It’s New Year’s Day.
If not hungover, you wake up with a fresh outlook on life. Ready to start life anew and better than ever.
You have your protein shake ready to go.
You lace up your shoes to go running as part of a new daily routine.
You threw out (or ate) all those snacks in your pantry last year—no need to worry about them anymore.
You feel fully committed to your new lifestyle, and you are going to hold steady to your resolutions this year!
And, after a few days or weeks of this, as predictable as the sun rises each morning, your new year’s resolutions soon disintegrate. By February (if you were exceptionally disciplined), you’re back to last year’s habits yet again.
As Philly sports fans always say: “maybe next year!”
You know the routine.
The Backbone of the Self-Help Genre
This sad state of affairs is a reality for almost all of us.
At least, that’s what the self-help industry wants us to believe.
In the media, pop culture, and most things in the mainstream consciousness, the annual failure to keep our resolutions is framed as a problem, but it’s not the type of problem self-help “gurus” actively want to help you solve. Why would an entire industry end itself by giving you the key to solving all your problems?
Type into Google “new year’s resolutions” and you will find no shortage of ideas for “healthier and happier living.” You’ll also find endless links to articles promising to help you stick to those resolutions far beyond the first couple weeks of January. These are all part of the routine. You visit these websites, give them your email address, and when your resolutions inevitably fail, they’ll have a direct line to your inbox for a “solution.”
It’s no wonder self-help books sell the most in January.
And like clockwork, the cycle repeats itself next year. And the year after. See how it works?
You Can’t Teach an Old Brain New Tricks
The fact of the matter is, your basal ganglia are stronger than your prefrontal cortex. In other words: your habits are stronger than your conscious decision-making.
And that’s what they never tell you!
When you read a book (or article) or try to think your way into a new habit, it’s your prefrontal cortex—your planning/decision-making brain that is satisfied. On the other hand, the basal ganglia region is not impressed by the latest self-help book with a censored expletive in the title.
You simply can’t treat a bad habit with cold-turkey changes in behavior on New Year’s Day or with the newest self-help book.
And you certainly won’t change bad habits when you base it off of society’s calendar, or what’s in the news.
So, what’s the solution to our resolution problem?
One solution is to not make any resolutions at all. Save yourself the stress. Live life the way you’ve always lived it! Imagine if a water buffalo decided to wait until the new year to stop eating so many plants. One, he would never do that, and two, if he did, he wouldn’t wait for an arbitrary day to do it.
Another solution, and the most ideal, is to commit to cultivating better habits independent of what the calendar says. After all, you are in charge of your own life! If that’s your solution, stop reading now.
But if you’re like most of us—someone who likes the idea of a fresh start in the new year, I have a strategy that works like magic for me. It’s one that I’ve used with much success in the last few years: making New Year’s Presolutions.
The New Year’s Presolution
Building better habits for the new year could be as simple as shifting your life ahead by one month every December. That’s all.
It’s like Daylight Saving Time, but it involves turning your calendar forward, not your clock.
Let’s say you want to lose body fat.
If you set a goal and start in December, the benefits are not insignificant:
- You’ll have escaped the holiday season without gorging and putting on 10 pounds
- The gyms will be relatively uncrowded (during non-COVID times)
- By January, you’ll already be in a flow, while everyone else is stumbling out of the gate.
Let’s say you want to start writing every day.
Starting in December, as opposed to January:
- You’ll feel less pressure to stick to a daily writing routine (because no one else is doing it), which will open up a more creative stream of thought.
- You’ll develop new ideas that you can execute on immediately in the new year.
- By January, you guessed it, you’ll already be in a flow, while everyone else is stumbling out of the gate.
A presolution may feel a little different, and might be challenging during Christmas dinner (don’t be too rigid!), but it will certainly become something you’ll want to try every year.
The Micro is Always Better than the Macro
Like most things, for accountability purposes, it helps to do this with a friend. That’s always better than following what society tells you.
Break your presolutions down into manageable chunks—make it so easy that you can’t fail. If a year seems too intimidating, do it for a month. If a month is too intimidating, do it for a week. You want to make presolutions that stick, so make your new habits small but meaningful.
This certainly isn’t the magic pill you’ve been waiting for. But making New Year’s presolutions might just be the slight psychological shift you need to make the next year the best year of your life.
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