be general or specific, short or long-term, selfish or altruistic, important or trivial. Goals that might not seem like the best idea at first blush might look better on closer examination, or might inspire or transform into more perfect goals.
  2. When your list is done, go through it and circle all of the goals that would make a major positive difference in your life.
  3. Cross out or rewrite any circled goals that are not in your direct power, that are not meaningful to you personally, that are far off in the future, that can’t be tracked as you try to reach them, or that otherwise would not be feasible for you to accomplish. For instance, you might change “write a bestselling novel” to “write at least 2,000 words a week this year.”
  4. Write down each goal on a separate piece of paper or as a separate heading in a word processing document. Then, spend a few minutes to write out each of the following things for each goal:
    • Any advantages you have in accomplishing that goal.
    • Any new advantages you could create (for instance, by joining a group to get extra support or by learning a new skill)
    • Your reasons for caring about that goal
    • What it would be like to accomplish it or to make real progress. 
    • Reservations, obstacles, and concerns
  5. It may also help to think about each possible goal and determine whether it’s something that you could accomplish entirely in the coming year or something longer-term. If longer term, is there a waystation you can shoot for instead? For example, if your goal is to build your own house, waystations might include completing a course in carpentry, saving enough money to finance the project, or completing the design and estimates.

After looking at each goal in this way, you may have one stand-out winner. If not, compare two goals at a time and choose out of each pair; this is much less overwhelming than trying to compare everything to everything else and makes it possible to focus on contrasting the very specific advantages of each, ending up with one winner at the end.

Once you have chosen a goal, it then needs to be changed into a resolution (if it isn’t already). A goal is usually a desired outcome, but a resolution is a specific plan for what you’ll do, along with a way to measure how well you’re doing.

Lastly, it’s important to look at the other goals you haven’t picked and make your peace with not focusing on them at the moment. While it’s certainly possible to take some steps toward various goals at the same time, making a major life change takes so much time and attention that making a real attempt at achieving multiple life goals at once is very likely to result in failure of both goals. Letting go of a feeling of responsibility for completely addressing everything you want to change in your life at once is both freeing and practical, and allows you to focus effectively on your own goal. The goals you’re not addressing now are not goals you’re letting go of; they’re just goals for the future … goals you might be able to attack next year, by which time perhaps you’ll have made real progress on the goal you’re choosing now.

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