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Your New Year’s Resolution Has Already Failed

Your New Year’s Resolution Has Already Failed


Did you set a New Year’s Resolution for yourself? How’s that going? I don’t know when in the year you’re watching, but if I had to bet on the status of your resolution, it’s probably not flourishing, but failed or foregone. This is usually what the effort curve on resolutions looks like. If New Year’s is new to you, you’re forgiven for not knowing. But come on, this isn’t your first Resolution Rodeo. You’ve been here before: saddled up to a resolution. Gotten thrown off in short order. Only to come back next year to pick a buck of a different color. Or worse, the same. Riding, rolling, retreating, returning. Year after year after year of your unchanging life until a disappointed reaper calls time. New Year’s Resolutions suck. Human behavior change is really hard. And the Resolution Rodeo. This is not the way. Instead, to accomplish what you want out of resolutions, positive life change (but in a better way), allow me to suggest a gentler idea. Give yourself a theme. Instead of setting yourself up to fail with, “I’m going to lose x pounds by next year,” or “I’m going to read one book a week,at least” a theme would be something like ‘Year of Reading’ or ‘Year of Health’. Now if that sounds a bit broad, that’s the point. For some things, precision matters. For others, it doesn’t. And when trying to build yourself into a better version of yourself, exact data points don’t matter. All that matters is the trend line. If the trend is going in the right direction, so are you. Just moving a trend from negative to positive is hard enough without defining falling short of a goal as failure. Heck, even just decelerating the negative is a positive. Is there something you want more of in your life? Something you want less of? Well, life is a branching path. And it’s the trend of your decisions, some big, but mostly small, that will get you to more or less. Stuck in a queue, what to do? Well, if it’s the ‘Year of Reading,’ why not open the book, instead of opening the anything else. That’s it: you were at a branch and went one way instead of the other. Having a theme is like creating a friendly bot to follow you on the path, to help notice branches and consider choices with you, reminding you to be a little different in little moments sometimes. An example: one year my theme was ‘Novelty.’ I felt like things had become too same-y. Rather than resolve: “I’m going to do n new things per t time” It was just… ‘Year of Novelty.’ So, when it made sense, why not try the new instead of the known? It’s the ‘Year of Novelty!’ Now, I didn’t go crazy, but that time was more novel than normal. Mission accomplished. A good theme can’t fail. Because just having a theme-bot along will point out paths you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise, which will start to change you. More on that in a moment. In picking a theme, go with something that has a nice broad name for the general direction you want to navigate your life. And it is navigation. The diverging paths of life are hidden under the fog of the future. You can’t plan the route and then fail to follow it, because there is no map and unseen obstacles await. At any moment, you are where you are and can only navigate from there. Perhaps you started a ‘Year of Health’ focused on weight loss or gains, before realizing there’s a more foundational problem. You haven’t failed, it’s still ‘Year of Health.’ The broadness of a theme allows its meaning to change. You started out wanting to read more books, but maybe as you went on, you realized academic papers are where it’s at, or that reading reading just doesn’t work for you and listening reading is the way to go. You’re still on theme. The theme can change because so will you. Having a theme, you will notice paths you didn’t before. This gets you to think about your thinking. And thinking about your thinking changes your thinking, which changes who you are. So a broad theme allows its meaning to adapt with you, without the guilt of having failed to meet the goals of a Past You who doesn’t exist any more. I did ‘Year of Order’ for a while, but what ‘Order’ meant to me at the end was different from the start, and that’s fine. So themes should be broad, directional, but most importantly: resonant. Resonance is a physics phenomenon where, if you have a glass, and tuning forks of different sizes, bringing the right-sized humming tuning fork near the glass makes it hum the same note. Words are tuning forks for the brain. When picking a theme, you’re looking for a word or words that cause your brain to vibrate in resonance. I’ve been talking about themes for years and getting people to try them. Here are some of the words I’ve seen people use. The details of what they mean to anyone don’t matter. What matters is if there’s something that strikes you. Calls out to your brain. That is resonance. So pick a broad, directional phrase that resonates with you and run with it. Your brain and the theme will make it work. Now if this seems very hippy-dippy-lovey-dovey-huggy-wuggy-fuzzy-wuzzy… That’s fine. Not all tools need sharp edges. I think of it this way. You should be trying to build a life you want to live, and themes are a fuzzy, high-level, longer term way to navigate your brain at a broad area of change. Smaller, and specific-er are the systems in life you might want to set up, below that are the targets those systems might or might not generate, and at the most concrete and sharp is the action or decision Current You is currently taking. This level of detail is perhaps a story for another time, but creating a theme is the bigger and broader to guide the smaller and shorter. Lastly, you may have noticed the examples were all ‘Year of $thing,’ but that’s mainly because I’ve been trying to gently introduce you to the idea. Resolutions are a year, why not swap them for a theme instead? But if you’re still here, a year is way long. Again, fog of the future. A season is a nice human length of time. In a winter of learning, you can learn a lot, but you do need to get started, because it’s also not so long as to feel forever. Nature’s clock ticks on reminding you that flowers bloom but briefly, the summer sun will wane, leaves eventually drop, snow falls and snow melts, and flowers bloom but briefly. You can be unchanging through all that, but whenever you are, if you’ve never had a theme, give yourself time to find one that resonates with you and try it out in the coming season. [birds softly chirping]


Reader Comments

  1. If you care enough about a change in your life to make it a resolution, don't just wait a whole year to try again. Dust yourself off and get back on the horse as soon as you are able. Life improvements are possible to make at any of the 365 days in a year, not just the first.

  2. I actually don't find human behaviour change that hard for me when it comes to ESTABLISHING a habit. If I want to do something new, I just do it. And I have the self discipline to keep doing it. Last year I decided to start lifting and building up muscles. I'm still doing it to this day. The year before that I decided to learn a bit of Mandarin. 我喜欢中文。Still doing it.

    What I find really hard is stopping a habit that I've stuck with for a while. Like, I'm a bit of an addict when it comes to soft drinks. Even though I wanted to stop drinking them years ago, I've still not managed to fully controll my "urges". It's much harder to stop something than starting it for me, ugh.

  3. 5:41 HA! this is floridaman here to say, what seasons?

    but in all seriousness, this video was a very good inspiration for me to kick off my springliketimeframe of language

  4. Oh… Last week I decided that it was going to be the year of bagels…. Grey has really made me feel like I'm not going deep enough… Maybe bagels can be a theme too?

  5. my new years resolution was to obtain something, and just because I haven't gotten it yet doesn't mean I won't by the end of the year.

  6. To stop caffeine because it gives me heart palpitations that make me feel like my heart is going to stop

    So far I've succeeded

  7. i actually made my first resolution this year and im 25, lol
    it's to write with my left hand everyday. Ambidextrous Me, Yeah!

  8. My new year's resolution last year succeeded. I went vegeterian and haven't looked back. And I'm mostly vegan now.

    This year I set a resolution to get in shape but, not a serious resolution. I spent the first 20 years of my life being very athletic so I think my body deserves the rest it's taking.

  9. Another strategy that has actually worked well for me:

    1) boil the goal down to its least possible threshold. That's like, if I want to become a published musician, I make my goal "publish a song" because that's the bare minimum of what that means. I do this with a couple different things (i.e. last year was "publish a song" "have a stranger play a game I made" "upload a video to YouTube")
    2) Write them down, in big (and maybe even fancy) letters, and post them on the wall, somewhere I'll see them every day.
    3) Think of these goals as accumulative rather than milestone. As in, having done them I succeed, but the more I do them the more I succeed.
    4) At the end of the year, reflect on them, see which ones were fun, where I'm at with them, and which ones I'd like to continue. Also, what could I change to make them better, and what new ones would I add. (this year, I'd like to add "build a working circuit" and I think I'm done with "upload a video to YouTube")

    I have yet to fail with this method. I think it reflects a healthier relationship with goals and building habits than setting myself up for failure. Once I'm thinking in terms of how many times did I meat my goal, rather than how close am I to an arbitrary maximum, it's way way more motivating.

  10. I really liked this. Last year with this kind of thing in mind, my resolution was to "live more purposefully." What Grey talks about is why I loved it throughout; it wasn't something I could fail, but it made me think about actions I was taking as I was taking them. I didn't really have one for this year, but this gives me ideas for the coming seasons.

  11. This is refreshing after hearing a self-proclaimed life coach beat you over the head with "goals need to be specific and measurable."

  12. hmm I set yearly objectives Like 2 years ago it was get drivers license and get A+'s in college to bring up my GPA, (Note, I signed up for classes I could EASILY ACE,) So far annual objectives seems to work, but hey I'm a business major managing systems and people is my job.

  13. Over 20 years ago I made a New Years resolution to never make any more New Years resolutions… and guess what? I've kept it!

  14. I started working out on the 15th and i still am after not getting any for 6+ years, i guess the key is just fucking doing it and avoiding procrastination.

  15. And here I was thinking I'm a failure. It doesn't sound so bad when I just give a major theme instead of a list of stuff I didn't do.

    2017: Year of routine
    2018: Year of reading
    2019: Year of environmentalism
    2020: Year of completing stuff

  16. Kind of disparaging of resolutions in general. For some people, they work and that should be addressed. For example, I am best at setting a date and sticking to it. Some people don't work that way, but others do and that should be recognized. Perhaps resolutions are not for everyone but that doesn't mean they should be dismissed entirely.

  17. Idk my New Years resolutions to get my drivers license get a job and get laid are going pretty well so far. I have my license, and I may get laid tomorrow. It’s only a matter of time before I find a job

  18. Looking back on what I tend to do every December (refuse to have a resolution, but thinking about what good ones might be) I find that I do something nearly like this already. This year is 'stability'.

  19. I finished my 2017 resolution of not eating McDonald’s. Ever since then I haven’t done another resolution bc I’m pretty sure I peaked

  20. Repeatingly failing new years resolutions had me resolve to "Clean my fridge thoroughly". Completing it didn't make me feel better at all.
    I'm going to cheat and follow the Grey Way. My theme is now sobriety. >.>

  21. Being the lazy person I am, I never really tried making new year's resolutions, but I still want positive life change and this is a neat and simple solution to that dilemma.

    Thanks for your inspiration, I think I'm going with year of control.

  22. Actually, there was a year when I didn't have a resolution so my resolution was to have a resolution for next year and now I can't fail my resolution.

  23. I tend to keep any resolutions relaxed but very specific and have specific things in mind to help them along. Instead of “I’m losing the extra weight, no matter what!” Something like, “I want to lose weight mainly by increasing my exercise by walking every day, at least five minutes a day, and cutting out soda when possible.”

    Telling myself I only have to do a tiny bit gets me in the headspace to show up, and that’s half the battle. I also don’t load on like ten things at once, but roll out my idea slowly as I can shoulder the added steps, so I don’t burn out.

    This year I wanted to stop feeling so powerless to help causes I support by helping in new ways. I’m ill, so I can’t go out and volunteer time. I’m ill in the US, so I can’t stay home and volunteer a lot of money. But! I do have time and a little money. So I’m learning to knit. The cancer center my mom goes to can always use more hats. The women’s shelter needs baby clothes and blankets. Homeless shelters need winter wear of all kinds and blankets. So far I’ve learned the knit stitch, how to purl, and have started stockinette stitch, which is what most hats and sweaters use, and I’m working on a scarf. I’m not saving the world, and I wish I could do more. But, like, someone is going to go to bed less cold, because I learned how to move my hands a certain way to make fabric. It’s like alchemy. And that’s not nothing.

  24. Hey, I just wanted to use this as a place to keep myself accountable for 30 seconds.

    My new years resolution revolves around my phone addiction and my cavity problem
    two birds with one stone, you know?

    I keep my phone on my bathroom mirror overnight.
    I don't remove my phone from its perch unless I just brushed and flossed

    I failed last night:
    Kept my phone with me overnight,
    stayed up far too long,
    slept in,
    didn't get everything done I wanted to today,
    today kinda sucked because I failed

    Its nearly midnight, I'm going to go brush my teeth

  25. Wait, you're supposed to do resolutions?
    I just did what Grey did – set themes for the year, after being enlightened by his Cortex podcasts

  26. This channel is by far the best thing that's ever come out of the internet.

    CGP Grey, if you ever read this, I want you to know:
    Each video you make is an artistic masterpiece (in it's own genre), and some of the things I've learned on here have actually made my life better. Not only entertained me, you've actually improved my life. Thank you!

  27. Greys concept sounds realistic!

    But in the moment, I don't need it. Actually I am still sticking to my new years resolutions: drink less beer and more water.
    'More water' is just a thing of awareness and no chore and 'less beer' is much, much more easy than 'no beer'.

    My idea was to keep the resolutions simple and achievable. Up until now I feel no urge to break them. 🙂

  28. You say that but…

    Yo ya aprendía tres tiempos verbales en español: presente, pretérito, y imperfecto.

    I think that’s good progress so far.

  29. Jokes on you, I accomplished all my resolutions for the last 3 years! Unfortunately this comment means I failed this year's resolution to stop bragging.

  30. That's kind of what I did. I am trying to cut my cholesterol, so instead of saying "no French fries EVER!" , I made it no French fries from places with drive thrus and it totally works!

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