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…and why you should approach your New Year’s Resolutions with caution.
Every year since we were in high school, three of my best friends and I get together in person or virtually around New Year’s. This is a chance to connect and reflect and we always spend time sharing our New Year’s Resolutions for the upcoming year. In the past, sometimes I’ve come to these sessions fully armed with my perfectly crafted New Year’s resolutions. And other times I show up without a clear idea. I have a couple of vague notions, but I’m hoping that inspiration will hit me the moment it’s my turn to share.
While the four of us have a lot in common, our resolutions can vary wildly. From the style of them (super specific tactical goals to general phrases of intention) to the content of them (daily habits to big hairy audacious goals), each of us brings what we need that year to the table and I furiously scribble them down in my journal, memorializing the event.
Sometimes when I have had a less clear vision of my own resolutions, I hear one of my friends’ and am tempted to steal it. Either it’s something they’ve phrased exquisitely or it’s something that sounds so appealing, I can’t help but have an “oh I want that too” kind of response. Inspiration is one of the gifts that comes from my friendships with these women, but I’ve learned to stop myself before I jump on the bandwagon of taking on someone else’s resolution.
Maybe you share your resolutions with friends and family as well. Or maybe someone you follow on Instagram or you’re in a Facebook group with has shared some resolutions that sound very appealing to you. Especially if you haven’t put much time into thinking about your goals yet, you might be thinking – “Oh great! That sounds like a good resolution, let me scribble that down and I am good to go. 2020 here I come!”.
If you’re in this situation, listen to me carefully: Close your laptop and put down your pen.
Copying someone else’s New Year’s Resolution has two possible outcomes:
- You don’t care enough about the resolution and so you aren’t able to stick to it, leaving it in the graveyard of your abandoned New Year’s Resolutions
- You do stick to it, contributing substantial amounts of time and energy towards it, only to find you were pursuing someone else’s goal, not your own.
Approach New Year’s Resolutions with caution:
When you are doing them right, goals should be approached with caution. Think of them like you would one of your three wishes from a genie in a bottle. Surely you wouldn’t choose a wish just because someone else said it and it sounded fun, right? You would really take your time to think about what your three wishes were. You want them to be the most important three things to help you live your best life. New Year’s resolutions should be the same. If you actually stick to them (which you may or may not believe you will), they can have a major transformational power in your life.
Your vision of transformation can and should be very different from someone else’s. And while there are many goals and resolutions that sound good and appealing, your job is to determine if they support your desired transformation. If they don’t, then they’re distractions.
So while “Save money to buy a house” probably sounds like a good resolution to most people, if your deeper desire for the upcoming year to start a business (which often requires some upfront cash), it’s going to be hard for these two things to be compatible with each other. You’ll start out trying to pursue both at the same time, which will likely take away your success in either area.
Your Unique Strategy
In the business world, there’s a concept that good business strategy is very difficult to replicate. This is because when a company develops a strategy, it means they are committing to a series of choices that are very specific to achieving that strategy. These choices aren’t always the obvious choices and they come with trade-offs. For example, Southwest’s commitment to low-cost airline tickets means that Southwest does not have first-class and other “luxury perks” that many other airlines offer. Instead of imitating what others were doing, Southwest’s success has come from setting a clear direction and making decisions that support that direction.
I think this same concept applies to individuals. When we see the success that others have, it is easy to want to copy them so you can have the same success. But hidden beneath that success is a whole bunch of choices that they made, that may or may not be choices that you are willing to make. So you are much better off really thinking about your own unique vision of success that is most meaningful to you and what choices and tradeoffs you are willing to make to support that.
Look for Internal Clarity
Because there are an infinite amount of resolutions you could pursue, before committing to anything, start with some internal reflection before looking for outside inspiration. Some questions to ask yourself include:
- What is going really well in your life right now?
- What do you want to create more of?
- If anything was possible, where do you see yourself in one year?
- What activities light you up and energize you the most?
Your answers to these questions should start to clarify your priorities for the upcoming year. If you’re not sure what to do, the simplest approach is to do more of what you love and less of what you don’t like. I find it useful to identify my core values, which I can then use as a guideline for future decisions that I make throughout the year.
Evaluate Possible Resolutions
Once you have internal clarity, you can now start thinking about possible goals, resolutions, and actions that help support that personal vision. When evaluating possible resolutions, ask yourself the following questions:
- In an ideal world, where do I see myself in one year?
- Does successful completion of this goal help support that vision?
- What amount of time and effort is needed for that goal?
- Do I have the space in my life to make room for it and if not, what am I willing to let go of in order to make this happen?
Your Unique New Year’s Resolutions
Once you’ve worked your way through these steps, you should have a better idea of what you might want to commit to in the upcoming year. My challenge to you at this point is to take that list and cut it down to three key New Year’s resolutions. This is probably going to feel painful. You’ve worked hard on your list and it only contains things that you’re excited about. So letting go of anything on the list is going to feel really difficult. I encourage you to lean into that discomfort and do it anyway.
There is a story about Warren Buffet giving life advice to his pilot. He told him to make a list of 25 things that he would like to do in his life. Then he asked him to circle the top five most important things on the list. He then told him those top five things were to be his priority moving forward and the 20 remaining things should go on his “Avoid at All Costs” list until the first five were completed.
When I first heard this story, I had an attack of anxiety and started questioning if I was doing the right things and making the right decisions. When trying to narrow down my own lists, I felt trapped and paralyzed by trying to make the perfect choice.
But here’s the deal:
There really isn’t a perfect choice to make. Everything is changeable.
You’ve already been thoughtful about what you have put on your list. This step is to narrow your focus so you can fully commit to what you want to do. If you go all in and find out later that you don’t like the choice you made, you can absolutely change it. But you won’t be able to find that out if you don’t make some kind of choice. And you may actually find it freeing to have only three things to focus on!
So be brave and thoughtful and narrow your list to three key resolutions.
If you’ve read this far, you are in great shape to create resolutions and actions that support your unique strategy. Your internal clarity will help you to avoid the temptation of copying others and keep you focused on what matters most to you throughout the year. Share in the comments below your three key resolutions so I can cheer you on this year!