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Psychology : Applied

2024 New Year's Resolutions Toolkit: Start Planning Now!

Updated: Apr 5

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It's easy to snub the idea of the New Year's resolution, but I'd suggest that the opportunity to start fresh in a new year is a great one to seize. While it is true that most of us fail to keep them much past February, that's generally because not enough work goes into planning them in advance. The more planning you put into it, the more successful they are likely to be. Part of this planning also helps to ensure that your resolutions are closely tied to your deepest desires, not in getting a flat tummy for your spring break. Once you're connected to your deepest desires and values, they serve as a motivation to meet your goals, not willpower.

The other argument about resoultions is that we should accept ourselves as we are, and not seek to change in order to meet the conditions of our parents, culture, peer group, Instagram, or even our own super-egos. Platitudes like “New Year New You!” can imply that the you now isn't good enough; it can also set aspirations that are ultimately unattainable.

“You are perfect just as you are, and you could use a little improvement.” — Suzuki-roshi

However, if you approach your New Year’s resolutions as a way to enable yourself to become more fully who you are, to actualise yourself in the service of your personal growth, you’ll find that there's no better way to start the year then with a plan. Here’s the best advice on how to get started.

Find out what you really want:

Most resolutions fail because we're not clear enough about what we'd actually like to change. We often make them on a whim, often in the state of hangover, and generally choose from a small set of vague goals like being healthier or developing our creativity. That's why it's super important to find out what you really want. You can start by asking yourself:

  • What would my personal and work life look like if I kept my resolutions?

  • What would it be like if I had alignment between my values, my work, and my relationships?

  • What aim would it satisfy if I met my goals?

  • What would I miss out on if I continue not to meet them?

The goals we tend to go to first, like making more money, drinking less, exercising more, or starting a side hustle, are generally markers of something deeper and more important within you. Find out what that is first. Take some time before New Year’s Day to brainstorm about what your life would look like if your deepest values were activated. Then visualise it in full colour and sound by asking yourself these questions as if you've already attained it:

  • How do I feel?

  • What am I doing?

  • What do I see around me?

  • What are the consequences of the changes I've made?

Do this in any way you like, write it down, draw it, create a vision board with images cut from magazines, whatever works. It’s your life, it’s your year, make sure your motivations come from the right place. Find out what’s right for you.

Rear view mirror in a car

Look Back Before Looking Forward:

One way of gaining clarity on what makes you thrive and what doesn't is by looking back on the past year and finding out what nourished you and what blocked you. The idea is that, where you can, maximise those nourishing things and minimise the ones that suck your energy. Of course you can't get rid of all your energy suckers, but with good planning you can minimise those, and maximise what helps you flourish and flow.

These tools will help you along the way:

  • Tim Ferriss recommends a past year review in which you go through last year’s calendar week by week to see what energised you and what didn’t — this gives you clues about what to maximise and what to avoid in the year to come. For a great example of this approach check out Chris Cordry’s article on Tim’s method.

  • The Year Compass is a free tool that you can use to implement Tim’s ideas, alongside some other questions that will help you think through how you want to set your goals.

The key to making these tools work is to give it the time it needs. Really dig deep and feel through the events of the past year. What made you feel like you could fly? What made you feel like you were hitting a wall? In planning through your next year you’ll better know what to look for and what to avoid: what to say “yes” and “no” to.

2024 New Year's Resolutions Toolkit: A Way To A More Aligned You

Notice I didn’t say a “better” you. Resolutions shouldn’t be a way to bully yourself into becoming better, or to squeeze yourself into somebody else’s expectations. Still, most of us experience a gap between where we are, and where we we’d like to be. Inside this gap we find:

  • Old beliefs about ourselves that could benefit from a change.

  • Inhibitions about what it would mean to achieve our goals (fear of failure or success).

  • Bad habits that we find difficult to shift.

  • Good habits we find hard to acquire and maintain.

Resolutions that are derived from willpower alone are the ones that are most likely to fail. But, if you understand your resolutions as a way to advocate for yourself and help you become more fully who you are, they emerge from a deeper motivation at you very core and you stand a better chance of keeping them.

Consult The Experts:

There is no reason you need to do this on your own. There’s a ton of research on achieving goals and changing habits, so educate yourself and implement everything you can to meet your dreams. Here are some great resources:

Create Lifestyle Habits, Not Outcomes:

The ultimate aim is to be the best expression of your authentic self that you can be — and that’s not really just about shedding a few pounds or finishing your book. While those things might be great consequences of habit change, what you really want to do is implement healthy strategies into your daily life and to write more.

Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits.

- James Clear

What you really want to do is focus on changing your foundational habits. Habits are the foundations of a lifestyle and tweeking them just right have consequences all the way down the chain. Once something is a habit, it doesn't require willpower to enact (do you need willpower to brush your teeth or tie your shoes?) Changing habits is the real deal, so it's not the easiest thing to do. It's a process, so make sure you choose your new habits carefully and devote yourself to adopting them. You're not on your own, there's good science around habuits, and here are some great books to help you along the way:

Among the skills you’ll learn here is that you have to make bad habits harder for yourself to keep, and good habits easier to maintain. There are lots of ways to do this including keeping a habit tracker; preparing the ground for your new habits; surrounding yourself with people who support the new habit (and avoiding those who support the old ones); and learning to change your thinking to support your new way of being in the world.

Learn Skills To Help You Work Smarter

For many years I had all the motivation in the world to change, yet I failed to make my resolutions stick. I finally worked out that it was because I was so disorganised; I simply didn't have a system to manage my life and work admin. The messiness that surrounded me in my life was getting in the way of my goals and what I wanted to achieve — I simply didn’t know how to organise myself.

Happily, organisation and productivity are skills that can be learned, and once I learned them my goals became much easier to achieve. The single best resource for getting your life organised is the book Getting Things Done by David Allen. I’m not exaggerating when I say this book changed my life.

“Remember that your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them” — David Allen

David Allen’s main idea is that you are stressed out because you’re holding onto too much stuff in your head. Once you deposit all that stuff a into an automated system, you get it out of your head so you can let go of all those nagging “need to do’s” and trust your future self to manage them. His system consists of five simple steps:

  1. Capture anything that gets your attention (e.g. an email)

  2. Clarify what needs to be done about it (answer, trash, save for later, keep as reference)

  3. Organise into systems like calendars and to do lists.

  4. Reflect on what needs to be done with each thing (like a complex project)

  5. Engage in what needs to be done.

Yes, it takes some commitment to implement these strategies into your daily life (especially in the beginning when you capture everything) but it’s well worth it and saves so much time and stress going forward. Getting Things Done is probably the most helpful self-help book I’ve ever read. And that’s because it taught me real skills that I didn’t previously have, I could apply them to my life, and they made a difference.

Get Out Of Your Own Way:

While it’s easy to blame circumstances, the biggest obstacle to attaining our goals tends to be ourselves. Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey call this an “immunity to change” and have conducted some fascinating research into how resistant we are to change. Heart patients, for example, who are told that they need to change their lifestyles in order to survive, more often than not fail to do so, even when the stakes are that high. This is because, the authors describe, we naturally fight off positive change in our lives in much the same way that our immune systems fight off illness. Every time we try to do better, something within us pulls us back to the status quo.

But don’t lose heart! Through their research they have developed an immunity to change roadmap that can help you work out what is holding you (or your organisation if you work in one) back, and how you can get past your immunity to change. It’s a hefty one but well worth the time:

Prepare To Be Uncomfortable:

New habits and incorportating you deepest values into your everyday life doesn't come easy. Whenever you choose something new it feels weird and uncomfortable. The reason why most people don’t achieve their resolutions is because they don’t like the uncomfortable feeling they get when they give up an old habit and start a new one. If you sort your day’s stress with a nightcap, and then give up alcohol on weekdays, you’re going to feel uncomfortable dealing with your day’s stress over a mug of tea. The thing is, you’ll get used to it and after some time you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner.

If your goal is to be more vocal in the workplace or more assertive with your spouse, it will feel odd, you won’t want to do it. You’ll want to avoid it. The thing is, discomfort from change only goes away if you face it, not if you avoid it.

The bad news is that you simply have to feel uncomfortable to implement change in your life, otherwise change ain’t gonna happen. The good news is tolerating discomfort is a great life skill, and the more you face it, the better you become at it.

For some help in stopping avoiding things because of fear check out Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway or Daring Greatly.

You Might Have To Change The Very Idea Of Who You Are:

Everybody has different aspects of themselves living inside them. There is the person that says, “no more Pringles” and the other person that buys a tube of them on impulse the very next day. Let's call the part of you that wants to give up Pringles "Person One" and the part that eats them anyway "Person Two."

In order to achieve your goals you have to build trust in Person One, and that can take some time. The reason why you were unable to stick to goals in the past is that you never believed that Person One was real. Until you really believe in them, you won’t be able to become them. This doesn’t mean you should try to get rid of Person Two — they should have their Pringles every now and then. Person One all the time makes Jack a dull boy — Person Two should shine and play, but in moderation.

Many of us simply don’t recognise ourselves as person one. We imagine that person waking up early, working out, doing the right thing and think, “well, that’s just not me!”. If Person One wants a side hustle, a meditation practice, or a promotion, Person Two is going to have to give up those hours of Netflix, waking up a the last possible moment, and those cylinders of Pringles.

If you try to be all Person One, Person Two will feel neglected and muscle in when you're at your weakest. Give room to Person Two, but learn to believe in Person Two.

Are Your Fucking Kidding Me? That's A Lot Of Work!

Well, I didn’t say it was going to be easy. Real personal change does take effort, but if you have the right tools, the chances of this effort pays off exponentially. If you want an all rounder piece of good advice for this year, make it your new year’s resolution to get your head around some of these methodologies.

Once you learn these tools, it will become easier to affect change in your life anytime you want — so they are really worth getting your head around. However, if you simply want some quick wins for 2024, here are some suggestions you can start with straight away:

  1. Sort out your attention! Do one thing at a time. Check out Johan Hari's Stolen Focus.

  2. Change your email strategy. Only check emails at scheduled times, take the email app off your phone, and take proper breaks from it with an out of office reply.

  3. Schedule in interruption-free “deep work” sessions every week for creative ideas work. See Cal Newport’s Deep Work.

  4. Incorporate light activity into your day with Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEATs) by using stairs instead of lifts, getting off public transport a stop earlier than your destination, incorporating walks into your lunch breaks. Do this even if you go to the gym.

  5. Take time everyday for contemplation of some sort, journaling, yoga, mediation, or walks in nature. Try apps like Balance or Waking Up.

  6. Keep phones and tablets out of the bedroom. Invest in an old fashioned alarm clock.

  7. Don’t eat lunch at your desk. Get out. Don't take your phone.

  8. Curate your social media feeds with reference to how they make you feel and how much time you spend on them.

  9. Renew contact with an old friend. Share your gratitude with someone you appreciate.

  10. When listening to others, give them your undivided attention, put your phone away.

Most of all, remember, your 2024 New Year's Resolution Toolkit is for you to activate your deepest values and desires in your life, not somebody else's. When you activate these ideas to be better aligned with your heart’s desires, and you’ll find they are more likely to stick.




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