Don’t Set Resolutions, Set Systems

resolutions
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We fell ill, we grieved, we worked hard, we were tired. That’s the main refrain of the past two years, and the post-pandemic era is now afoot. If we haven’t foraged a wee bit of optimism, we have at least hardened ourselves to live within a constant state of crisis.

“While the start of the new year once served as a key moment in time to set annual health goals, many are finding that…resolutions often lead to disappointment and rarely last beyond January,” said Dan Chard, chairman and CEO of Medifast, which conducted a survey on this topic.

Perhaps because of the enervating experience of repeated lockdowns, the reframing of priorities and the resulting desire to simplify life, Medifast’s survey showed most US adults aren’t making resolutions this year.

With increased awareness, the public conversation is more inclined to reckon with the generational trauma resulting from the pandemic, which notably affected journalists, medical professionals, the elderly, and parents of very young children (who have lost key developmental years of their lives). Not to forget those who had pre-existing mental health issues that exacerbated during the pandemic. If you’ve been on survival mode for 2 years, it’s hard to imagine enjoying running headfirst into a Big Hairy Audacious Goal as soon as you come up for air.

If you find yourself in this group, or even if you’re starting to fall prey to your anxieties about Omicron and more lockdowns, make at least one New Year’s resolution.

Even if the stats are badly skewed against the possibility of sticking to a New Year’s resolution beyond the first month, it’s not about whether you succeed or fail. It’s entirely about the process.

New Year’s resolutions are a fundamentally hopeful act. The word resolution means a decision to do or not to do something, which implies a personal change, and recognizing the achievement of a goal as a series of decisions which make up a plan or strategy.

Scott Adams, author of the famous Dilbert comics, suggests reframing the word “goal” with “system.” Instead of asking yourself “What are my goals for this year,” ask “What are the systems I will implement this year?”

For instance, if your goal is to read 50 books this year, you could decide that every morning, you will read a book for one hour after breakfast. Reading 50 books this year is a resolution. Reading for an hour after breakfast is a system.

Let’s take an easier one. If your resolution is to weigh X pounds by the end of 2022, you could instead say to yourself, “I will cut sugar and refined carbohydrates entirely from my diet, and show up at the gym every day.” Cutting refined carbohydrates and sugar often has a dramatic impact on weight, and showing up at the gym is a small enough checkpoint that is immensely achievable and does not place pressure on exercise. Showing up is vastly underrated in the business of goal achievement. That’s a system.

Set systems this year, not goals. We need systems that are achievable and enjoyable for us. Even if we don’t meet our targets this year, we’ll be sure to at least have great habits that leave us better than before.