Are you someone who makes New Year resolutions by taking a copy of last year's resolutions and simply changing the year? You are not alone. A staggering 89% of New Year resolutions don't last. For good reasons. But throwing the baby out with the bathwater isn't the solution. Resolving to get better is essential—whether you start on January 1 or some other date.
Nothing on this earth is standing still. It's either growing, or it's dying. No matter if it's a tree or a human being. Lou Holtz
Here's a simple exercise for you: Try bending your pinky finger without moving your ring finger.
It won't work—for a good reason. The fingers are connected through shared tendons—moving one will invariably move the other. That's nature's standard design.
Yes, I can hear you already. You know of one person who can force their pinky and ring fingers to be out of sync. Let's just say this person is an anomaly and has a natural wiring deficiency. The vast majority of us, though, have inherited the standard shared-tendons template.
Our standard template isn't restricted to finger movements alone. We are constrained in many different ways by the laws of nature. But, for whatever reason, we sometimes feel unbridled optimism in our ability to overpower nature's laws.
Especially as we approach New Year's Day.
New Year resolutions
If history is any indication, our two most common New Year resolutions are to (a)wake up early and (b) exercise. Unsurprisingly then, we decide we will start the year strong and show up to spin class at 5.30 a.m. on January 1. Never mind that we are equally tempted to groove tipsily on the dance floor until 2 a.m. at the New Year's Eve party.
Just as how nature dictates that we can't move the pinky independently of the ring finger, going to bed at 2:30 a.m. and then attempting to show up at the spin studio at 5 a.m. is Not. Happening. Anyone who can actually manage this feat is, pardon the expression, a freak of nature. A good freak, maybe, but a freak nevertheless.
Collective experiences such as these have caused many New Year resolutions to go awry. A staggering 89% of resolutions don't make it to the two-year mark, according to a University of Scranton study. Mostly because they aren't grounded in reality. Is it any wonder then that January 1 is fraught with so much pressure and a high risk of failure?
Given the circumstances, you are justified if you avoid New Year resolutions like the plague or make resolutions in a boozy stupor at a New Year's Eve party and forget about them by noon on January 1. That said, it's still worth committing to making positive life changes.
Change is inevitable. And good.
Your resolutions don't have to start on January 1, necessarily. Today is as good a day as any to try and improve upon the current version of you. Not to prove a point, or please others, or win any humblebrag contests, but simply because —Why not?! After all, the goal of all self-improvement is this: to be the best and happiest you can be. So why not start now?
Everything is perfect, and yet there's always room for improvement. Shunryu Suzuki
Cast a narrow net
As a self-help junkie, I'm passionate about self-improvement projects. I've made a fair share of New Year resolutions throughout my life. And, shockingly, some that I've even kept up! Please refer to these posts on Why New year resolutions matter and How to set achievable goals.
Over the years, though, I've realized that instead of spreading my resources thin by trying to do too much, I get outsize rewards when I simply focus on improving in just a few areas.
It's the Pareto principle all over again. You can control 80% of your happiness and wellbeing by simply focusing on 20% of the activities you do. Even more surprising? The crux of what makes us all happy and content is fairly universal and isn't subjective. For instance, we may differ on whether we love or hate sci-fi movies, but there's no doubt all of us are happier when we wake up energetic rather than tired.
Here are five areas of life you won't regret improving upon.
Five life-altering resolutions worth considering seriously
It's not often we get to make life investments with only upsides and no downsides. Your time and effort investments in these five categories below won't disappoint.
1. Be Well
As someone who survived disease against all odds, I will say this: It is impossible to focus on self-improvement or be inspired to achieve higher ground if you are plagued by poor health. Most people, fighting illness, given a choice, would trade every material possession for just the chance to be in "normal health" again.
As it turned out, I got super-duper lucky, and I'm just ever so grateful that normalcy returned to my life soon. But the lesson is one that's clearly imprinted in my mind: If you don't have good health, you have nothing.
Climbing the corporate ladder, building great businesses, making tons of money, throwing the "sickest ever" parties, going on the most adventurous vacation, etc., are all exciting goals to pursue. But they cannot come at the cost of your wellness.
While some of us are lucky and blessed with good genes, there are many (myself included) against whom the decks seem to be stacked. However, thanks to advances in innovation and technology, today's playing field is much more level.
Nature v Nurture
In the nature v nurture debate (at least as far as health is concerned), nurture seems to matter way more than nature. This also means it's very easy for us to screw up.
According to the World Health Organization, 88% of death in rich countries is due to lifestyle factors.
While life expectancy steadily keeps trending up in the Western world, unfortunately, we seem to be extending not our lifespan but our disease-span. It's no fun living to a hundred and not being able to move for the last forty years of your life.
It's imperative, therefore, to take time out of our busy schedules to focus on wellness, and by that, I mean both exercise AND nutrition.
Exercise has a whole host of benefits, weight control being one of the minor ones (if you are lucky).
But, ultimately, you are what you eat. Running a 10k in the morning does not give you a license to gorge on junk food for the rest of the day. The math on that is eye-boggling; look it up. There's a reason we instinctively avoid looking at calorie labels on foods. We'd never be able to eat.
Not to turn this post into a diatribe on food and exercise, but they are two equally important and complementary disciplines that can't be ignored if you care about any form of self-improvement. Also, physical wellness will translate into sound mental health too. It's all about the chemicals floating in your body and brain.
No matter how busy you are, resolve to spend a few minutes a day putting something good into your body and taking the time out to move. You'll forever be glad you did.
2) Do something for someone else. Every day, if possible.
Generosity is its own reward.
Study after study has confirmed that when we engage in giving, the same reward networks are activated in our brains as food and sex. In other words, our brains are wired for altruism because our human species' very survival depends on the giving ability of those with more resources.
I understand how fulfilling giving can be. I embarked on a 21-day Giving project last year as a way of forcing myself to be mindful of others' needs. To date, it has been one of the most exhilarating experiences in my life. So moving in fact that I was inspired to write a whole book about it https://books2read.com/takemymoneyplease.
Studies have confirmed that giving rather than receiving creates more happiness. That's because of our tendency for hedonic adaptation: our happiness diminishes with repeated events. The first time you got an iPhone (or any other smartphone), you no doubt were elated. But, when the gazillionth version of the phone hits your hands, your joy, in comparison, is much more subdued.
Generosity isn't necessarily limited to monetary contributions. Listening to a friend vent, volunteering time at a community event, helping someone finish a difficult task, or just being kind and compassionate with your words, all count as giving.
Plan out your one (at least) good deed for the day.
3) Don't sweat the small stuff
Let this be the year we let minor irritations stop bothering us.
We are never going to be rid of annoyances.
People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do. Isaac Asimov
There. He said it.
Not to feel too self-important, but I'm convinced there are people and situations in the world, simply designed and intent on pushing my buttons. Thus far, I've spent my life in reaction mode: angry, irritated, and exasperated. Suffice to say, blowing my top has made no difference to the situation. So, this year I'm planning to adopt a new, radical solution. Non-reaction. By putting everything through a five-year test.
Here's how it works:
1. Acknowledge the situation.
2. Ask if it will matter five years from now.
The last person who used the sink left the tap running. Will it matter five years from now?
Your child didn't complete a school assignment on time, spending time on TikTok instead. Will it matter five years from now?
The answer to the five-year test is almost invariably a resounding "no." By viewing all frustrations through the lens of the five-year test, we can seriously calm ourselves the heck down.
Rule 1: Don't sweat the small stuff.
Rule 2: It's all small stuff.
4) Do something that intimidates you
No one wants to be uncomfortable. But personal growth only happens when you step outside your comfort zone.
I'm convinced that every single accomplishment I'm genuinely proud of is a result of me doing things I never felt comfortable with in the first place. I'm pretty sure it's the same for you and every other human on the planet.
If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it is this: there are no guarantees in life. So why not live it up and explore a little?
Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar. Thich Nhat Hanh
Do something this year for the first time.
5) Live simply
I feel like an imposter writing about consumption even though I'm no expert, which is why this item is at the top of my resolutions list for this year.
Collectively, we are drowning in stuff to the point where if there were an alien invasion today, the aliens would be convinced we are owned by stuff rather than the other way around.
We spend an enormous amount of time—first researching what to buy, then finding the best way to buy it (deals), looking for storage options, and then eventually maintaining what we purchased. The sad part? It's mostly things we don't really need! It's time we figured out ways to declutter our lives.
Reducing consumption is the first step to simple living, high thinking. Think about it: When you don't have an overstuffed garage to clean over the weekend, you suddenly now have time to read Proust. Or a frothy thriller. I'm not judging. Either way, it's a tradeoff worth making.
Find a way this year to stem the inflow of stuff into your life.
And then the dreams break into a million tiny pieces. The dream dies. Which leaves you with a choice: you can settle for reality, or you can go off, like a fool, and dream another dream. Nora Ephron, Heartburn
I understand and fully appreciate any ambivalence you may have towards New Year resolutions. However, settling into the same old isn't the solution. "Don't just go, but grow through life" is a clichéd yet true expression.
We don't know what's in store for us in the year ahead: "The future's not ours to see - Que sera, sera - What will be, will be."
But, it's within us to
- Find time to improve our wellness
- Earn good karma by helping those in need
- Attempt to do things we fear or consider impossible
- Not let minor irritants bother us
- Tread lightly on this earth
To rephrase Neil Armstrong's words, these are small steps for us but can result in giant leaps for our happiness. Isn't that what we are all chasing anyway?
Happy New Year!