You Say You Want a Resolution

Yah, I’m riffing on the Beatles, those lovable moptops from England, whose music grates upon my ears like fingernails on a chalkboard, but who certainly provided an easy segue to the hot topic of the month; New Year’s Resolutions.

So…it’s a new year, so it’s time for a New Years Revolution.

Ha ha, just kidding, I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions. No, seriously, I flat don’t do them. I’ve touched on the subject before, but today Imma dive deep.

So, New Years’s Resolutions. Why not?

Simple, really. New Year’s Resolutions are goals, and “goals are for suckers, winner’s have systems.”

I might not be getting that quote exactly right, but I’ve heard it in a few places, most notably from Scott Adams, best known as the creator of Dilbert (but he’s written so much more) and Ramit Sethi, one of my main influences in internet marketing.

Anyway, even if it’s not dead on, word for word accurate, the spirit of it holds.

Why? What’s wrong with setting yourself a firm, measurable goal? Don’t the self-help goo-roos all say, set a goal and write it down to hold yourself accountable?

Why, yes, yes they do. And something like 90% of New Year’s Revolutions are broken by February 1st. So what, exactly, has promising yourself to

  • lose 25 lbs, or
  • go to the gym 3 times a week, or
  • give up alcohol, or
  • quit eating chocolate, yada yada yada

and then falling off the wagon within 2 weeks done, exactly? I mean, aside from getting you down on yourself for your failure?

I submit to you that what it’s done is reinforce for you the idea that making a real, lasting, positive change to your life is too hard. After a few broken resolutions it has achieved the status of impossible, that certainly happened to me.

The last resolution I can clearly recall making was to stop cracking my knuckles. I resolved this about three years running (in my teenage years), and to give you an idea just how effective that resolution was, I finally stopped cracking my knuckles last year, some 35 years later.

What I learned as a 16 year old is that change is hard, big change is harder and that new year’s resolutions are a waste of time. To this day, I stand by that; real, lasting change IS hard, but it’s not TOO hard, and it’s certainly not impossible.

The problem, as I see it, is that it is the NYRs themselves that are too hard, bordering on the impossible. Break a multi-year habit instantly, effortlessly, simply because the calendar rolled over? Yeah? No.


Because a resolution is always stated in terms of a goal, and it is almost invariably too large in scope. But what if, instead of “I resolve to lose 25 lbs,” you resolve, “I will cut out sugary, salty snacks, after dinner.” Note both the specific change “cut out snacks” and the caveat, “after dinner.” There are the kickers.

“I resolve to lose 25 lbs” is a specific goal, but what’s your plan, your system? Well, I have to change my diet, and I have to exercise.

Okay, what does that entail? Well, I need to change my shopping habits, and my cooking etc. Then I need to buy a gym membership and go three to four times a week.

Okay, what do you know about healthy cooking? Not much, I guess I need to buy new cookbooks. Add it to the list.

And what do you know about exercise? Not much, I guess I need classes or a trainer. Add it to the list.

So you see, even a specific goal like “I resolve to lose xx lbs” is really a bunch of resolutions, resolutions that, while interrelated, are not necessarily interconnected, and you end up with a pile of stuff to do. Then, as that stuff piles up, the complexity increases, which is another way of saying the number of failure points increases. And that is another way of saying it’s doomed to failure.

So don’t do it. Don’t set yourself up for failure, set yourself up for success.


Take that goal, and pick one small, easily actionable step that would contribute to it, and do that. The smaller and more specific, the better. Apply Ramit’s two step qualification to it (which is really about choosing which clients to pursue, but the principle applies).

Main idea; I will stop eating junk food. Qualification 1; sugary, salty snacks. Qualification number 2; after dinner.

Now, is ending your after dinner junk food snacking going to result in massive weight loss? Probably not. Okay, so why do it?

Well, first it will reduce your total calorie intake. Second, it will reduce your bad calorie intake. Third, it will reduce the number of calories you consume before sleeping. These three things alone should help lose some weight. Then, fourth, it will help change your mindset toward eating for the better. Fifth, it will provide habits training. Sixth, sticking to it will provide a win.

These last two are key. I’ve written a little bit about habits training here. Short version, training yourself to create healthy habits and change unhealthy ones is an important task in itself. As with the Chinese aphorism, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” start small. Multiple, massive, sudden changes are too hard, so don’t do it. Make one small, simple change. It’s enough, for now.

Finally, giving yourself a win, no matter how small, reinforces a mindset. A mindset that you can lose weight, or learn to exercise, or quit smoking, or stop cracking your knuckles (pet peeve). A winner’s mindset. Substitute “I can do this” for “This is too hard.”