I think I was about 10 year’s old, having failed to give up my Super Nintendo for Lent, that I first realised I just don’t have the willpower for grandiose personal betterment. And I’m pretty sure that I’ve never succeeded at a New Year’s resolution: the ultimate way to set yourself up for personal failure.
I’m not alone in this. According to research by Statistic Brain, only 9% of people say they feel like they are successful in achieving their New Year’s resolutions1.
Well, 27 years of failing to keep a New Year’s resolution is enough for me. So I’m trying some new tactics.
Making my goals bite-sized
I normally set resolutions that are either big or non-specific. Things like “learn to play piano” or “give up alcohol for the year” (ha!). My guess is they are too big, or too vague, so I can’t keep track of whether I’m making any progress.
My goals for 2018 are grounded in countable things that I can update regularly, to give myself a sense of progress. The countable things are small enough that they will change frequently, but big enough that they’re actually worth tracking.
I think the prevailing consensus is that you should only make one New Year’s resolution; because it should be big, and you should really focus on it. Knowing me and my attention span, that seems a bit daft. When I inevitably fuck it up, it’s game over. So I’ve set multiple goals, just in case one of them goes irreparably off-course.
I am also, regrettably, only human, and so I have considered optimism bias. I will fail in achieving some of my goals, and that’s OK. To account for this, I have set deliberately over-stretching goals, and aim to achieve 80% of them overall. If one goal falls short, but another overshoots, at least that way I can say I’ll have achieved something overall.
Making myself accountable
I’m sharing my goals publicly, because making things open makes things better2. By publishing my goals, I make myself accountable. Hopefully someone - probably my mum - will hold me to account for doing what I said I would and make me stick to my resolutions.
I’ve built a little dashboard that I’m going to update near the end of each month to say how I’m doing against my goals.
Will it work?
I have very little belief that these tactics will help me to actually achieve anything on the list. I’m fickle, and I’ll probably forget I even made them by the end of January.
The way I’m approaching these goals is at least rooted in practices that do work for other things: like performance management. I’ll let you know in 2019 if I totally failed.
Or more accurately, of the 58% of American respondents who said they usually or infrequently make resolutions, 9.2% claimed they felt they were successful. We can only assume this was in response to a survey conducted by the Statistic Brain Research Institute. ↩︎