Beyond the New Year’s Resolution

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According to US News & World Report, 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by February. Forbes reports just 8% achieve their resolutions. Those aren’t great odds! So why do so many of us set New Year’s resolutions, year after year, when so few of us reach them?

As a coach, I routinely work with my clients on goal setting and goal attainment. New Year’s resolutions are similar to any other goal we might set for ourselves throughout the year—be it professional, personal, or a combination of both. One key difference, however, is the energy we often feel as one year closes and a new one begins. There’s something contemplative and reflective about this time of year, and many of us naturally turn inward to examine where we’ve triumphed and stumbled over the past 12 months. We see the new year as potential, possibility, and opportunity. It’s exciting to think about how things might be different—and better.

Another key difference is the hype that goal setting gets this time of year! Friends and family ask about our resolutions. Conversations and products related to self-help, growth, and personal development can be found everywhere you turn. The social pressure can be substantial, as we are encouraged to state our intentions and show progress.

In my coaching engagements, my clients often design “experiments” for themselves—activities that encourage them to try new things, examine the world from different angles, rewrite old stories in brand new ways, or test theories to see it they hold up. You can’t fail at an experiment. Experimentation is about dreaming up an idea, creating conditions you think might lead to success, trying it out, gathering data, examining the results, then tweaking things before giving it another go. It’s iterative—and it’s fun. Experimentation can be low risk yet result in some very big rewards.

As we head into 2019, I’m thinking about how New Year’s resolutions might be less “resolute” and instead more experimental—leading to learning, growth, and lasting change.

Below are several alternatives to traditional New Year’s resolutions. Some are tried-and-true, others quite novel and whimsical. Which one might help you reach and maintain the goals you are after? Let me know what you uncover!

Three Words
You have likely heard of this one. Instead of setting a New Year’s resolution, choose three words to serve as inspiration in the year to come. Chris Brogan, CEO of Owner Media Group, has been using this process since 2006 and says the three word process is “a lighthouse to guide you through foggy moments.” Unlike traditional resolutions, this process isn’t all-or-nothing; you don’t achieve or fail. Instead, it’s about staying aligned throughout the year.

Planners and Journals
There are so many creative, inspiring journals that can help bring things like goal-setting, inspiration, intentional planning, and gratitude practice together in one place. The one I use daily and love is Two Minute Mornings from Neil Pasricha, but I have my eye on this beautiful 2020 Ink+Volt planner too. (I am sure some of you are very into your BuJo as well!) One wonderful thing about journaling is the ability to look back, reflect, and see progress.

Bucket Lists
Many of my clients create these on their birthdays, outlining (for example) 52 things they want to do in their 52nd year, but this practice could work just as well at the start of a new year. To celebrate, play, and experiment in 2020, maybe there are 20 restaurants you want to try or 20 books you want to read. Maybe it’s less about the number of items and more about lifelong aspirations, like getting your pilot’s license or saving up for a trip to Asia. Check out these bucket list ideas to get inspired.

30-Day Challenges
If you’re not quite ready to commit to 365 days of anything, a 30-day challenge might be a more realistic—and achievable—place to start. Many 30-day challenges (see this site as an example) have in-person or social networking groups to help with encouragement and provide accountability partners. After 30 days, you may find yourself up for 30 more—or ready to move onto the next thing. Either way, you gave it a go

One simple yet effective way to learn about ourselves is to gather data. You might want to track how many cups of coffee you drink each week, or the hours you spend giving back to your community. You don’t need to know exactly how you’ll use the information. In fact, sometimes it’s best to just see what the data shows you and make decisions from there. These habit tracking apps can help. If you’re less into numbers and more into images, 1 Second Everyday is a fun and creative alternative—a video snapshot of your day-to-day.

Letter from/to my Future Self
What would your 95-year-old self say to the person you are today? What would they compliment you about, challenge you on, or encourage you to consider? Writing this letter can be a powerful activity, bringing personal and professional priorities and values to the forefront. Alternatively, write a letter to yourself a year from now. What do you want to say to the person you will become? (This website will even send your letter back to you on the date of your choice.)

What other alternatives to New Year’s resolutions have you heard about or tried? As this new decade approaches, what experiments might provide you with new insights and help you to start 2020 off right?

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