Throughout the spring, summer, fall, and finally winter, people await the novelty of the new year to write their overly-ambitious goals. Once the clock strikes 6AM on January 1st, gyms are flooded with auspicious go-getters, their subscriptions increasing exponentially across the globe. Whole Foods sales follow the upward trend, leaving refrigerators stocked with vegetables, green juice, and meal-prepped lunch boxes… until they’re not.
The regular gym-goers are annoyed about the influx of new people, but like a light-bulb they realize that in February the numbers inevitably start dwindling down to the regulars that were already there in November.
Meanwhile, fast food starts to replace a previous proclivity towards the meticulously planned meal prepped breakfast, lunches, and dinners. These once “healthy” eaters console themselves with “needing balance” between processed and whole foods. The people who signed up for expensive gym memberships still pay for them month after month out of consolation that they’re taking action towards their goal. They tell themselves that “they’ll go sometime,” even though this “sometime” is not as often as they once fervently claimed they would go and they are perceptibly losing more and more money.
Self-proclaimed writers promise that they’ll start writing, and after helplessly staring at a blank page, they then succumb to the immense inertia of the previous year’s writing block. Passionate project makers and goal-setters promise that they’ll start doing but are intimidated by the grandeur of their dreams. They let the weight of the outcome crush them before they take the most important step– the first step.
People usually make new year’s resolutions for self-improvement purposes– and to break horrible habits, hence why they must wait for the all-mighty new year to bring them the strength and motivation to change themselves. They have the whole entire year to make these changes on these big tasks, and with the newness and fresh start that the coming year brings, there’s no curbing their drive.
People usually make new year’s resolutions in a state of intense motivation and passion. The resolutions are usually based on starting activities or habits that have the potential to improve their life. For example, many people think of fitness as an important goal and promise to start working out, and so they make that a resolution for the new year, but then they stop. Why do people give up on goals that are important to their general well-being and happiness?
I will explain this by classifying people’s New Year’s Resolutions into two categories:
Great new year’s resolutions for shallow reasons
Great new year's resolutions for great reasons
There are some people who have great new year’s resolutions for great reasons, and that’s good. We will explore that later, however, there are a lot of people who have great new year’s resolutions for shallow reasons.
I’ll offer up an example: Person 1 has a new year’s resolution to eat healthier and exercise more. They want to do this solely because they want their body to look in a way that conforms more to beauty standards.
Person 2 has a new year’s resolution to eat healthier and exercise more, but they do it solely because they want to improve their health and make them happier.
These two things aren’t mutually exclusive, however I find that people with a mindset similar to Person 1 are often less likely to take action towards their goal because it is more extrinsically motivated than intrinsically motivated. What does this mean?
Extrinsic motivation is motivation that is driven by an external reward or to avoid punishment. This is outside of you. This reward usually comes in the form of relatively instant gratification or something that is constantly being rewarded and affirmed by an external source.
Intrinsic motivation is inherently rewarding behaviors, more sustainable and reliable. This comes from inside of you.
For people who want their body to look a certain way, ask yourself why you want your body to look that way. Is it because deep down you believe that you want to look that way and it will really benefit your life? In what ways will it benefit your life? Or is it because you’re experiencing societal pressure that is telling you that a certain body type or feature will make your life better? Are you doing this because it will make you more confident or do you subconsciously want to appeal to others? While these are loaded questions, think of what is more valuable to you.
If nobody ever noticed would you still do it?
This is not meant to stop you from having that goal. Exercising towards a certain goal is admirable, however it requires a lot of discipline and commitment to self-improvement and if it is not for the right reasons it is going to be hard to pursue those goals. You need to ask yourself the reason why you want any goal that you have. Self-sustained goals and projects are more likely to fail if you rely on extrinsic motivation, or external rewards because it focuses more on the outcome than the journey. When people are not used to receiving external motivators, they have to get used to relying on themselves for validation, which although hard and conventional, is far more rewarding and psychologically safe.
Intrinsic motivation is more psychologically safe because it’s only fleeting on your own accord. It can never fail you because it’s potential energy that lives inside of you. It is based in genuine desire whereas with extrinsic motivation is more about the hold other people have on you. Humans are naturally selfish and so people will almost always subconsciously work in favor of themselves, their beliefs, and at their convenience– even people pleasers. Thus, external pressure isn’t something that’s as valuable to us.
When you are motivated by external pressure, it becomes less about chasing the goal and more perceived as escaping punishment for something than actually wanting to do it for your well-being. For example, are you exercising because you care about your health and well-being or are you exercising to escape the societal implications that come with looking or not looking a certain way.
When you set a path towards something that you enjoy, you don't have to hesitate or ask yourself why you’re doing it– you're just doing it because you love yourself, value your well-being and believe your goals are important and that’s enough to drive you to do what you need to do.
That feeling of waking up motivated, that commitment to yourself is a satisfaction like no other. When you live a life committed to yourself, nothing else matters and when there’s no negative pressure from other people, no one else can deter your goals, so everything is on your own terms. Senior Ko’Olina Mosley says, “When your goals are self-motivated, it’s not something that you ‘have to do,’ it’s something you get to do and it ends up being about the journey instead of the destination.” This has several lessons baked into it: Don’t focus on the outcome, focus on the steps that will get you there. People get so overwhelmed stressing out about task five, six, and seven that they can’t even do task one.
Make your goals with love for yourself rather than against yourself.
So why do people with good new years’ resolutions and good reasons sometimes still give up on their new year’s resolutions as much as people with shallow reasons? Even though these goals are important to them, they are not willing to make the necessary changes and steps required to lead them towards their passions. Why? Because it’s hard. Let’s talk about hard things: willpower, discipline, and self-love. That’s a lot all at once, but they are all intertwined, so I will put them in conversation with each other and hope this will give you insight, background, and most importantly to lead into the formula behind the science of achieving all your goals.
What’s the battle with not wanting to do things that you “have to” and not wanting to do things that you really want to. Why on earth would we as humans avoid things that have the capacity to improve our lives?
A lot of people would call this procrastination, and everyone’s heard about the term. While the issue is that you just keep pushing things off, the key is that you do not want to do those things and pushing them past the deadline doesn’t make you want to do them even more than you did before. When you procrastinate, it’s commonly said that you lack motivation right? For procrastinators that motivation comes in the form of deadlines, 10 minute motivational YouTube videos, or the date “January 1st” itself that provides you with the fleeting sense of urgency. However, it’s not motivation you lack because you want to do these things. Motivation is defined by Psychology Today as the “desire to act in service of a goal.” A vast majority of people have motivation, that’s why we even care about procrastination and struggle to do something, that’s why it’s always in the back of your mind when you’re procrastinating!
In conclusion, the root of your inability to do these things is not about their delay, it’s about not wanting to do them at all and the force inside of you that sometimes feels like it’s physically restricting you from taking action.
This is deeper than procrastination, and it’s something called resistance.
Resistance is something that lives inside of all of us and is the thing that stops us from achieving our goals and taking action towards things that we are passionate about. We also usually feel resistance towards tasks that are urgent or have the capacity to change our lives for the better.
Resistance is the root of the issue, because you won’t stop delaying something that you can’t find the power to do. However, resistance does not go away the more you procrastinate, it just gets stronger and stronger and stronger until you never do it or until something else forces you to– like a stressful paper being due. You don’t genuinely care about the paper that’s due tomorrow and in the grand scheme of things, you’ll probably forget about it in a year. However, the scary thing is that you DO care about the story you really want to write, the instrument you wanna start playing, the project you want to get started on… because that’s your purpose and that will never leave you or become tangible without your action. The scary thing is where procrastination comes in: the more you wait, the further it slips away from you.
So how do you take action when you are feeling resistance?
I hate to say it when you’ve heard it, but you just do it even though it’s hard.
You do it when you don’t feel like doing it because that’s your purpose, your happiness, your passion and it’s going to make you feel better when you act on it. When you continually succumb to resistance, you will feel a perpetual unhappiness and sense of “lack” in your life until you take action to turn your goals into realities. You are meant for your passions. Pressfield’s general rule of thumb is that the stronger you feel resistance towards something, the bigger the sign it is that you should be doing that specific thing.
One reason why successful people are successful is because they do things that other people don’t do– they show up consistently, work through adversity, and understand that fear is a natural part of their work. The work is hard, but they work through it because there is simply nothing else to do. Professionals know that they face resistance and fear every single day, but what separates them from amateurs is that they don’t act on inspiration or mood, they act on purpose. This is called discipline, the art of showing up. Every time you do something you don’t feel like doing, you’re leveling up your discipline. This is what creates motivation to do it again, or valuable dopamine, and this creates a positive feedback loop that inspires you to want to do it again. Nothing great was ever achieved without discomfort.
Because you have the mindset that your goals are so important that absolutely nothing can deter them, you have made your happiness your paramount value, and thus made yourself your utmost priority. When you value yourself so much that you sacrifice your comfort for your goals, you show an incomparable amount of respect, care, and consideration for yourself that will improve all aspects of your life. You’ll be happier, more fulfilled, and people will start to respect you more because you respect yourself. Thus, a natural byproduct of continued discipline is self-respect and self-love.
How long will you wait until you command happiness and self-love?
So really, why don’t your new year’s resolutions work? And how do you set more actionable goals?
There is a psychological aspect to this: The first thing to realize is that your goals are more than goals, they are your happiness and purpose and that commands attention. They are too important and too high stakes to delay any further. So you don’t wait until January 1st or the first of the month, you start as soon as possible. That doesn’t mean you take some grand step, the grandest step is starting.
Second most important, you show up and do whatever it is that you need to do. Maybe the thought of doing this thing is scary, it overwhelms you and feels like it’s physically putting a weight on you even though you know it’s a good thing; Great, you have recognized resistance and the best thing you can do is to get up and do it. Remember: there’s nothing else to do. If you don’t start your goals, you’re in a bad situation and if you do start it then you’re in an uncomfortable situation with delayed, albeit long-term benefits and fulfillment, so choose what situation you wanna be in.
I’ll offer up an example: If you want to read more books, read 5 pages of a book, then you’ve already practiced the art of discipline, which is just showing up. When you don’t even try to show up, you run the risk of getting further and further away from your purpose and then it only gets harder to.
You don’t attract what you want (resolution), you attract what you are (action) so align yourself with the visions of your goal. Nothing changes without your action and you have full control to decide whether your resolution will stay a resolution or become a reality. It all starts with one step!
Inspiration: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield