The Truth About New Year's Resolutions

By Jonathan Marshall, PhD

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I’m occasionally asked about new year’s resolutions. Personally, I find them tricky. For three years I made resolutions to learn to be a better cook. While my shelf of cookbooks has expanded, my repertoire of skills hasn’t progressed beyond graduate school! I looked into some of the research and it turns out that new year’s resolutions inspire only a few people. For others, they may do little good or even make matters worse.

Two of the most common resolutions are to exercise more and to lose weight. In January gym attendance soars. But after a few months the gyms are as empty as they were before. As for the dieters, the situation is a bit surprising. They initially lose weight and once their weight re-stabilizes, they typically have gained 7%. Yes, gained. That means diets ultimately add to the average waistline!!!

So I’ve experimented with the advice of pod show host, Tim Ferriss. Rather than make a resolution for the future, I recommend trying a Past Year Review. I’ve included his advice at the end of this email. While I like it a lot, that doesn’t mean I have given up on my culinary aspirations: I just signed up for an eight-week cooking course!

Tim Ferris On New Year’s Resolutions

I don’t make them anymore, even though I did for decades. Why the change? First, I realized that without accountability to someone else, resolutions rarely get accomplished. This led me to experiment with working with a close friend to mutually assign each other resolutions (with deadlines), which worked. Second, I have found “past year reviews” (PYR) more informed, valuable, and actionable than blindly looking forward with resolutions. I did my first PYR after a mentor’s young daughter died of cancer on December 31st roughly 7 years ago, and I’ve done it every year since. It looks like the following and only takes 30-60 minutes:

1.     Grab a notepad and create two columns: POSITIVE and NEGATIVE.

2.     Go through your calendar from the last year, looking at every week.

3.     For each week, jot down on the pad any people and activities that triggered peak positive or negative emotions for that month.

4.     Once you’ve gone through the past year, look at your notepad list and ask “What 20% of each column produced the most reliable or powerful peaks?”

5.     Based on the answers, take your “positive” leaders and schedule more of them in 2018. Get them on the calendar now! Book things with friends and prepay for shit now! That’s step one. Step two is to take your “negative” leaders, put “NOT-TO-DO LIST” at the top, and put them somewhere you can see them each morning for the first few weeks of 2018. These are the people and things you *know* make you miserable, so don’t put them on your calendar out of obligation, guilt, FOMO, or other nonsense.

That’s it! Let me know how it goes if you try it.

And just remember: it’s not enough to remove the negative. That simply creates a void. Get the positive things on the calendar ASAP, lest they get crowded out by the bullshit and noise that you know will attempt to fill your days. As Peter Drucker said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.”

Dr Jonathan Marshall