Resolutions Are Stupid, Here’s Why

As we start a new year, you’ll see many people setting resolutions—perhaps you are too. Although well-meaning, what’s going to happen in the coming weeks and months? Your resolutions are going to fail because they aren’t set up for lasting change.

I recently read another blog on this topic that suggested New Year’s Resolutions would not fail if we thought of them as intentions, not resolutions. Here’s the problem: Changing the name doesn’t get to the heart of why, regardless of what you call them, resolutions fail. In this blog, I promise to give you a new perspective on the process of change.

The Fantasy of a Clean Slate

While the calendar turns a page and starts fresh, that doesn’t mean that you do. And problems arise when you don’t see that. You feel inspired by the promise of a new year and feel like you have a clean slate with which to work from. You’ve got a fresh start. A chance to do the things you know you ought to do but haven’t been able to yet. The intent is great, but it’s not accurate and it’s not conducive to lasting improvement. Why?

While starting a New Year might feel like you wiped the slate clean, you have the same “Inchworm” on January 1st that you had the day before. For those not familiar with Inchworm, let me explain.

Progress doesn’t just happen all at once. You improve in stages. Your progress, regardless of what you are trying to improve, is modeled by a small caterpillar called an inchworm that moves in a distinctive way.

Imagine the head of the inchworm is you at your best. The middle part is your average level of performance, and your worst is at the backend. Another way to think about the different levels of your capacity is to use a structure common in sports: A-game, B-game and C-game. The front of your Inchworm is your A-game, the middle is your B-game, and the backend is your C-game.

Resolutions fail because you believe your C-game, or the backend of the Inchworm, is suddenly gone. You have the false belief that your C-game has been wiped clean and you don’t have to think about it anymore. You may also believe you can count on your A-game to show up every day, which is a false belief all on its own. You have to earn your A-game, it’s not a given.

So what happens?

You start the year with a lot of motivation, inspiration and desire to change your diet, get fit, improve your execution in trading or poker, or whatever resolutions you set. But since your C-game is still firmly planted where it was on December 31st, it lurks in the background.

Eventually, once the inspiration starts to fade, or something throws you off, the gravitational force of C-game pulls you down and causes a host of issues. You either give up because the momentum is gone and you’ve already failed to live up to what you intended, or you try again but continue to get tripped up until you eventually give up.

So resolutions are stupid.

A Better Question

The question you should be asking is not “what is my resolution,” but “why haven’t I already achieved it?” Let’s face it—resolutions are typically not brand-new ideas that you’ve suddenly realized are important. Instead, they are areas of your personal or work life that you’ve tried for a while to improve and you are using the motivation of a new year to try again.

If you really want to make a change, what you need to do is look at your C-game and understand what’s holding you back. Write out why you haven’t improved already, define what’s tripping you up, and make a plan that addresses each of the things you’ve found.

What you’re most likely going to find are reasons that are more complex than your current inspiration would have you believe, but hopefully not so complex that change feels unattainable. And you may have to accept that the process is going to be messier and take longer than you expect.

That’s the reality that most of you face. Embrace it or it’ll take you far longer to actually get there.

Set Goals Instead

So if you aren’t making resolutions, what should you be doing? Setting goals.

There is a difference between a resolution and a goal. Resolutions are top-line and focused only on results. It’s a blindly optimistic way of trying to achieve something. Then when momentum is disrupted, everything goes awry.

Goal setting, on the other hand, define a realistic process for achieving the results while also identifying what’s going to derail you. For many of you this last step is the most important step. If you think your goals will be achieved easily and without any problems, you’re either overconfidence or not setting your sights high enough.

Listen—I’m all for harnessing any motivation you are feeling in the new year. But you need to focus that energy in a way that will lead to lasting change. For help with your 2022 goals, you can download this new Goal Setting worksheet

If you’d like to get feedback on your goals, send them to me here and I will select a handful and provide feedback on my next Office Hours on January 19th, 2022.

Written by Jared Tendler

January 10, 2022

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