I think we’ll all agree that 2020 has been…different. This year wasn’t like any other year prior; it’s been something most of us never experienced, it changed our lives, it interfered with our plans – whether financially, in terms of our future, or travel-wise.
Naturally, many of our plans fell through because of the pandemic. But this year has also been a great opportunity for learning quite a lot about ourselves. How we react to things that we cannot control and how we approach things that are under your control.
I want to talk about things and goals that are under our control because very often, we use the external factors as an excuse for not doing something, even though that something was in our control.
Do you remember what goals and resolutions you set last January, if any?
How many of them have you actually achieved?
And because the point of this blog (and the podcast, yes there is a podcast!) is being honest, transparent, and share my experience, I’m gonna go first and tell you what my goals for 2020 were:
- #1 Take an exam in English language and get a certificate from level C2
- #2 Learn to play 20 songs on keyboard
- #3 Run 3 times a week
- #4 Go to the gym 3 times a week
- #5 Do yoga 3 times a week (at least)
- #6 Start (and finish) a website coding online course
- #7 Start my side hustle business
You can guess how many of those goals I’ve achieved. If your guess is none, you would do me injustice. I have, after all, achieved ONE goal – I’ve been running 3x a week (even though not every single week), somewhat consistently.
I also may give myself a little bit of credit for working out at home during the very first lockdown in spring.
Other than that, I haven’t stuck to any of those resolutions – I definitely didn’t take the English language exam, because I used the current pandemic situation as an excuse. I told myself who knows whether there even will be a chance to take such exam, so why bother studying now.
I haven’t learned to play a single song on my keyboard, I haven’t done yoga 3 times a week, and I definitely didn’t finish the website coding course.
And the same applies to the rest of the goals – some of them I’ve tried and failed, some of them I haven’t tried at all.
On the other hand, there are things I’ve accomplished and habits I’ve started to build, and they have nothing to do with New Year’s resolutions.
And I’m not sharing this with you to make you laugh (although some of my goals were pretty ridiculous) but mostly to show that setting up New Year’s resolution is pointless if don’t have any actual interest in achieving them, and if you’re just setting them for the sake of setting New Year’s resolutions.
Why we set New Year’s resolutions?
When things are coming to an end (a year included) we tend to ruminate on everything that has (and hasn’t) happened during the past 12 months.
Reflecting on things is a great way to appreciate the good that happened, cherries memories we made, people we met (even online!) and part ways with the bad that happened that we didn’t really hoped for, but that made us stronger helped us grow.
But too often we focus on all the things we haven’t done, and haven’t experienced, and haven’t accomplished.
Naturally, we want to believe that next year, it will all be different. We believe that we will finally change that one thing about ourselves that we don’t like; we believe we will finally take that step we’ve been dreading of, we will finally achieve what’ve been postponing for so long.
Yeah, it may happen, but if it hasn’t happened this year, and maybe not even the last year or year before, how is this year going to be different? Or more precisely, what are YOU going to do differently this year?
I’m someone who’s been setting New Year’s resolution ever since I was a kid and understood that it’s something people tend to set on New Year. It does sound magical, indeed, being so mature and ambitious, quitting the bad and starting the new.
The truth is, I’ve never stuck to a New Year’s resolution longer than 2 weeks.
And according to U.S. News & World Report, I’m not alone. Around 80% of people fail their New Year’s resolutions within February. (1)
Reading those numbers and knowing 80% of us fail makes me think, why the heck do we still keep setting New Year’s resolutions? Probably because we believe, this time, it’s going to be different, this time, you won’t give up like you did last year, and this time, you’re going to stick to your resolutions.
Many of us probably see the New Year, specially January 1st as a fresh start, as a new opportunity to change, freed from the past.
But when we wake up on January 1st, except feeling sick either from the alcohol, or the amount of food we ate last, or from going to bed so late, nothing really changes; everything feels the same.
The truth is every day, every minute, you can make such decision and make a change, and you don’t need January 1st for that. But I feel like we’ve learned to use New Year as an excuse to postpone whatever it is we want for later.
Why? We postpone our duties from today to tomorrow, for our future self; because we simply don’t feel like doing them today. We believe (or pretend to believe) that our future self will do everything tomorrow.
I’m not against setting goals for yourself, not at all, I love setting new goals. But what I am against is setting goals because you feel pressured to, because you feel someone else is setting them, so you feel like you should probably set them too, and setting goals without even knowing why you’re setting them in the first place.
Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Last
As I’ve said before, I’m not against setting goals, I love setting goals, and I honestly believe they are extremely important.
Also, if you’re among the few lucky ones who actually stick to New Year’s resolutions, great for you, do whatever works best for you!
But I’m one of those people who used to set New Year’s resolutions every single year, and failed 99.9 % of those years.
And according to different studies, most people don’t stick to their resolutions either.
I think New Year’s are bullshit. Honestly.
There are plenty of reasons why I think so and why I think New Year’s resolutions simply don’t work.
#1 You DON’T need January 1st to change something
I think we wait for January 1st because we think we need to wait for the right time and right moment to start something. The biggest mistake? Postponing something for later, instead of starting right now.
Deep down, we all know we don’t need January 1st, or next Monday, or next week, or next month to start (or stop) something. You already have everything you need to start – YOU.
You already have everything you need to start – YOU.
So we wait, patiently, for January 1st to come, to finally kick off our dreams, even when it finally comes…then what? How is it different from any other day of the year? If I told you January 1st was today, would anything change for you? Would you, all of the sudden, feel more motivated, excited, and determined to work on something?
This is a great way to filter your New Year’s resolutions. Make clear what you want to start on January 1st, let’s say you want to read 20 pages every single day. Instead of waiting for the New Year, go and start doing it today. Will you do that?
Sadly, most of us won’t, because we don’t feel ready yet, we’re not in the mood for that, we don’t have time for that.
If you find yourself coming up with an excuse after an excuse why you CAN’T start now, you’re most likely not going to start on January 1st, and even if you will, you most probably will give up really quickly, because you don’t want it that much.
#2 We set goals and we don’t even know why
Many times, we set goals because we feel like we finally should do something, change something, build something.
Even more often, we set a goal because we see other people setting goals.
We just throw it in there – for example, this year I wanna start going to the gym; or this year, I wanna read more books; or I wanna travel more.
The reason why we should be setting a goal, at least what I think, is because we want to change something, improve something, because we believe it will make us happier.
New Year especially is the time when so many people set a goal because they feel the pressure to. Common goals are “losing weight” or “going to the gym”. And there’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what YOU really want.
But there’s a lot wrong with it if you set such goal because you felt pressured to or because you hate the way you look and you believe losing weight will make you happier.
Do you really wanna do it or do you feel obligated to / you’re supposed to want it?
Few weeks ago, I’ve read a quote from Steven Bartlett on Instagram saying that social media makes us think and believe that we probably should be someone else, somewhere else, and doing something else.
Whatever goal you’re setting up for yourself, make sure it’s something YOU really want. Don’t set goals because you saw someone, somewhere having it or doing something you think you probably should want as well.
When setting a goal – any kind of goal, at any given time – knowing why you’re setting that goal it in the first place is crucial.
Knowing WHY you want to do something, WHY you want to change something, WHY you want to start doing something, or on the contrary stop doing something is extremely important in order to stick to wherever you decided to do.
Motivation and the initial excitement will fade really quickly, and all you’ll be left with will be your reason WHY. And if you don’t have such reason, it will be much easier to come with excuses why NOT rather that why yes.
Take every goal you have in mind, put in on a piece of paper, and try to come up with a serious reason why. It’s perfect way how to filter out all the goals that are not really that important to you, goals that you set only because you thought you should, and goals that maybe you’re not ready for yet.
#3 We set unrealistic goals
Although a whole year is a freaking long time, there’s only so much you can do. Some changes take a long time, especially breaking habits that weren’t adopted overnight.
I’m actually an expert in setting unrealistic goals; even if I’d have all the time in the world on my hands, I still wouldn’t be able to manage all the goals I set.
I’ve mentioned this in one of my podcast episodes, but when it comes to setting goals, I tend to overlook vital factors: having only so many free hours in a day, having energy to do something, not being able to live like a machine 24/7 without any fluctuations and emotions.
Habits are difficult to break (but not impossible), and neither does building a new habit happen overnight.
During the New Year especially, we tend to go crazy when it comes to setting goals and set 10, 20, or maybe even 50 of them.
When we think of our goals, I believe many of us think of the amazing feeling we’ll have once we reach our goal. The problem is, when planning, in our minds the path towards those goals is pretty straightforward.
We don’t think about (nor we can really plan) the obstacles, failed attempts, lack of energy, and those days when things get hard and we’d much rather just give up and call it a day.
I’m all about dreaming big, but if you’re just starting out or if you previously struggled with setting goals, I’d say start small.
If you want to get into running, don’t aim for “I’m gonna run a marathon by the end of the year”, but rather learn how to be consistent with running and turn it into a habit.
Add on gradually, as you progress. Don’t go overboard, and don’t set yourself for failure by setting goals that are unrealistic and unachievable.
Set goals that are challenging, but smaller at the same time so you know you can reach them.
The compound effect seems too little and too insignificant at the beginning, but that’s actually what make a difference.
#4 We don’t make time for them
If you’re anything like me, you set a goal and you’re like “Okay, so this week, I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna start working on XYZ”.
But then, on Monday, you come home feeling too tired to do anything. The next day you need to deal with an emergency situation so you don’t work on that XYZ either. On Wednesday, you hang out with a friend, on Thursday you have a chill night in with your boo, and on the other days, you just simply forget. When Sunday evening comes, you’re ruminating and wondering what the hell happened.
I’ve learned the hard way that unless you make time for things you want to do, you won’t do them.
I wanted to do a podcast for a long time, but when I set a goal to write an episode, I’d end up doing nothing at all.
But once I started to set a goal to write a podcast episode on Monday from 7 PM to 9 PM, all of the sudden, I had a clear vision and structure of what I need to do and when.
I truly believe the only reason why I was able to stick to running was because I made the time for it. I set specific days when I wanted to go for a run, three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning.
Once I’ve done that, it was much easier to actually go for that run, and in few weeks, I got used to it, and my mind was like – Monday, it’s a running day, Tuesday, it’s a rest day, and so on.
And then, once I’d skip a day, it actually felt weird, because my mind was already used to it.
I admit it took me years (literally) to learn that things just don’t happen by writing them on the to-do list. You must put the work in, and you need to make the time for them.
If you wait to do something until you’ll feel like it, you’re most probably not going to do it.
#5 Our goals are too general
If your goal is to go to the gym more often, travel more, or learn to speak Spanish, how exactly do you plan on achieving that goal?
If you think of tasks you have at work, you’d probably say they are usually as specific as possible, they have a clear deadline, and they are usually (although not always) part of something bigger, some bigger project, campaign, or vision.
For example: prepare an email newsletter for December by Friday, as a part of our 2020 Holiday Campaign.
The good old Parkinson’s Law applies even to your goals – they’ll take as much time as you allocate for them. If you have a week to finish your project, it will take you a week. If you have a year, it will take you a year. And if you have a lifetime to fulfil your dreams, chances are you’ll never reach them.
Unless you specify what you want, how you’re gonna do it, when you’re gonna do it, and what should be the outcome, it will be really really hard to turn those dreams into reality.
I know it sucks – it’s not super fun to be analyzing your goals from left to right, splitting them into super small tasks and coming up with clear timeline.
I hate doing that too. But I’ve realized that it’s the only way how you can actually achieve a goal.
If your goal is too general, you won’t know what steps you should take, in what order, why, and what should be the outcome.
Plus, if you split your goals into few smaller ones, they’ll suddenly seems less dreading, and it’s once again bit easier to achieve them.
#6 We give up too quickly
When we start something new, when we start working on our goal, it’s usually pretty exciting; we feel motivated and we cannot wait to reap the first results of our hard work.
But often times, most of the times, the results won’t come as quickly as we hoped. We only see a small, almost insignificant change, if any, and we start to doubt – am I doing it right? Should I work harder? Am I even doing the right thing?
The more we doubt, the more demotivated we feel. The less motivated we are, the closer we are to giving up.
And that’s why it’s so important to:
- 1) know your why – know why you’re doing what you’re doing; motivation comes and goes, and I’d say it’s like 1% of the success. It doesn’t really do much. I get motivated and I lose motivation 50 times a day. What makes a difference is being consistent. Knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing will help you to keep going when you start to question whether you should keep going in the first place.
- 2) take a small step every day, rather than a big jump here and there. If you focus on doing a small change every single day, you’ll have something to celebrate and feel proud of every single day; which will give you courage to keep going.
- 3) get ready that old habits are tough to break. I don’t have much advice on this other than tricking your mind a little bit. When dealing with binge eating disorder, I had a hard time breaking the binge eating habits, because I’ve strengthened them every single day for so many years; so I started to play little “tricks” on my mind. I’d change the place where I’d normally binge for a different place – instead of carrying the food to my bedroom, where I’d normally binge, I started to eat in the living room and in the kitchen. It felt weird and uncomfortable, and it saved me from many binges.
Another example how to “trick” your mind is setting whatever you need to do for specific days and times. I knew the only time I could go for a run was in the morning, because later I’d need to leave for work, and when I’d get back home, it would be dark outside. Knowing that played a little trick on my mind, and helped me to get myself through many mornings when I felt like sleeping in.
One more example can be studying or writing a thesis or an essay – as a procrastinator, I’ve struggled with that SO badly, so I’ve started with a modification of the pomodoro technique – doing something for 10 minutes, then taking a break. It may not seem much, but at the end of the day, it was better doing something for 10 minutes rather than not doing anything at all. It was also harder to quit once you got into it, and I’d usually keep going long after the 10-minute goal has passed.
Doing these little “tricks” on yourself is obviously not the best solution, but it can help you to get through the hardest parts when building a new / breaking an old habit.
Whether you’re a New Year’s resolutions fan or whether you’re more sceptical, know that setting goals can be a great thing, if you set them because you want to, and because you know why you’re setting them in the first place.
If this time of the year is stressful for you, and you feel like you’ve failed by not reaching your New Year’s resolutions in 2020, think of this as an opportunity to remind yourself that you don’t need January 1st to start something new or to change something old – you can start right here, right now.
Last but not least, I hope that one goal will make it onto your goal list (at any time of the year), and that’s to be kinder to yourself, and to make the self-love journey your priority (but only if you know why, wink wink).
(1) LUCIANI, Joseph. Why 80 Percent of New Year’s Resolutions Fail. U.S. News & World Report. 2015. Available at: https://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/articles/2015-12-29/why-80-percent-of-new-years-resolutions-fail
(2) CAPRINO, Kathy. The Top 3 Reasons New Year’s Resolutions Fail And How Yours Can Succeed. Forbes. 2019. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kathycaprino/2019/12/21/the-top-3-reasons-new-years-resolutions-fail-and-how-yours-can-succeed/?sh=4fe03caf6992