Set Trajectories, Not Resolutions for New Year's

Posted by Matt Birchler
β€” 3 min read

New Year's resolutions are the worst, aren't they? You feel like you have to make them, and you don't really think about them too much and just kind of blurt something out when people ask and boom, suddenly that's your resolution.

Or maybe you do think about your resolution a little more and have something very specific, like "I want to lose 30lbs this year" or "I want to read more". Neither of these goals are bad by any means, and they are things many of us could afford to do, but they're hampered by two things: how they're conceived and their association with New Year's.

New Year's resolutions tend to look very similar for most people. You're resolution likely has something to do with weight loss, eating better, reading more, or being "more there" for people in your life. These are all things that most of us could afford to be better at, but they're quite generic and don't really come from the heart in many cases. These are goals that sound good, but you don't feel passionately about.

The association with New Year's Day hurts resolutions as well. These goals sound good right after the holiday season when you've probably been eating poorly and have seen more friends and family than you usually do. Saying "I'm going to eat better" on December 31 sounds good because you've been eating really poorly for weeks. But as the new year moves on and you get further away from the holiday season, a lot of these resolutions don't sound as relevant anymore. This is why I think >90% of people don't achieve their resolutions.

While I don't think that traditional "New Year's resolutions" are very effective, I do think that the new year is a great time to think about your life and where you want it to go. I think it's healthy to take stock of where things are and what you can do to get yourself where you want to go. For the start of 2016, I'd suggest you think about where you want your life to be heading. What trajectory do you want yourself to have?

I prefer trajectories to resolutions because they are more direction-focused, are more positive, and are ultimately more sustainable. The ultimate goal for 2016 is to end it in a better place than you are in right now. That means you have 366 days (leap year!) to make choices that get you heading in that direction. For reference, here are a couple of my trajectories I've set for myself in 2016:

  1. Invest in my friends and family to deepen those relationships
  2. Continue to grow and improve my side projects (BirchTree & Bite Size Tech)
  3. Substantial professional growth
  4. Make more healthy eating choices

Here's what those would look like as regular resolutions:

  1. Hang out with friends once a week
  2. BirchTree traffic up to XXX views per month
  3. Get promoted at work
  4. Lose 10lbs by summer

The difference in these objectives is important. They aren't so much rules I have set for myself, but tools that help me make decisions throughout the year. Thinking about being healthy gives me a little win every time I make a healthy choice, and if I make enough of those the weight loss will come. Choosing to be great at my job means being positive and ambitions at work, not being frustrated everyday that I don't get that promotion. It would be great if those daily choices lead to a promotion, but the real work is being great today. Likewise, I don't have specific audience goals for my online side projects. 2015 was a good year for me, and I want to continue developing these projects so they are better. You get a larger audience by doing better work, not by saying "I'm going to get this many hits this year!"

Looking through my archives, I wrote something very similar last New Year's in a piece called Facing the Right Direction. Life is all about making little decisions that get you pointed in the right direction. Things will happen that you don't expect and you won't always be able to achieve your specific goals. So take this opportunity at the start of a new year and decide what sort of your you want 2016 to be. If you're one of the 8% of people who keep their New Year's resolutions, ignore this article and keep doing what you're doing. But for the other 92%, consider this when you're taking stock this New Year's Day.