I don’t make New Year’s resolutions anymore. I found over time that the pressure to accomplish something ended up defeating any progress. Every time I’d backslide or screw up I’d think, “I’ve blown it.” It was like the very act of making something a resolution made it into a success or failure proposition. Either I lost twenty pounds or I’d failed. Never mind that I lost fifteen pounds, the fact that I didn’t meet my resolution meant failure.
It was the same with money. If I resolved to save $1,000 and only saved $800, I felt like I’d failed. If I resolved to get better at investing and my portfolio took a hit, I felt bad. There was just too much pressure in “resolutions” for me. Plus, New Year’s resolutions always seemed to have a ticking clock behind them. They were for this year only. If I didn’t get something done in a year, that was a failure. Worse, since it was resolved at the first of the year I always seemed to feel like I had to get things done early in the year. If it was July and I was struggling, I felt bad. It may seem crazy to some, but that’s how it all felt to me.
One year I woke up and stopped making resolutions. All they were doing was stressing me out and making me feel bad about myself. I asked myself, “how are you going to achieve your goals?” I started paying attention to what needed to be done throughout the year and just doing it. I became a Nike commercial. “Just Do It” became my mantra. If I identified something that needed attention, I dealt with it right then. Jeans starting to get a little tight? Go ahead and lose five pounds now rather than waiting for New Year’s. Need to save more money? Stop spending so much now. Want to learn about investing? Go to the library tomorrow and get the books. Want to eat better? Head for the grocery store and get some produce.
Doing things as I go along has not only made for a lower stress approach to self-improvement, I also find that I accomplish more in a year. Instead of focusing on the one big goal I identified on New Year’s, I work on several smaller goals throughout the year. It’s less labor and brain intensive to lose five pounds in May than the twenty I could be facing by New Year’s. It’s far easier to save $1,000 if I do it in small increments all year rather than trying to do it all by March because I feel some self-imposed deadline looming.
It’s also seems easier to deal with setbacks when I’m not working on a “resolution.” If I have a week where I can’t exercise, I don’t feel like I’m failing at some overarching goal. It’s easier to say to myself, “It’s just one week. I’ll get it together next week.” With money, I don’t feel as bad if, while trying to save, the water heater breaks and the septic needs pumping. I don’t feel like these mishaps are destroying my big resolution. I just feel like they are unfortunate bumps in the road and I’ll get back on track once they’re behind me.
Maybe I’m crazy, but I’ve noticed a marked decrease in my stress levels and an increase in my ability to accomplish more now that I’ve stopped resolving to do things. Switching to an “as needed, on demand” approach softens my attitude and make me more able to deal with the inevitable setbacks that happen when trying to reach any goal. So my advice is to ditch the New Year’s resolutions and just handle things as you see a need. It’s much easier.
(Photo courtesy of Jason Tester)