It’s the time of year for New Year’s resolutions. My dictionary defines resolution as “a firm decision to do or not to do something.” Last year (2021) was a banner year for resolutions. Nearly three quarters (74%) of the population said they were going to make them. The top six categories for 2021 resolutions were money, health, career, self-improvement, family, and love.
More Failure than Success
I don’t know how the 2021 resolutions came out overall, but history suggests that many of these “firm decisions” are really kind of soft. Traditionally, 71% of those who make resolutions keep them for two weeks. But after six months, it’s down to 46%. A success rate of 46% by definition implies a failure rate of 54%. In other words, if you’re making New Year’s resolutions, the chances are better than even you’re setting yourself up for failure. I think the practice of making New Year’s resolutions is unhealthy. Why create even one new reason to feel bad about yourself?
Why do resolutions so often fail? A resolution, as “a firm decision to do or not to do something,” is a classic case of trying to have your cake and eat it, too. You want to make a change in your life, but not really. You want to be the same person you’ve come to know and love, just without smoking. Or you want to be the same person but just a little lighter on the bathroom scale. Or the same person with a better credit score.
Maybe life doesn’t work that way. If you want to be a better person, you need to be a new person, not the same person with minor changes. That’s why I say it’s better to make a revolution than a resolution.
How do you become a better person? Step one is to understand what you’re dealing with: practice self-awareness. In fact, just knowing yourself can make you a better person even before you start your revolution. There is research that shows people who see themselves clearly are more confident and more creative than those who don’t. They also make better decisions, enjoy stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively.
Second, map out the better person you wish to be.
Any revolutionary can tell you that a revolution has a lot of moving parts. You need a pretty big plan. It might even be a good idea to write it all down: areas to work on, timetables, and goals. Goals are critical to the process. Every goal you complete is an achievement that helps to push you on to the next one.
The conventional advice on goals is to make them SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound. It’s not bad advice, because every part of that acronym is directed toward helping you achieve, and achieving your goals is what will keep you on course and inspire you to keep going. Don’t hesitate to make your first set of goals interim goals: achievable things that challenge you even if they don’t get you all the way to the better person of your vision.
The desire to start a new year as a better person is a powerful one, which is why the practice of making New Year’s resolutions dates back thousands of years. Just don’t nibble around the edges of the better person you want to be. Draw up a revolutionary plan and go for it.
Step Three, obviously GO GET IT!
Go get it, seriously. Though random good things happen throughout life, what you're looking for tends not to show up at your doorstep. You have to put some effort into what you want. And if a self-revolution is what you seek, your best to get to know who you are before you begin!
Cover art by Chad Wheeler, tattooist and resident artist @singleneedle