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New Year, or just Different Year?

Approx Reading Time: 12 mins

For many many years, I viewed New Years Resolutions as something “other” people did. People with less full-time resolution than I. People who needed change in their life. People who were too scared, procrastinatory, or unambitious to set goals in the middle of July or November on a Tuesday afternoon. Why would one wait until an entirely new year to get started on their future? The future is now and time is ticking, so why reset some imaginary clock every year?

I am not entirely sure what changed, but somewhere in the last 5 years, my feelings on the topic have evolved. I view New Years Resolutions as extremely useful tools in the quest to create the future lathered in awesomesauce.Now, I truly believe that It’s better to set goals once per year and fail at hitting them than to set no goals at all. So why was I being so high and mighty about my perception of goal setting? Who knows…I think I spent many years of my life as a nice guy on the outside when I was indeed a real prick behind the veil. Maybe I was just angry with how full my gym would become in January and February of every year. Now there’s no squat racks left for me to curl in. Don’t people know better than to get in the way of my 11 inch pipes?

I digress…

Aside from the fact that I beleive January 1st should be dubbed Baby Unicorn Festivus, I can’t help but notice that there is a large amount of failure and self loathing that shows up shortly thereafter when people begin to fail. What starts as hot hot heat during Baby Unicorn Festivus ends up feeling a forced skinny-dip in an arctic lake by the middle of February. The failure itself is not necessarily the worst part of this scenario, so much as how peoples’ egos take a beating as a result. It feels rather poopy to set goal and then shit the bed (proverbially and/or literally).

Gosh, I talk a lot. Here’s the point. If you’re considering setting some New Years Goals and Resolutions, there are a few things to consider. Planning a rise from mediocrity or a triumphant return to the rippedness of your 20s is not just about the goal, there’s a process and an emotional landscape that would be helpful to understand. Let’s dive in.

Is this goal a shadow of an ominous creature? If so, am I OK with that?

From the perspective of a trainer or a therapist, this on is glaringly obvious some times. Someone tells me that they want to lose 50 lbs this year. Fantastic! But it just so happens that their marriage is a mess and their partner is not 50 lbs overweight. Is this goal to lose 50 lbs for the health benefits, to look good naked, or is it a half-assed attempt at saving a marriage? I think all reasons are a good reasons to lose excess poundage, but if the weight coming off holds some meaning that is much deeper in your life, you need to inspect the outcomes of your goal and whether or not they will have the desired effect. Maybe your partner (or that person you’d love to be your partner) doesn’t care about your weight. Maybe you need to hit the correct nail on the head rather than searching for a different hammer or hitting the wrong nail harder than ever before. What does this goal say about your needs as a human being?

What would an 80/20 analysis say?

In most people’s case, 80% of their negative emotions come from 20% of the content of their life. Inversely, 80% of the joy in ones life often comes from a very select few activities. These are often the activities we find ourselves dreaming about or visualizing when our favourite song is on. In my opinion, if you want to make a notable impact on your own future, you need to decide to honestly answer both these 2 questions

  1. Is this thing I plan on adding going to fall in the 80% “meh” category or the 20% “heck yes!” category?
  2. Is this thing I plan on removing going to fall into the 80% “meh” category , or the 20% “stresses me out to the point of vibration” category?

I think you’ll find that goals of addition or commencement should fall in one 20%  category, while goals of omission or discipline should fall in the other. If your goal falls in the 80% in either category, you’re not overly likely to stick to it because it’s just not meaningful to you, in either a good or a bad way.

Is my goal an addition or a subtraction?

Depending on your personality type, you likely have a goal that falls into one of two categories:

  1. Accomplish something additional, or
  2. Remove stressors to relax more

In my experience, the Type A personalities in the room will repeatedly set goals with a strongly tangible outcome measures and do so at the expense of increased stress or demand. Add 100 lbs to my deadlift, run my first marathon, make $50,000 more this year, see two new countries, etc etc. These goals nearly always add hours and demand to the days, weeks, and months.

On the flipside, the other half of the working world oftens sets goals that involve less ambition and more self-care. Take an extra week off work, go to bed an hour earlier, have one date night per week, walk to dog every morning before work, learn to meditate.

I am advocating the thought that the real life-changing goals come to fruition when we do the opposite of what we feel naturally inclined to do. This is not necessarily because any of the aforementioned goals are bad, but because the emotional and personality profiles that coincide with those goals often feed our dysfunctions. If the CEO who only sleeps 5 hours a night wants to run his first marathon, he’ll knock the sleep back to 4 hours a night to get it in. In fact, what he needs is to express a little more self-care in his life, as that emotional skill will carry over to the rest of his life with greater impact than simply accomplishing another thing. Learning to meditate would be better for his health, his life, his relationships, and his aspirations. Type A should remove, not add.

On the flipside, the couch potato probably doesn’t need another vacation, more sleep, or a day at the spa. If you’re being honest with yourself, you need to develop to mental skills to get off your ass and accomplish something. The energy that carries forward from the thrill of accomplishment will far outweigh (pun intended) the positive effects of more relaxing.

So, if your goal falls into the category of less or the category of more, you need to do a real honest assessment of your tendencies, personality type, and desires to make sure they align. As a Type-A-ish guy myself, I have to work every year to keep my aspirations in the realm of doing less, caring for self, and relying on training wheels more often.

Would I be better off with a habit or routine, not a goal?

I am firm believer in experiential living. I have accomplished a lot of groovy goals in my life and will continue to do so, BUT the process of accomplishing those goals is what takes up 24 hours a day for most of the year. Whether the destination is X, Y, or Z, you still gotta start with A.

Our life is made of the accumulation of moments, one on top of the next until we have none left. It’s what we do with all those little moments that eventually culminates in something extravagant or something mediocre. None of us has more than 24 hours in a day, and yet some people seem to be happier, accomplish more, hav more fun, and still run into less trouble. One thing I figured out by accident (see Momento Mori) was that habits and routines will lead to an outcomes, regardless of whether or not you set a goal. At a certain point in my life, not that long ago, my habits and routines were so deadset on accomplishment and goals that I was inadvertently sprinting towards an aneurysm, a heart attack, or worse. I set goals and did whatever was needed to achieve them. Easy (for me). Then, one day I had a reality check and realized that the trade-offs were occurring without my approval.

So what did I do? I got rid of all my goals and traded them in for habits and routines. In hindsight, it is not at all surprising that I start getting suspiciously better at accomplishing my loosely-held goals, simply by setting my daily routine up with more appropriate habits.

When I decided on habits and routines, all of a sudden (less than a year) my blood pressure dropped by 30 pts, I lost 18 lbs, I was sleeping 9 hours per night, I was having more intimate relationships with the people that mattered, I was smiling more, I was making more money, and I was HAPPIER. Hot dam.

This realization led me to one inevitable change for my 2018 plans: maximum one accomplishment based goal, and every other change will come in the form of routines or habits.

So, do you need to trade in your New Years Goals for New Years New Habits?

Does my environment support my goal?

Regardless of your willpower and grit, the capacity to accomplish your desired outcomes for 2018 is partially (if not completely in some cases) depicted by your environment. If your goal is hit 10% body fat by the end of the year and you work at McDonalds…the struggle will be worse than if you work at a health food store or a gym. If your goal is to sleep X amount of hours per night on average, but your spouse snores up a thunderstorm, your pillow is uncomfortable and you have a bad coffee habit…have fun trying!

This is not meant to make you assess your surroundings and decide that your goal will be a struggle, it is meant to inspire you to do one of two things.

  1. Change your environment to support your goals, or
  2. Change your goals to be attainable within your environment.

In my experience, the people who accomplish truly remarkable things with a semblance of ease do a fantastic job of removing inconveniences, improving their support circles, and otherwise setting up their environment to create ease for themselves. If it takes constant willpower due to the inconvenience  of your surroundings, you are much less likely to accomplish the outcomes you desire, nonetheless.

If your goal is really truly meaningful to you, not only should you not put a deadline on it, but you should be willing to spend a year, two years, three years, or more setting up the environment to support it. Want to best in the world at something? Take a look around you, does this look like the environment that will get you there? If not, maybe the goal for the year shouldn’t be the accomplish that thing, but to spend an entire year building the many aspects of your launchpad so that the following year will have a nearly-guaranteed return on investment.

What do I need to invest? Also, what do I have to invest?

I strongly believe two things about investment:

  1. There is no such thing as free, only trade-offs
  2. If you really want to accomplish something, you should spend more on it

I don’t necessarily mean that you have to always be spending dollars on something, but there are many other currencies that one can spend to accomplish their goals:

  1. Money
  2. Willpower
  3. Time
  4. Energy
  5. Emotion
  6. Relationship
  7. Status
  8. Intellect/Learning

I am sure there are more currencies that you could spend, but you get the idea. Each category of potential investment needs to be assessed individually against your goals. If your desired outcome is going to take a large investment from all categories, you better be willing to suffer for it. Is it worth it? What can you afford to spend? What can you not afford to spend? If the goal still remains in spite of your inability to invest from one category, can you make up for it with higher investment in another category?

Is this a goal of degree or category? Have I failed in this category before?

Goals of degree:

  • I want to make $20,00 more
  • I want to increase my deadlift by 100 lbs
  • I want my marriage to be happier
  • I want my sleep to increase by an hour per night

Goals of category:

  • I want to learn to play the guitar (never played before)
  • I want to change from competitive 5Ks to running marathons
  • I want to buy a house
  • I want to learn a new language

I am sure you can see how these are different. In the degree column, your approach may only require a refinement, expansion, disciplined use of previous skills and habits. This does not mean that these are easy goals, but you may not have to do something entirely different, so much as work on the current routines and habits

Unfortunately, goals of category are an entirely different beast. Generally, these goals require an addition of time, a further strain on resources, a larger investment, or a significant trade-off. Even if it’s only 30 mins less time on Netflix every night, that’s a trade-off you have to accept in order to play spanish guitar in your new house a year from now.

Be ready to refine your life for goals of degree, but be ready to upset your life for goals of category. The bigger the goal of category, the more audacious the upset.

Am I calling my plan different when it fact it is the same?

I have seen this one played on repeat year over year. I already workout, and have done so for 15 years. Yet, for some reason, I think that this new workout program which sees me doing 5 sets instead of 3 on bench, followed by 10 minutes more on the treadmill will magically make me huge and ripped. Maaaaaagic.

You might be setting goals that you KNOW, deep down inside, cannot be accomplished with your current plan. So whattaya do? Partially and half-assedly alter your current plan to fool yourself into thinking you are turning a new leaf! The coming year will be the magical one because of my extra 5 minutes every morning doing this stupid little thing, of course!

Is your plan of attack actually the same plan of attack you have had every single year for the last 5? Or is it realistically going to change things in a favourable way to the degree which you would like? Are you calling an apple an orange when you still have an apple?

Would your best friend believe you?

If I told my wife that I wanted to swim across the lake this year, she would laugh at me…and rightfully so. For one, she has seen me swim, which looks a lot like controlled drowning. For another thing, it sounds nothing like any goal I have ever had before and she knows it. Why swimming?Where the heck did that come from? Finally, she knows how busy I am and that this sort of goal takes resources which I am not willing or capable of spending, most notably repeated investments of extra time. She knows me best, she knows my life best, and he has seen what type of goals I am likely to accomplish, year over year.

So, do yourself a favour: Ask your best friend (the honest one, not the overly-loving-and-supportive one) if they think you will accomplish it. WILL, not can. There’s a difference. Be willing to discuss the answer and come up with a hard decisions on the other end to ditch the goal or alter it accordingly.

Or, easier still, think of the person who knows you best and try to predict what they would say. If you don’t think your mom would predict your accomplishment of your goal, you need to ask yourself why and how you could go about surprising her.

Well, it’s saturday morning and I still haven’t eaten anything…so I’ll pick this up another time. Oatmeal time!

Maybe next time I’ll talk about many of my personal goals for 2018 and why they exist that way. If I get around to it…

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