Here we go again! My new year's resolutions for 2019 – assuming the world actually survives for another twelve months without imploding.
In their defence...
"Normally I'd put on a festive hat and celebrate the fact that the Earth has circled the sun one more time; I really didn't think it was going to make it this year, but darn it if it wasn't the little planet that could all over again." - Dr. Gregory House
In theory, I hold the opinion that new year's resolutions are lame. If we want to take actions to improve ourselves, we shouldn't wait for some arbitrary number to increase by one – we should do that all the time! There are still x days left in December, so why not start right now!?1
In practice, however, I enjoy the allure of new year, new me! as much as the next person. As the writer Chuck Wendig points out, there's nothing wrong with wanting and trying to be better – whenever you choose to do it. And more importantly, studies have shown2 that the 'fresh start effect' of a shiny new year does make it more likely that you'll e.g. stick to your new gym routine, or finish your screenplay, or start using one of the 127 Bags for Life you already own instead of just buying a new one each time. So with that in mind, here are my resolutions for 2019:
Hari's New Year's Resolutions: 2019 Edition
- Work on my next stand-up show for ten minutes every day (writing or gigging)
- Publish at least one blog post a week
Those seem manageable, right?
1 Full disclosure: despite saying words to this effect in actual, real-life conversations – I don't know why people still hang out with me – I absolutely do not strive to improve myself all the time. One of my worst qualities is holding strong opinions like this while simultaneously missing the bigger picture. For example: I recently spent several months on Tim Ferris' slow-carb diet. One of the arguments he makes is that fruits aren't necessarily good for you, because they contain loads of sugar. I'm no longer on that diet, but I still avoid fruits with a passion – even though I literally just had a Ferrero Rocher and a hot chocolate.
2 By 'studies', I mean: 'studies that I haven't actually read, except for a handy summary in this New Yorker article'.
The battle plan
"The best laid plans of mice and men / often fall apart around mid-January" - Robert Burns
Up until now, my official strategy for sticking to resolutions was 'fingers crossed' – which is about as effective as trying to grow your new business by advertising in the Yellow Pages.3 So this year, I'm going to try a couple of things to keep me on track.
3 We actually got one of these last week – in 2018. I'm almost in awe of its resilience, but not enough to make me use it. It's also ridiculously thin, which means it doesn't even fulfil its original unique selling point.
Don't break the chain
"Each day that I do my task of writing, I put a big red X over that day. After a few days you'll have a chain. Just keep at it, and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain."
I've tried using this technique before, but I got stuck because I didn't clearly define what 'my task of writing' was. Does it count if it's only one joke? What if it's free writing? This meant that I had to decide on the fly every day – and that soupçon of extra effort made it very easy to skip the whole thing. So this year, I've decided ahead of time: I just have to write for ten minutes.
I'm also going to try something new: contingency plans. According to this article from the New Yorker, you're more likely to stick to a resolution if you think about all the ways it could fail in advance, and then invent a 'direct, automatic response to each of them'. This is best done in the form of an if/then instruction to yourself, such as:
- If I'm feeling too tired to go for a run because that's a totally appropriate response to the pitch black darkness I can see outside my window and if nature intended for me to be up this early it wouldn't be so cold outside – then I'll just put on my running gear anyway.
Here's what I've come up with so far:
- If I wake up too late to write on a weekday morning before work... then I'll write in a coffeeshop during lunch, or first thing when I get back home in the evening.
- If I'm also busy during lunch and in the evening... then I'll write on my iPhone while I'm commuting. (I like using Scrivener for this, which is generally great but has the added advantage of being able to sync between macOS and iOS using Dropbox.)
- If I have to miss a day... then I'll catch up by writing for an extra fifteen minutes the following day – and let myself keep my chain intact if I do.
- If I feel like a post isn't 'ready' enough... then I'm just going to publish it anyway, and move onto the next one. Done is better than perfect, apparently.
- If I can't think of anything to write about... then I'll follow Austin Kleon's advice and share an excerpt from what I'm currently working on. (Which should hopefully be something, given my first resolution and general aspirations.)
- If I still can't think of anything to write about... then I'll just write a review for an episode of The Simpsons. A quick Google search suggests that there are currently 649 of them4 – so that should keep me going for a while.
And finally, the most important contingency plan: if I miss a day of writing or weekly blog post for any reason, then I'm going to continue as soon as I possibly can. As Jon Acuff writes in Finish, it's not starting that's the trickiest thing – it's continuing after you've stopped being perfect:
"Imperfection is fast, and when it arrives we usually quit. That's why the day after perfect is so important. This is the make-or-break day for every goal. This is the day after you skipped the jog. This is the day after you failed to get up early. This is the day after you decided the serving size for a whole box of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts is one. The day after perfect is what separates finishers from starters... Reject the idea that the day after perfect means you’ve failed."
That's probably the real value of contingency planning: it forces you to admit that this probably won't go to plan, and prepares you to carry on anyway – broken chains and all.
So go on, then...
Now that you've come up with your resolutions, what are all the ways they could fail miserably in the next few weeks? And what could you do to keep them going anyway?
4 Holy crap.
p.s. a very happy new year! I hope 2019 is awesome for you, and that you be everything that you want to be. I also hope that the world doesn't actually implode – although it would be pretty funny if it did just as we finally got all our shit together.