Every January 1st, we feel the pressure of creating our resolutions in the hopes we will drastically change our lives by the end of the year. Unfortunately, those resolutions rarely pan out. Which leads to a vicious cycle of thoughts:
“I need to improve”
“I’ve got a plan for improvement”
“I feel good improving”
“I’m getting tired”
“I can’t keep up this pace”
“I give up”
“I am a mess”
“I need to improve”
Now, that wonderful phrase “I give up” has reared its ugly head to many of us more than once. It is so common that there is a National Quitter’s Day on the third Sunday of January (2021’s NQD is tomorrow!). There is one simple way to combat this, however: Don’t make any resolutions! Resolutions can be a harmful activity as we may only be setting ourselves up for disappointment. Instead, focus on who you are and what habits prove that. There’s a subtle difference here, so let me explain.
Getting Your Mind Right
Before we start setting up our habits trackers and milestones, there is one other big step we need to take. Sure, you can find endless articles on how to create good habits, but the one thing you cannot fix is your mindset. Our mentality towards ourselves is the ultimate determinant of success. Before doing your planning, you need to be honest about who you are and who you are not. The best way to do this is to create “I am” statements.
An “I am” statement is exactly what it sounds like: You state who you are. (In this case, we are stating who we need to start acting like). Your previous resolutions are not you because you have not tied them to your identity. By just making a resolution, you allow yourself an out (ex. “Lose 30 lbs? Who am I kidding! I am not a gym rat.”). By making your resolution part of your identity, you tie it to a much deeper part of yourself (ex.”I enjoy workouts because that’s the kind of person I am“).
If there is an area we could be better at, create an “I am” statement for that area like the ones below:
I am a charitable person
I am focused on family
I am a positive person
Here’s how I put this into practice: Even before Queen’s Gambit hit our screens, I enjoyed playing chess. However, I am not as good as I aim to be. Right now, I am a rated 1264 player on Chess.com. This makes me essentially a beginner, with more professional players rated at 1800 and the best players rated above 2500. Magnus Carlsen – the top-ranked player in the world – is currently rated at 2862. Now, I am not looking to dethrone Mr. Carlsen, but I could sure be better. If I made the resolution to be – let’s say – a rated 2000 player, I would think of all the ways to boost that rating. I might force myself through hurdles such as getting an instructor, forcing myself to practice, and even force myself to read chess books. Instead, if I change my mentality from “I want to become a rated 2000 chess player” to “I am a rated 2000 chess player”, something happens in my brain. I am not forcing myself to do something. I believe I am already there, and I just need to act like it. If my actions do not align with identity, I am either being dishonest with myself, or this is not who I truly am or what I truly care about. It’s a slight twist of words, but it is a cosmic mind-shift.
“I want to be a better cook”
I have to force myself to cook more, buy a bunch of books, and take a class.
“I am a great cook!
I am happy to cook more, watch videos, and learn more about cooking.
For those of you who want to learn more about these “I am” statements, James Clear’s blog has a great write-up on this.
Habit-Hacking Your Goals
As I mentioned before, goal-setting can actually be a harmful and wasteful activity. Instead, try setting up systems of habits. Setting up a system of habits and actually implementing them is more likely to get you to where you want to be over any goal-setting session.
Let me highlight the difference. Here are two examples:
Resolution: I want to lose 30 lbs.
Habit Planning: I am going to walk for 15 minutes a day
Resolution: I want to write my novel by the end of the year.
Habit Planning: I am going to write for 10 minutes every morning.
Even if you set the goal “I am going to write a novel by the end of the year by writing every morning”, the last part of that sentence is seen as an afterthought. If we flip it around and say “By writing every morning, I am going to write a novel”, it focuses our mind on the action that will get us to the goal. The goal is not an action. It is an end. Also, what happens when we reach the goal? Do we just stop? By focusing on the habit – and not its goal – you will yield many more results (multiple novels?!) than if you only focused on that single goal.
Do This Today
My proposal for you and this year is a simple 3-step process, which you could do right now:
- Drop all of your resolutions.
- Decide instead on who you are.
- Act like it! Build your habit system. Take small steps today.
The rest of the year is just iterating on these habits. You probably won’t get it right on the first try, but that’s okay. If you keep working on it, you will get there, I promise you. It’s part of who you are.
Good luck and Happy New Year!