December 28, 2015

The Benefit of Making Resolutions (Even If You Don’t Keep Them)

I’ve been getting pretty excited about New Year’s, and specifically, the opportunity to set some new goals for myself. Sure, you can set goals anytime, but there’s something extra fun about the fresh start that January 1st provides. However, Amy Cuddy, the psychologist popularly known for her TED Talk on power poses, had an interesting piece on Saturday about why your New Year’s resolutions might do more harm than good. Specifically, she talks about how setting unreasonable goals can lower your self-esteem. I agree that a too-high goal can do that… but I still don’t think the shoot-for-the-moon approach is a bad one.

Well, except that it’s a metaphor that has no scientific basis. Way to be a downer, Dwight!

If you “shoot for the moon” and go into a goal knowing that it’s a stretch, and then you don’t get all the way there? Just go easy on yourself and give yourself credit for what you do accomplish. This year, I set a goal of watching one TED talk every day. My goal ended up petering out mid-spring, but comments from readers helped me remember that even watching a few TED talks a month is a great way for me to learn new things. So, I’m happy with the 180 or so TED talks I did watch. A 50% success rate isn’t bad, and I learned a lot more than I would have if I hadn’t set a goal at all.

One thing that Cuddy didn’t discuss when it comes to a pitfall of New Year’s resolutions is how your goals might change over time. (I touched on the topic of iterative goals a bit in April.) I had originally set a resolution this year to host people at my house at least once a week. But then I started dating Adam in February and traveling to Arizona every weekend, and in August, I started working in Dallas and traveling there four days a week. When I’m only home five or so nights a month, I spend a lot of that time doing laundry, packing, and taking care of other necessities before taking off again – so that doesn’t leave me many free nights! But in spite of all that, I’m really happy with how often I did get to host people, even if it wasn’t every week, and I now feel pretty confident in having people over last minute for an impromptu gathering – so I’d count this goal as a success. There is definitely more of that to come in 2016, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Speaking of awesome things that lie ahead: I’m off work all this week, and the freedom is intoxicating. I have actually done a fairly good job of not checking my work email (much), and I’ve really been enjoying my free time. Plus, I’m finally getting to some projects I’ve been putting off for a while. Last night I started the laborious process of reupholstering all my dining chairs, and I finally finished that tonight. It has taken a lot longer than I thought, and I’m thrilled to get to check it off my list!

Very proud of my work! The fabric is a cream colored damask – very simple.

Other tasks on deck for this vacation: assembling new shelving for my closet, cleaning out my closet, assembling a bookshelf for my basement, and boxing up all my Christmas decorations. It is such a treat to be home long enough to get all this house stuff done! And on Friday, I’ll be putting my house to good use by hosting a lazy New Year’s day get together for my friends and neighbors. Food, drinks, and TV while lounging around in pajamas… I can’t wait.

PJ Party
I’ve thrown a pajama party once before… clearly my entertaining style has not evolved to be very formal 😉

In truth, though, I like hosting all kinds of events, formal and informal; this is just my attempt to copy an amazing “Pauly Shore Film Festival” party that my friend Jill threw a few weeks ago. She put out sandwiches and movie candy, plus had plenty of drinks on hand, and we had a blast! Plus, since Adam and I didn’t want to host a New Year’s Eve party, this was a perfect excuse to have people come over and hang out on a day when they probably wouldn’t have plans anyway. I’ve decided to mix things up a bit and host the party in my basement rather than my main floor – we’ll see if that ends up being a success.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with how my goals have evolved over the last year, and I have a lot of ideas for next year’s goals too. While shooting for the moon worked for me this year in that I still got a lot of the benefits of the goals I was striving for, I know that I’ll push myself a lot harder if I give myself a realistic goal. Cuddy’s right that if your goal is unrealistic, it sets you up for failure and make it that much harder to stick to the process.

Furthermore, I think part of why so many New Year’s resolutions fail is because they fall from being top of mind. One solution to that issue is to only pick a goal that you really want, but the other is to keep things fresh by adjusting your goals and taking on new ones as you reprioritize. Sure, your goals can’t be as big if you’re working on them for a shorter duration, but small changes can add up to a very big result, and still give you a lot of benefits! Plus, just because something isn’t your main goal doesn’t mean you can’t still continue to strive for it – it just might not be quite as high on your list.

So for 2016, I’m thinking of going back to the challenge approach I used a few years ago, which is also something I’ve loved reading about on other blogs. (See: Zen Habits and A Life of Productivity, two of my favorites.) I’m not sure yet if I’m going to go with a month or just a week or two for my 2016 challenges, but I’ll let you know.

And in the meantime, I’m going to keep tackling the little tasks around here. Happy Monday!


6 thoughts on “The Benefit of Making Resolutions (Even If You Don’t Keep Them)”

  1. Thanks for the Zen Habits link. I like that path, and look forward to reading more of his posts. Happy New Year, and great to see you. Hopefully soon we will have some time to have a better conversation –parties are very distracting. Take care!

  2. It always bothers me when people say “why should I make any resultions on the first of the year!? I need to be better all the time!” That always felt like such a cop-out. That said, I really need to think of some good resolutions of my own – I honestly can’t think of any that I could do (because I’m perfect, obvs).

    Seriously though, I’m a huge fan of setting goals like that. Maybe I could try to read the paper version of movies more. That seems realistic?

  3. I like the idea of goals rolling throughout the year rather than a bunch of resolutions in January. I might try putting stuff in my Google calendar to remind me of goals later in the year when it’s more realistic (like, a trail run longer than 26 miles in the mountains isn’t going to happen until June at the earliest 😉 ).

    1. That’s a great way to do it! I am watching a webinar right now that is all about scheduling your goals into your calendar so you don’t miss them. (PS – congrats on the Green Mountain run today and your total vertical gain for the year!)

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