Resolutions without Resolve

New Year’s resolutions seem to be made more out of tradition than a true commitment to the changes these resolutions are meant to bring about. In fact, many people begin their resolutions NOT with: “I resolve to…” but with: “I know I won’t be able to do this, but…”

They then wonder why New Year’s resolutions don’t seem to work!

But there is a crucial reason why resolutions don’t work that goes deeper than what people actually say and which may sound like an odd reason, considering the frustration people experience when they don’t stick to their “resolutions.”

The simple reason is this: People don’t WANT to fulfill their resolutions!

Sounds crazy? Well, this is the kind of world we’re living in, my friend. 🙂

Allow me to explain why that is.

They Want the End and Not the Means

Most people want to be healthy, without doing any of the things that a healthy lifestyle is based on. They want a healthy body, not a healthy life. This doesn’t work in the real world. You can’t feed your body junk and expect your body to process it as nutritious food. You can’t abandon exercise and expect your body to create muscles out of thin air.

If you don’t want the means to fulfilling your resolutions, you really don’t want to fulfill your resolutions. Not in the real world, anyway.

They Are Afraid of the Changes the Resolutions Will Bring About

Fear of failure is a topic discussed widely in personal growth circles, but there’s another fear that cripples the ambitions of many people: the fear of success. This is an idea that was brought to my attention by Dr Neil Fiore in his magnificent book: The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play.

We sometimes don’t see projects through because we’re afraid to fail, and by not attempting to work on the projects, we feel satisfied that we have at least avoided the label: “failure.” But there are times when we fear being successful, because that would bring about changes in our lives that we’re not willing to welcome so readily.

A simple example is becoming a celebrity: you don’t want to be known for your accomplishments because you’re too afraid that it will expose you to the world, and deprive you of the privacy you currently enjoy and cherish. Being a famous actor doesn’t simply involve acting. It involves dealing with the paparrazzi, attending events, being interviewed, etc. If you don’t enjoy these things, you may not want to risk becoming a celebrity so you don’t have to face all these things.

The same is true with smaller-scale projects: you might fear the jealousy your success will attract, the responsibility that comes with your accomplishments and a host of other by-products that have you pushing your goals away instead of embracing them and working to fulfill them.

Their “Want To” Conflicts with Their “Have To”

Many resolutions are cliches that are in popular use: stop drinking, quit smoking, care for the needy, etc.

Such resolutions don’t usually stem from a personal desire, but an obligation they feel they have to fulfill, but they don’t really want to. They’re quite happy smoking, but smoking is considered an unhealthy habit, it’s not always fashionable, it comes up on the top list of resolutions to make, etc.

As long as there is no personal desire to see the resolution through, there will only be self-deception and guilt. That’s hardly a recipe for fulfilling resolutions.

Add Resolve to Your Resolutions

If you truly want to see your resolutions through, you must develop the DESIRE to do so!

This can be done by:

  • Enjoying the process as you progress towards your destination
  • Accepting the by-products that come with your resolutions
  • Making resolutions that truly stem from your personal goals, and not ones borrowed from others

Whenever you feel apprehensive about your resolutions and think that you may be sabotaging your success with your own hands, the most likely reason is that you don’t WANT to fulfill your resolutions.

Listen to your emotions and look for ways to develop the true desire to achieve your goals.


The Leaky Boat Analogy

We sometimes struggle in our search to find the causes of our bad habits and our inability to overcome them. Why can’t I wake up early in the morning? Why can’t I control my temper? How can I stop wasting so much time on email?

We search for major causes that could be responsible for our problems, yet overlook the minor causes that are, nevertheless, contributing to our bad habits.

When you’re on a leaky boat, you might search for a massive hole that’s bringing the boat down, even though you can see some small holes in the boat. You ignore them because you think that there must be something larger that’s causing the boat to sink.

However, it’s possible that the only cause for the boat sinking is the collection of small holes that you can already see!

Your obsession with a “hidden hole” that you have yet to discover distracts you from what you can already do with the problems (small holes) you know about. Even if there is a large hole that’s sinking your boat, addressing the small holes would mean that you are making progress in overcoming your problem.

Suppose you are struggling to wake up early. You might attribute this to lack of motivation, not having a strong sense of purpose or another “high level” reason. But the real cause could just be that you over eat during dinner (and, therefore, you feel sluggish in the morning), or drink caffeine late at night or you aren’t getting enough sleep, or a combination of these factors. These are visible factors that could be contributing to your bad habit and which you can easily do something about.

Rather than trying to motivate yourself to wake up early, make a few changes to your diet and your schedule, and you could easily overcome your bad habit with an ounce of willpower.

Don’t overlook the small changes you can make while searching for major causes of your bad habits. Small holes can have the same damaging affect as a big hole.


Half Habits

I’ve come across quite a few personal productivity experts who recommend that you only attempt to change one habit at a time. That way you don’t end up overwhelming yourself, and can ensure that you have fully developed that habit before moving on to the next.

While this approach certainly has its advantages, I don’t think I have the patience to focus on a single habit at a time. Besides, the bad habits I want to get rid of and the good habits I want to adopt will take me several lifetimes to adopt into my character if I plan on taking on one habit a month.

Instead, I go by an approach I’d like to call “half habits.” Rather than attempt to fully develop a new habit, try to take a step in its direction. Don’t change your diet completely, but make slight adjustments to your meals or snacks. Don’t start a strict exercise regimen, but start becoming more active around the house, or begin with a few exercise sessions a week.

You move in the direction of a positive habit, or away from a negative habit, without feeling pressured or overwhelmed.

With this approach you can take on a great deal of “half habits” at a time, and the likelihood that you’ll stay committed to developing the habits completely is pretty high.

I started waking up early, cut down on junk food, began exercising, write one blog post a day and have mini-habits forming here and there without feeling burdened by the changes. In fact, I think some habits are supporting the formation of other habits, which is making my work much easier!

Give this approach a try, and see if you can begin to change your habits for the better and at a faster pace!