Don’t Do New Year’s Resolutions This Year
It’s that time of the year. We are ready to start fresh. We are hopeful and ready to change our ways. This will be the year that you stop smoking, that you stick to that diet, that you say goodbye to biting your nails, that you finally will start saving—whatever your new year resolutions are we all know they are doomed by Valentine’s Day. Our internal cheerleader will inevitably disappeared and we will start to slip. Come April, we have broken every commitment we made with ourselves and by Summer we convince ourselves that we might as well start next year since this year is pretty much a loss—And that’s the end of the resolutions until they emerge from the ashes the following January!
So how about doing something different this year? In fact, cut the crap and throw out New Year’s resolutions all together! Let’s just rewire our brains to make some tweaks in our behavior. Instead of New Year’s resolutions, these are the 6 practices we here at School of Whales are espousing for 2022, and we invite you to join us:
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1. Develop routines
We know you heard this one before, and we know it sounds simple but it’s not. I mean, if we don’t follow through on our resolutions, what makes us think that we will follow thru on our routines?
The key difference and what makes establishing routine work is that you do not have a particular goal in mind. Your only goal is to repeat. If you fail one day you can easily try again the day after: no cycles to close, no milestones to get to—just repeat! Resolutions fail most of the times because once we feel we failed to accomplish the goal we stop pursuing it. We can fail to do our routine today and just do it tomorrow.
Grandiose goals sometimes end up in even bigger failures. While many small wins will likely get you to the same place.
2. Net positive balance mentality
So, you overspent today? You been eating more than you’d like? Skipped the gym? Feeling pretty bad about it? Stop it.
Realize the real measure of a being happy—Not the happiness you see in movies—but understanding happiness as being at peace with where your life is right now. Being at peace does not mean having no goals or ambitions. We are talking about being satisfied with where you are and what you have accomplished.
The key to achieving this state of happiness might be a lot simpler than achieving your resolutions. The trick is to maximize your “highs” and minimize your “lows”. If we start asking ourselves every night before we go to sleep how are day was after a horrible stressful day (or several of them), we will most likely think that our life is terrible; however, if we do the same on a fantastic day when everything went our way, then we usually conclude that we are living a great life.
The goal here is have more “good” days than “bad.” Start tracking your days. Collect the data and analyze it at the end of the month. Most likely you will realize that you always have a net positive balance of good days!—And make sure that you remember this on your bad days!
Whatever the result is: whether you have a net positive balance at the end of the month or net negative balance, using the habits you developed you can hack your days to improve your average. Routines like sleeping enough hours, intentionally trying to help others, eating good food, exercising, journaling, meditating and laughing can help you convert some potentially bad days into good ones. But most importantly, make small pauses during the day and ask yourself before doing activities or spending too much time thinking about something: “Is what I am doing contributing to make my day a good one?”, or “Will this reaction make my day better or worse?”
Sometimes it will not work. But guess what, it is fine. Because with the Net Positive Mentality you just need to have more days that it works than it doesn’t.
3. Retrain your brain to consider “both/and”
Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka, co-authors of The Wise Company, a book that explored the idea of instead of setting unrealistic goals, leaders should make smaller changes to see better results, recently developed “six practices to make a better future”—to retrain your brain to consider both/and is among one of their six suggested practices.
They suggest that in the Western civilization there is a tendency to think in a very binary way: “either/or.” Even though we all know that life is not necessarily clear-cut, most conversations and debates are rooted over this dualism. We tend to think in terms of mind vs. body, subjective vs. objective, rational vs. emotional, materialism vs. idealism. We bring this binary mindset into our thoughts when thinking about ourselves, as well as others.
Takeuchi recommends moving away from framing internal debates in an exclusionary way and thinking in an inclusive way that can result in “understanding the world through a lens on oneness”.
What are we trying to say here? Having binary views may hinder your ability to develop small changes that lead to achieving your goals. Still too up there? Ok, let’s talk practical examples: You are trying to eat healthier, instead of thinking eating carbs vs. not eating carbs, rewire your brain into eating some carbs and them throw in some vegetables and legumes.
Now, instead of having an adversarial position or an easy to cross line, your brain has the ability to think into how to balance two things that should not necessarily cancel each other out.
More practical examples? Your personal finances—you are thinking about budgeting: spending vs. savings goes with the “either/or” mentality, the line is clearly delineated, if you spend money you are killing your personal finances and your savings. If instead, you rewire your brain into “both/and” mentality, good spending habits and good saving habits can coexists without destroying each other and ruining your personal finances.
Give yourself permission to not fall into absolutes that make your goals harder and harder to reach, rather give yourself enough margin to maneuver between options, so failure is not always looming over you.
4. Become a Time Lord
Time Lords are an ancient race of extraterrestrial people that command time travel technology and have a non-linear perception of time. Wait! We did not go crazy, these are fictional characters of the British science fiction series Dr. Who—yeah, we know, we’re bunch of nerds here at School of Whales, but that’s beside the point. What we are trying to say is, you need to understand time and how it works in different situations.
Most of the times we do not follow through in our goals because we think the situation we are involved in seems at the time unsurmountable. Despite the fact life constantly shows us that most things in life are cycles that end or change. In fact, situations are almost always temporary, and yet we have the tendency to tie longevity to bad things.
Another behavior relating to time: most of us look into the future and allocate an inordinate amount of time to worry about it. We are all up for thinking about the future and planning for it; however, we are not up for the accompanied anxiety in doing so. Sometimes we spend so much time worrying about the future that we do not enjoy everything good that is happening in the present. This anxiety about the future renders us paralyzed by fear that ultimately inhibits us from smartly planning for it.
How do you become a Time Lord? First, (the present) write down every day a personal problem that you think is very big. It should be easy to identify since you probably allocated a lot of time thinking about it or dealing with it. At the end of every month, revisit them, and see if they are still there (the past). You will start to notice how some issues you thought were huge on that day do not exist or at least they are not that big at the end of the month. For the second part of the exercise (the future), get out your crystal ball. Each time a problem feels unsurmountable, write down when you think this problem will disappear. Feel free to let the pessimist in you free! Maybe you project that it will never disappear, if that’s how you feel! Then, every six months check and see how accurate your Seer skills are. If you are like us, you will be wrong most of the time. But who knows! Maybe you discover you are just a modern day Nostradamus.
You cannot control time passing. You cannot lord over the past, present and future; however, you can understand it and behave accordingly. Do not fall into the trap of assigning longevity to things that are likely transient, or live in the future forgetting the present. Live today, while intermittently gazing on the future, so you can make it better.
5. Become a trigger hunter
Most of the time we do not achieve our goals for the same exact reason we did not achieve them before. If you pay attention, you will probably realize that there is always a pesky trigger that derails your plan.
You have been eating well and avoiding that huge bowl of ice cream every night, but something happen. The levies are open and you eat the entire freezer. You need to learn to identify what is that trigger.
The easiest way to identify triggers is by understanding that they are emotional. Do not rationalize them. They are not always a rational reaction, and they are not necessarily directly consequential. We might react to certain triggers because of something that has nothing to do with it.
You go on a shopping spree every time your boss does not consider your opinion on Monday’s staff meetings—that might be a trigger. You want your opinion heard, so you express it through something you have complete control over which is shopping. Think and try to identify the trigger. You might go from thinking you are a shopaholic to just realizing that the year has more Monday meetings that you can afford, bad bosses have nothing to do with shopping, thing again. It is hard to change a habit or behavior without understanding the behavior.
What to do: Every time you have a slip on the path to achieve your goals, try to pause, reflect and identify what may have triggered it. Look for causality and look for behaviors that you always have an excuse for. Then look behind the excuse, and see if it holds water. Write down the suspected trigger and track it, like a hunter, once identified, replace the response to it, if it works you found a trigger, if not, keep looking.
6. Develop self-empathy
We are not talking about the highly over-used love yourself mantras. We get it, those are important, most of the things on this list would not work without it, but that is not what we are talking about. You can be empathetic to people without necessarily loving or esteeming them, that is what we are talking about.
We are not psychologist here—not trying to be. We are sure that are plenty of terms for this, however, it is easy to understand empathy as the art of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.
Try that when you fail: Try to get in your own shoes and think how you react when someone fails or feels defeated by something. Most of the time our reaction to them is not anger or criticism. Instead, we feel like we wish we could make it better for them. We wish they somehow could recover from it and have another chance. If you think about it, most of the time when we fail, we are a lot harder on ourselves, when we could benefit from that empathy we give to others.
We see athletes failing at sports games or entrepreneurs failing on Shark Tank or simply someone walking on the street tripping over their two front feet and even though we don’t know them, we feel empathetic towards them. So let’s start doing the same for ourselves; let’s cut ourselves some slack more often. How?
When you fail to follow any of the routines, before starting them again write in your journal or even the note on your phone a lesson learned from it. Write it from the perspective of an understanding teacher, a loving parent or a friendly advisor. Draft it as a lesson that you are giving to your future self. Whether the lesson is not reacting properly to a trigger, giving longevity to something that you should not, or being too radical in reacting to a situation—Write it as if you are giving yourself advise.
So now you know our plan, these really are our six New Year Resolutions if we were to write them down (or maybe we did, we don’t know anymore). In any case, putting these practices to work will most likely get us closer to achieving some of those unwritten resolutions that we want to accomplish so much every year.