The Problem with New Year’s Resolutions and how to make them work for you

By January 17, 2019 September 6th, 2019 Inspiration, Productivity

Happy New Year friends! Are you excited that a new year has just started? I have to admit, as a kid I hated this time… the end of the holiday magic, no more family gatherings with insane amount of food, and a long break from any gift giving/receiving opportunities. But in the recent years – and especially since I’ve started my business – I look at January with a different attitude. It actually makes me excited, hopeful and ready to change the world. 

But there’s one thing I also noticed. My enthusiasm, and the focus I put in to commit to my New Year’s Resolutions and plans don’t last long.  

If you made New Year’s Resolutions year after year but noticed that you abandoned them by spring, this post is for you. I share with you what I learned about this interesting January tradition, why it doesn’t work for many of us and what can we do to follow through them.

THE PROBLEM WITH NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

First, we have to look into why New Year’s Resolutions don’t work for many of us. 

I recently read The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin who defines four different personality types when it comes to answering inner or outer expectations: 

  • Upholders: who easily commit to inner and outer expectations 
  • Questioner: who have to understand the reasons behind an expectation before committing to them
  • Obligers: who easily commit to outer expectations set by other people but struggle to follow through their own plans 
  • Rebels: who rebel both inner and outer expectations and only follow through them when they can see them as fun or as a challenge 

Most people fall into the Obliger category. Obligers like to please others, commit to the community (family, friends and other groups) before they commit to themselves. If an Obliger makes a New Year’s Resolution that she’s going to the gym 3 mornings a week to lose weight, but then her best friend asks her to carpool her kids to school every morning, she most likely will answer her friends request first and only squeeze in gym time if she’s done with all the other commitments. 

At the end of the year, Obligers feel disappointed because they haven’t reached their personal goals despite being incredibly busy and productive for others.  

Obligers also like to make New Year’s Resolutions. The other personality types are not so keen to do so. Upholders don’t really need them – they do fine without them, the lucky bastards. Questioners question the usefulness and meaning of New Year’s Resolutions and find the whole tradition arbitrary. Rebels would punch you in the face if you’d ask them to commit to a resolution. 

But Obligers think that if they work really hard, if they define the right goals, if they have envisioned the perfect reward, then they will rock that year. They get super enthusiastic for a fresh start, jump right in, and… 

The same thing happens as in the previous years. Their priorities shift in a few weeks and they start answering other’s requests ahead of their own inner expectations. 

All in all, the biggest problem with New Year’s Resolutions is that they are inner expectations, and most people (Obligers) abandon them very fast when an outer expectation arises. Which pretty much happens on the first week of the new year… 

How do I know this? Well, I’m an Obliger. And if you’re reading this post, I bet you are too. 

THE FIRST THING YOU MUST KNOW BEFORE EVEN MAKING NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

The book gives amazing advice on what an Obliger can do to start committing to her inner expectations. But I found that not all of these are easy to follow from the get-go 

For example, the book recommends to say NO more”. Easier said than done. I fell in the Yes-Man (or Yes-Woman?) trap so many times, even though I knew that I should had said no. 

Gretchen Rubin also recommends setting up accountability partnerships for Obligers (more on this later), but if you’re new to this, you might not know what accountability setup could work for you the best. 

In order to apply the useful tools that the book lists, we must dig deeper in our Obliger mind. This is why I recommend starting practicing Mindfulness first.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a psychological process of bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment. You can practice Mindfulness in all aspects of your life: being more present when you spend time with a friend to make your relationship richer, being more present when you eat to prevent over-eating, etc. 

Mindfulness and your New Year’s Resolutions come together in many different ways.

SET THE RIGHT GOALS

Mindfulness helps you be present when you define your goals. If you are listening to your feelings related to each goal, you’ll start noticing if you make up one just to please others or if it really matters to you.

GET TO THE ROOT OF A PROBLEM

Mindfulness helps you discover the real reason behind a resolution. You might think that you want to lose weight because you want to be more confident. But by slowing down and reflecting on the real problem, you may realize that you didn’t have confidence even when you were thinner. So the proper goal for your year would be to practice more self-love, and accept yourself first. 

APPRECIATE SMALL WINS

Mindfulness helps you see and appreciate your small wins before running to tackle the next challenge. Gratitude and appreciating small wins will help fuel your enthusiasm when the initial Goal Setting Phase is over, and you are knee-deep in the beautiful mess of your everyday life.

How can you practice mindfulness?

You can choose the traditional method: meditation. But there are other great methods. Here I list a few that I like. 

Journaling

If you are like me, then you find it easier to jot down your thoughts than keeping them in your mindHere are 31 journaling prompts to get you started. 

DOODLING

Drawing on a piece of paper without any particular design objective is another great way to let your mind slow down. 

BE IN NATURE

Spending time in nature helps to shift from everyday frustrations to the big picture goals and what really matters to you.

Yoga

Everyone who effectively practiced yoga knows that if you don’t listen to your body (instead of obsessively staring at the sexy male teacher in his very stretchy outfit), you’ll likely injure yourself or won’t be able to relax into a challenging asana. In this sense, yoga is a great way to meditation and mindfulness because it helps you listen inside instead of outside. 

Commute

Commuting on public transport is a great place to start practicing mindfulness and meditation. First, put your phone and book away. Second: start noticing your environment, the people around you. Thirdlet your mind reflect on what you see and what these things spark in your mindYou can also think about your day ahead: how do you want to feel in work, what can you do to bring the best out of your time. 

Taking a long shower or bath

If I would have a nickel for every great idea and self-reflecting thought I had during shower, I’d be a millionaire…

Waking up slowly

Instead of jumping out of bed in a hurry and frustration, start your morning slow. Try to set your alarm to a bit earlier and instead of pushing snooze repeatedly, lay in bed and think about how you want to feel that day, what you want to achieve and what you are grateful for. 
I know, this last one is easier said than done… usually I wake up with my son’s knee poking in my face and a loud “Mommy, I’m hungry!” buzzing in my ears. 

Basically, the secret sauce for practicing mindfulness in my opinion: slow down + notice your environment + shift your focus inside + let yourself reflect on your thoughts & emotions. Don’t forgetdo these offline, off-screen.

THE NUMBER 1 PRACTICAL TOOL HELPING OBLIGERS FOLLOW THROUGH THEIR NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

Now back to the book. Here are the number one technique Gretchen Rubin recommends in The Four Tendencies that Obligers can use to commit to inner expectations.

SET UP OUTER ACCOUNTABILITY INSTEAD OF YOUR INNER ONE

We have a saying in Hungarian: “If the Mountain does not come to Mohamed, Mohamed shall go to the Mountain” (OK, I guess it comes from the time Hungary were conquered by the Turkish Empire). Which in our case means, if an Obliger can’t prioritise her inner expectations, she can try to turn them into outer expectations. How? 

Set up outer accountability.

Accountability Types

Free / Paid Accountability Partner: ask a friend, your significant other or another family member to hold you accountable and remind you about your priorities. You can also decide to have a mentor, who beside reminding you about your priorities, also teaches you to overcome challenges along the way. 

If you feel, that paying a significant amount would keep you motivated to follow through your goals, set up a paid partnership. Personal trainers, coaches and teachers are great examples. 

FREE / PAID ACCOUNTABILITY GROUP

Join to a class, to a mastermind group, or even online group where you can share your plans and your progress on a regular basis. This way you won’t depend on just one person to keep yourself accountable. 

Weight Watchers, business related Facebook Groups like Sunday Societyuniversity study groups and the Alcoholics Anonymous are a few examples of accountability groups.

Having someone relying on you

Having an employee, a student or a teacher relying on your consistent efforts is also a great accountability setup. When I write my blog posts and notice that I start procrastinating, I always think about my VA whose work depends on my discipline. If I don’t write the post, she won’t be able to start her tasks of formatting and scheduling it. I don’t want to mess up her time, just because I’m messy or have a lazy mood.

Seeing yourself as role model

When Obligers see themselves in a role model position they’ll start noticing their actions as a good or bad influence for others. They stop bad actions to not cause problems for their loved ones. Or they keep up with good actions for the benefit to others. For example, they stop eating junk food or quit smoking because they don’t want their kids to follow the same bad habits.  

There are other great accountability examples on Gretchen’s website. Some of them might sounds weird for you but worked for that person. What matters is to find the best setup that works for you. 

What are your New Year’s Resolutions & What do you do to stay on track?

Now, I’d like to hear from you: what are your plans and resolutions for 2019? And most importantly, what will you do, to keep on track with them? 

As always, you can leave your thoughts in the comment section or just email me (see details on the Contact Page). I love to read about your experiences. 

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