Happy 2022 everyone!
Every year, at this time of year, millions of people make resolutions about what they want to achieve in the year to come. I’m one of them.
I enjoy the process of reviewing the last year, settling on some goals for the new year, and planning how I might meet them. This year, though, I’m going to try a new approach.
My usual routine is to set some specific goals, on the principle that if you don’t have a target how are you going to know if you’ve hit it, eh? So, a typical year might see me setting resolutions like:
- Complete Project X at work
- Write and publish a book on how to fight limerence
- Lose belly fat and get a six pack
- Learn video editing
These are fairly broad aims (so some wriggle room for how to achieve them), but they are also focused on specific objectives that can definitely be measured: was the book published, yes or no?
It’s also important to set goals that are within my control, so I don’t fail due to random factors of fate. If I had set the goal “I will write and publish a New York Times bestseller”, it would have been ambitious for sure, but also setting myself up for failure. I could do everything within my power to achieve that goal but still not succeed. So, there are some strengths to this approach, but there are also a couple of obvious downsides.
The downsides of goals
First, goals are typically about things rather than personal values. It’s more a list of stuff I want to get done, than a list of ways that I resolve to improve. Too many goals can lead to frenetic periods of activity in which I try to tick off lots in a short space of time, and end up doing a bad job and/or burning out.
Second, goals are constrained. While it’s good to have specific goals that you know you’ve achieved and can tick off with a satisfying dopamine-hit of mental reward for a job well done, that is also the end of the goal. You’re done. You can set a new goal and start over, but the temptation would be to just relax and enjoy your constrained success.
Goals can also lead to blinkered thinking. If you get hung up on the immediate goal, you can lose sight of the larger ambition. Say you set the goal “I will lose 10 pounds this year,” you can miss the point that the actual goal is to improve your levels of health and fitness. You could eat healthily and exercise more, and lose 8 pounds. Is that a failure? Or you could crash diet and lose 12 pounds. Is that a success?
So, this year I came to the realisation that I would do better to set resolutions that are focused on behaviours rather than endpoints.
Success as an emergent property
What I’m driving at here is that any achievement, any successful execution of a goal, actually depends more on the willingness to do the labour rather than on identifying the correct goal. Success emerges from the behaviour that leads to purposeful activity, and so focusing on the behaviour is the most powerful way to effect change.
This reframing also has the benefit of making the resolution unconstrained. To stick with the book writing theme, a resolution like: “I will write every day” is a behavioural objective, not a goal-based objective. Meeting the resolution is likely to result in the successful production of a book, but it can continue after that milestone has been met. You might end the year with two books.
To get more sophisticated still, you can incorporate the desired outcome into the behavioural objective. “I will write every day, to improve the quality of my writing.”
I don’t just want to write anything (such as a shopping list) – I want to write well. Deliberate practice of the craft is necessary for real success.
With this change of perspective, it becomes easier to identify the personal changes needed to live a more purposeful life. Not only can you figure out what needs to be done, but you can also figure out what habits are holding you back.
With that in mind, this year I am resolving to work on the keystone habits that have the biggest impact on productivity. The thinking is that if I succeed in these resolutions, I should have the energy, motivation and time to meet all my goals. These are the habits that I’ve neglected in the last year and have held me back. So, for a dash of social accountability, I’m going to share them with the LwL community to help keep me honest and prevent any lapses into “well, that one was more of an aspiration than a resolution”.
Dr L’s 2022 resolutions:
- I will go to bed at a consistent time and get up at a consistent time, to improve my sleep patterns
- I will exercise every day
- I will write every day, to improve the quality of my writing
- When I feel stressed, I will do something healthy or constructive
- I will rest at the weekends and focus on family life
Those are my priorities. Let’s see if I can keep them up all year.
Good luck to everyone else who is embarking on 2022 with a plan for self-improvement. Feel free to share your own resolutions in the comments.