New Year! New Me?


Congratulations for making it to 2019! 2018 was quite the year for you. You have done so much, gone through so much and reached quite a few goals. Not all of them though, right? I don't know what it is that drives people to re-evaluate their lives only once a year, but at least it is being evaluated at least once. And during this process most people do decide that they need to "better" themselves, and live their best lives. So far so good. What is not great is that most people then end up making resolutions such as: "This year I will finally quite smoking," or "This year I will lose weight," and then manage to fail on the second day of the new year. And if you don't fail on the second day, you'll fail at the start of the second month. Trust me. With resolutions like these, who needs demotivators? The issue is not making resolutions in itself. Evaluating your life and making the active decision to make (sustainable) changes to increase your health and happiness (and maybe that of others) is a highly beneficial psychological process. However, an idea without a plan of action is very likely to fail. And when we fail at our resolutions once (we smoke a single cigarette) we suddenly throw the whole idea out of the window. Instead of 2019 being the year where you stopped smoking and only "cheated" once, it's the year during which you continued smoking. And that wasn't the plan at all. So what does a plan need to succeed? It needs to be realistic, it needs to be practical and it needs to be well-thought out. And those three criteria are so interrelated, they don't even need to be discussed seperately. Let me give you an example: Say I want to run a marathon next year. A nice 42k long marathon, somewhere in autumn (October), in the pouring rain in the UK. I am starting from scratch. Assuming that I start training as the new year starts, this will give me about 9 months to go from running 0 kilometres, to being able to run 42 without actually dying. This is not something most people are able to do from one day to the next. This requires careful planning. The best way to plan thoughtfully and thoroughly is to break everything down. 42 is not nicely devided by 9, so working in increments of 42/9 is not ideal. Nor would it work for running. Increases in running, especially distances, tend to be exponential, or rather S-curved. Once you've got the basics down, you progress quicker and quicker, until you hit a certain top-level. The better idea is to see how far you can run already and start from there. If you can run 2k without dying, that is what you'll be doing in your first week. The next week will be 3k, the third week will be 4k etc etc. Try to map this out to the best of your abilities. Once you have scheduled out your short-term goals, they are easier to stick with. The planning out of your goals shows you immediately if a plan is either realistic or practical. Learning to run a marathon is feasible in 9 months. It's not realistic however, if you know for a fact you hate running, and will not stick to a schedule. It's not practical if you know that for 3 out of those 9 months you will be working abroad in a completely different climate. You can make it work, but it certainly makes things more difficult.... That's it really. Pick a goal, break it down, plan it out, and then it is likley to work out. IF you stick with it. And that might be the biggest issue. I have written an article about the issues that millenials seem to have with long-term goals. They have no way of envisioning how to get there. And even if they do know how to get there step-by-step, they often don't find the reaching of the short-term goals rewarding enough. They just don't see how it adds up. This is a problem anyone can struggle with when they have set themselves a difficult goal that takes a while to reach (realistically). What you need to do to make sure you reach the short-term goals, to ensure you even make it to the long-term goal, is to set yourself a rigorous system. A system of punishment and/or rewards. People will try their very best to avoid punishment. It's not nice. People will try their very best to obtain rewards. They are very nice. This is something so innate to living beings that it registers in our most primal brain. So let's work with that. Make your goals known to a select (group of) people you trust. Make sure you have discussed appropriate punishments and appropriate rewards, and make sure the people you have chosen to apply them are actually the type of people who will go through with it. Don't select your grandmother if she's the sweet "at least you tried honey," type. If you failed to reach your goal of saving €500 this month, your grandmother needs to chase you around the house yelling on the top of her lungs that she is going to murder you with her rolling pin. Or something of sorts. You get the picture. Another helpful tool is to be with likeminded others. So for a marathon, join a group of runners. When it comes to saving, try hanging out with your more frugal friends. And when it comes to losing weight, try to hang out with your sporty, annoyingly healthy type friends who think waking up at 6 to do yoga with the rising sun is a good idea. I'm not bitter, you are. And when it comes to the resolution of spending more time with your family or other loved ones, make sure you don't spend too much time with your over-achieving colleagues, and actually spend time with, well, your family and loved ones. We tend to adjust ourselves to fit the behavioural patterns of those around us, we like to fit into a happy middle, be normal. So our surroundings do really matter.

So there you have it. Make goals, make sure they are realistic and practical, plan them out and make sure that you stick with them through punishment/rewards and the help of carefully curating your surroundings. You've got this! May this be a very productive and successful year for us all :)

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