January 5, 2018

Are Resolutions a Waste of Time? How to Get What You Want in 2018

The New Year usually brings some familiar feelings along with it, often including relief from exiting the previous year, excitement and hope for what is to come, and some desire to facilitate change. It has become a time marker for making new decisions, explaining why things like New Year’s resolutions exist. If you don’t like or make New Year’s resolutions, it’s probably because you haven’t had experience with them being successful. Some people don’t think they will do whatever they resolve to do, so they don’t bother. Others make an attempt and fail so they stop making them. Others fail and still make them anyway, hoping that this year might be different.

Whether or not you make resolutions isn’t really important. What’s important is decision making. Before you can do anything, you have to decide what you want. You can’t make a plan if you don’t know what you want the plan to work toward, so that has to be first. If you haven’t taken some time to really think about what you want, that should be a priority.

If you actually want to get what you decided upon, you will need a plan. You can’t just want something and not make any effort to figure out how you’re going to get it. And if you’ve tried before and you failed, then you need a different plan. Something has to change. If nothing about you is different, then your plan has to be different in some way.

If you want to stay committed to your plan, there are two things you can do: motivate yourself from outcome and work from purpose.

When it comes to motivation, your brain doesn’t care how much you should be doing something, particularly if it has no interest in whatever that is. If you want a clean house, there’s very little chance you’ll feel motivated to do so by just telling yourself you should clean the house. We “should” do a lot of things we don’t do. That usually doesn’t work. So that’s not attractive motivation.

Think about the result that you want. In my example of house cleaning, the desired result would be a space that feels organized and calm, which makes me feel less stressed, and the air would be fresher from getting rid of dog hair (in my case) and dust, so it would be easier to breathe. I hate dusting and vacuuming, so I don’t want to do that. But I do want to breathe easier and feel good in my space, so I feel motivated to do those activities because they get me what I want.

The brain likes free will, so give it choices. You know this is true because we rarely like being told what to do or what we will get without having any say in it. It’s much more enjoyable to be given options from which to choose. Since the brain is motivated by outcome rather than activity, ask it what it would like to do by giving it activities attached to outcomes. You either don’t do something and one thing happens (or doesn’t), or you do something else and you get another result. The brain will almost always choose the desired outcome, which means it’s also choosing to do the activity that will move you toward that outcome.

Working from purpose gives you the ‘why’ behind your desires. What is the true reason you want something? Whether it’s a better job, or more money, or a skill, or the creation of something – for what or whom are you wanting to do/have it?

If it’s for a better quality of life for yourself, why do you want that – what happens if you have a better quality of life? If it’s for more money, why would more money help you – what would you be able to do if you had more money?

It’s essential that you have a strong ‘why,’ because there will be times when you don’t feel motivated or things are difficult or you experience setbacks. That’s normal, but it can be challenging to reassess your plan if needed and keep going if you don’t have a solid reason for doing so. If you feel like you’re just going through the motions of whatever you’re doing right now, you need to figure out what the ultimate purpose is for you.

Don’t worry about the tradition of making resolutions. It doesn’t matter if you make them or not. The beginning of the year is just a reminder to check in with yourself about what you’re doing and what you want, and to find clarity in that and then make some decisions. But you can do this at any time, and I would encourage you to check in with yourself once a quarter.

Awareness of where you are and where you want to be is what matters. That leads to decision making, and those decisions become catalysts that propel you toward making and executing plans which will move you toward your desires. So check in with yourself and decide what you want. Here’s to a great new year, filled with possibility and exploration!

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