I’m done. I won’t ever make another New Year’s resolution. Never again.
You should stop too.
The way we make New Year’s resolutions is totally flawed. We are torturing ourselves needlessly, and we need to stop.
Did you know that 200 million Americans will set resolutions, but only 8% of them will succeed?!?
Those are terrible odds!
Don’t get me wrong. The sentiment behind a New Year’s resolution is great. The desire to start fresh, the motivation to make habit changes, to inspiration to grow as person – these are wonderful things.
And that’s precisely why we need to stop this nonsense about making resolutions in the new year.
Here are the top 5 reasons why I stopped making New Year’s Resolutions:
1. Resolutions Are Too Rigid.
I tried to quit smoking a dozen times before I finally succeeded. The reason I failed so many times is simple: I was way too rigid.
Roughly 2500 years ago, Lao Tzu (老子) said everything you need to know about rigidity in the Dao De Jing:
Humans are born soft and supple;
Dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant;
Dead, they are brittle and dry.
Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible
Is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
Is a disciple of life.
The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.
This is fantastic advice for qigong, tai chi, and life.
On January 1st, 1997, I made a resolution: “I’m never smoking again!”
My approach was hard and stiff, and I failed as a result.
I know what some of you are thinking. “Sifu, didn’t you eventually quit smoking by going cold turkey and vowing to never take another puff?”
It’s true. That’s how I eventually quit.
But I wasn’t rigid about it. It wasn’t January 1st, it wasn’t a New Year’s Resolution, and I knew that failure was a possibility (having done it a dozen times already).
In other words, I was soft and supple. And that’s why I succeeded. That is why I haven’t had a puff in many, many years.
2. Motivation Doesn’t Last
Have you heard the joke about gym memberships?
Most people pay $300 per visit.
The joke is on you!
For example, many of my students pay $50 per month for a gym membership. Every January, they are motivated to get in shape, and they go to the gym.
If you pay $600 per year for a membership, and use it twice, then guess what?
That’s $300 per visit.
“But if I cancel, I’ll lose my special member price!”
Is $300 per visit really so special?
Cancel your gym membership, and spend the money on something you’ll actually do. If you love qigong and tai chi, then go do that. If you love Zumba, go do that. If you love photography (my newest obsession), then go take a photography course (preferably one that does photo walks and gets you outdoors).
When you signed up for a gym membership, you were motivated to change. That’s awesome!
But motivation doesn’t last. The truth is that motivation is only useful for one thing: making or breaking a habit.
Speaking of habits…
3. Habit Is Everything
If you haven’t learned this universal truth yet, then please let me teach it to you right now.
Habit. Is. Everything.
Willpower is a big subject, and something I plan to write more about. But here’s what you need to know:
Once you make something a habit, it requires zero willpower.
People think I must have a ton of willpower because I practice qigong, tai chi, and meditation every day. (My record is 4015 days in a row.)
The truth is that I no longer use willpower to practice.
Wake up. Pee. Brush my teeth. Drink some water. Go practice.
That’s my routine. That’s been my routine for years. It’s a habit, zero willpower required.
Trying to eliminate a habit? Same thing. You’ll need willpower initially, but eventually, you fly on autopilot.
I used to smoke 20 cigarettes a day. Quitting smoking once and for all required a ton of willpower.
But nowadays? I rarely even think about cigarettes. I definitely don’t need willpower to not smoke every day.
Once you discover that habit is everything, resolutions become obsolete.
Saying “I’m going to lose weight in 2016,” is meaningless.
Say this instead: “I’m going to do my best to create a daily habit of walking for 20 minutes!”
That’s focusing on a new habit, and that’s how your life will change: step by step.
4. Change Happens Step By Step
Normally, you have 365 days to implement change. This year, you’ve got 366. Happy Leap Year!
There’s a reason Alcoholics Anonymous encourages people to take things one day at a time. Because that’s how real change happens.
One step at a time.
Poco a poco.
Bit by bit.
If you try to do too much too fast, then you set yourself up for failure.
Instead of vowing to make all kinds of crazy change at once, try these ideas instead:
- Try to make or break 1 habit every fiscal quarter (i.e. every 3 months).
- Break harder habits later after you’re already on a roll.
- Make a list of all the good habits you already have (like brushing your teeth, getting enough sleep, eating kale, etc.).
- Figure out what you want. This is harder than it sounds. I recommend Jack Canfield’s advice to make a list of long-term goals using the following formula: 30 Things I Want To Have, 30 Things I Want To Be, and 30 Things I Want To Do.
- Seek out communities and activities that naturally come with good habits, like running or walking clubs, or a yoga or meditation studio.
- Keep track of your progress. Use your iPhone, a spreadsheet, or a good old piece of paper. This works better than you might think.
5. January Sucks For Changing Things
According to the ancient Chinese theory of the Five Elements, January is an awful time to implement change.
Actually, you already know this.
Why do flowers implement change in the spring?
The energy of springtime is much better for metamorphosis and growth. When I talk about energy here, I’m referring to Qi, the weather, cosmology, and how all of this affects the human body.
(On a side note, if you don’t believe that heavenly bodies can have an effect on something as small as a human, well then I think the moon and the oceans might disagree with you.)
Anyway, January is not a great time for starting anew. We just finished a marathon of holidays, we’re exhausted, and everything in nature is retreating and restoring.
Wait until spring. Start making changes in March or April, and then by next January, you’ll have a serious habit in place!
So there you have it. New Year’s resolutions are well-intentioned, but ultimately unhelpful. There are better ways to create lasting change in our lives.
Did I miss anything? Got any thoughts or comments to add? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.From the heart, Sifu Anthony