Every year people across the globe set goals that are too high, not broken into smaller steps to help them achieve it and feel satisfaction along the way, and signs it all off neatly to the point where failure is not an option. When put this way, it seems pretty obvious why new year’s resolutions don’t work, right?
Susan Rubin Suleiman, the author of numerous books and articles on trauma and memory, writes, “a traumatic stressor produces an excess of external stimuli and a corresponding excess of excitation in the brain.” When a person puts themselves in a high-pressure must-win situation in a single moment, like declaring a resolution, this is what can happen to your brain.
She continues, “when attacked in this way, the brain is not able to fully assimilate or “process” the event, and responds through various mechanisms such as psychological numbing, or shutting down of normal emotional responses.”
Essentially, people overwhelm themselves with the resolutions they declare which then drives them further away from completing it.
Erik Larson, a contributor at Forbes writes, “making resolutions is really just an easy way to get a 90% guarantee of feeling guilty in the future”.
Erik is right, less than 10 percent of people achieve their new year’s resolutions. He continued on to say, “Decisions are work. We have to make a choice, accept trade-offs and put in effort.”
What Erik talks about in his article is the need to look at new year’s resolutions as a type of decision.
While not everyone has had the experience of running a business or being a responsible party to deliver on a project, there are a ton of things you could learn from stakeholders in businesses who are tasked with making decisions and carrying them out.
To really get into this mindset and make resolutions more achievable, let’s replace the word.
Resolution / Decision
Thinking about new year’s resolutions in this way moves your understanding along to what they really are, decisions. These are decisions you are making to achieve a better you, a better life and a better mindset. Making these bigger decisions now can impact the other, smaller decisions that you make throughout the year.
Now that we have that established, let’s talk about decisions in general. How can a decision-making process go wrong?
1.) Making too many decisions at once
We’ve all been here before. There are too many questions to answer. You need to make the decisions right now!
This is not usually the case. A lot of this pressure is self-manufactured. You don’t need to artificially create a hard start date and a deadline to complete something that you haven’t put the effort in to understand how long it will actually take yet.
Drive down your decisions and create goals that look and feel more achievable. Focus on the first twelve weeks, then the next twelve weeks, and so on. These twelve-week sprints can build on each other and suddenly after two or three sprints you’ll feel right on track.
Natalie MacNeil, a contributor to Time Magazine, writes in her article, “twelve weeks is ideal because that’s the longest time frame you have the most control over. A lot can change in three months.”
Learning to set priorities will help you with your decision making. Prioritizing our decisions and aligning them in an appropriate amount of time alleviates the pressure that creates the environment Suleiman talks about in her article we mentioned a bit earlier. Without feeling overwhelmed, you won’t fall prey to the numbing, or shutting down that the stress causes.
Better yet, give yourself a performance review, as well.
2.) Not carrying out the hard work
The hard work behind your decisions is, well, hard work.
A. Harrison Barnes, CEO of the Employment Research Institute, writes, “[the] difference between mediocrity and greatness [is] commitment to a decision”. Commitment is the secret sauce when it comes to hard work. He continues on, “you can never do anything or reach great heights if you do not commit to what you’re doing.”
Committing to your decisions and putting them into action turns them into goals. Reevaluate your commitment and be sure you’re on track between your twelve-week sprints. This ensures that you’re able to absorb and evolve through the inevitable unforeseen changes throughout the year.
Don’t forget about the concerns of procrastination either. The longer you procrastinate, the harder you’ll have to work and in a shorter period of time. Turning your resolution into a decision is a way to avoid all of the stress that comes with front loading your year with what Suleiman calls a “traumatic stressor”.
Don’t get yourself caught in this circle. Create a schedule, stick to it, and it really won’t be that hard once you’re committed to your decision.
3.) Letting other people make decisions for you
This might sound strange to mention since most people don’t think they let others make their decisions for them. Remember, we’re talking about new year’s
What are your goals, anyway? Where did they come from? If you’ve been thinking about losing weight and you were influenced by a magazine cover that claimed you could lose fifty pounds this year, then yes, you just let someone else tell you what your new year’s resolution, and ultimately your decision, should be.
The influence on your decisions may come from a single person, a social media platform, a business, a publication like a magazine or an article online, or seeing other people have something you think you want.
To reduce outside influence get to know yourself better. Keep a journal, start saying “no” to others, and choose peers who don’t make you feel pressured to make decisions that affect you. Dr. Ashlee Greer, a self-described business alchemist and soul liberator, writes in The Huffington Post, “Stop looking at what everyone else is doing. Keep your eyes on your own paper. Seriously, everyone’s journey is different.”.
4.) Not willing to fail
The refusal to accept failure as a possible outcome is probably one of the most counterproductive perspectives to decision making there is.
Embarrassment, a blow to your ego (you’ll probably say spirit, but it’s ego), and the fear of failing doesn’t make the fear of failure an acceptable idea in your decision making. In fact, the fear of failing strikes a form of paralysis, preventing you from even starting your commitment to your decision in the first place.
In her Ted Talk “Embrace The Near Win”, art historian and critic Sarah Lewis says, “success motivates us, but a near win can propel us in an ongoing quest.” She continues, “we thrive not when we’ve done it all, but when we still have more to do.”.
Success isn’t perfection. You don’t need to do it all to consider yourself a success. Coming close enough to what you wanted, and by definition, failing at it, is good enough to dust yourself off and keep going.
Make a decision. Create a plan. Jump into life with both feet. You’ll be better for it.
Oh, and Happy New Year. 🎉