Because they make me feel like a failure, that’s why I’m not setting new year’s resolutions. This is because I get stuck in the dichotomy of overachievement vs. mediocrity.
Yes, I know that this is binary thinking (more on that later), but it’s how I unapologetically feel.
Table of Contents
History of New Year’s Resolutions
Let’s start with a brief history of where new year’s resolutions come from. There is some thought that new year’s resolutions started over 4000 years ago with the Babylonians. Part of their planting rituals included promising to pay back debts and return borrowed objects.
I find it fascinating that some of the first new year’s resolutions revolved around finances. And anytime I hear or think about the Babylonians (which is not very often), it makes me think of the book The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason. It is a great personal finance book that is easy to read – it might be worth checking out if you haven’t read it already.
Although there is no documentation for the Babylonians’ success at keeping their resolutions, according to a 2021 study, 31% of people plan to make a new year’s resolution. The number was 27% in 2020. (I was part of that 27% in 2020, and then the world went sideways).
Keeping with some statistics, of the 27% of people who made resolutions in 2020, only 35% of them kept them. That means that 65% of people who made resolutions failed at achieving all of them (49% reported achieving some of their resolutions).
65% is a high failure rate. Which makes one question, why set a new years resolution at all?
True, if more people made new year’s resolutions, more would achieve them. And maybe the real go-getters have their own system for success and don’t need to be motivated by turning a calendar page.
School Year or New Year?
Speaking of turning a page on the calendar, as a teacher, I often feel that the passing of time is measured in school years, not calendar years.
The new year lands almost right in the middle of the school year, making new year’s resolutions awkward.
But I advocate for having a life (and identity) outside of your employment, so this is another reason I feel stuck. Do I consider September or January the start of a new year? Or what if we used our birthdate to mark a new year?
Does it really matter? Probably not.
But when faced with indecision, I often tend to lean towards not deciding. So, in a way, not being clear on when to set a resolution for the “new year” leads me not to want to set one anytime.
A Year is a Long Time
If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that a year is a long time.
I remember being so ambitious before 2020. So ambitious that I set 20 goals for 2020.
Then in March of that year, the world shut down, and many of those goals (new years resolutions) became unattainable.
In the grand scheme of life (and the universe), a year maybe a short amount of time. But over a year, a lot of things can happen that may or may not be in our control. The longer a time frame, the more uncontrollable variables and events can pop up.
On top of a year feeling like a long time about what can happen, it is also a long time to stay motivated.
Most people start the year with good intentions, but by the end of the first quarter, most new years resolutions are forgotten. How many people have a treadmill for a clothing rack in their homes?
Life happens, and as a parent to 2 very active little ones, it is easy to forget my new year’s resolutions. I’m not trying to make excuses but rather explain that by not achieving those goals (or forgetting about them). I feel like a failure.
And feeling like a failure is something that I try to avoid because it’s uncomfortable – I don’t like it. As a parent, there are enough instances of feeling like a failure that I don’t need to create more by setting new year’s resolutions this year.
Another way to avoid the discomfort of failure is to set the bar lower. If you have low expectations, it is easy to set your goals. Suppose this will work for you, then all the power to you. But I’m more of a stretch goal-setter, which has pros and cons.
And I’d much rather find (and feel) success for other reasons than setting a goal based on a calendar.
When it comes to goal setting, as much as I want to be okay with progress, the perfectionist in me often sees things as black and white. I either achieved the goal, or I didn’t. This is binary thinking. And it leaves no room for the gray area of progress.
If you set a goal to save 50% of your income but only save 49%, are you a failure? Technically yes. But in reality, no, because a 49% saving right is impressive if that’s what you’re working towards.
Yet, there is a part of me (and maybe you too) that would still feel like a failure, having “only” achieved 49% if I was aiming for 50%.
Maybe it’s the overachiever in me. Can you relate?
When I set goals, I aim high (I set 20 goals for 2020) and then do everything to achieve them. And although it feels incredible to achieve my goals, sometimes that achievement is to my detriment.
This is also why budgeting doesn’t work for me. Hubby and I used to have so many fights over a $2 coffee if it meant we went over our food budget for the month. I would fight over $2. His $2 coffee meant that we didn’t achieve our budget goal for the month. Never mind that we were still saving a ridiculous amount of money at that time.
This is binary thinking. Thinking that there are only 2 options (overachievement or mediocrity), that’s it.
Sometimes it’s easier to recognize binary thinking in others. But by stepping back and analyzing situations, we can sometimes see it in ourselves too.
What I’m Doing Instead
But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to stagnate and not try to grow at all in the next 365 days. Here are a few of the things I’m going to experiment with this year throughout the year. And if you are not setting new year’s resolutions either this year, maybe some of the strategies will work for you.
Set Shorter Term Goals
As stated above, a year is a long time. So why not play around with setting shorter-term goals? Some might be a month-long, maybe even as short as a week. And some might be a bit longer, perhaps something you want to achieve at some point this year or something to focus on throughout a quarter of the year.
I don’t 100% know my short-term goals this year. But that’s the beauty of them; we don’t have to know them as soon as the calendar rolls over into the new year.
My first short-term goal is to do yoga every day in January. With 2 little ones at home, this will often mean at-home yoga, but that’s totally okay. There will be times when I can go to an hour-long class and other times when I can only squeeze in a 15-minute practice that day.
Experiment with New Habits
I read Jame Clear’s Atomic Habits a while ago and loved it. It made me really think about some of my current habits and some of the habits I would like to have. If you have not read that book, I would definitely recommend it.
This year why not experiment and play with new habits? See which ones stick and which ones seem like a good idea but maybe aren’t a great fit right now.
Working on adopting new habits or letting old ones go can help you slowly get closer to the best version of yourself.
The best version of myself has gotten lost recently because being a mom has become all-consuming. But that doesn’t mean that being a mom isn’t part of my best self, just that I need to be more purposeful with my time so that there is some of it exclusively for me.
Give Yourself Some Grace
No matter how hard you (or I) try to achieve everything or make things perfect, it probably won’t happen. So why not give yourself some grace and realize that you are human. There is space between overachievement and mediocrity.
Mistakes will happen. Failure will happen. But that doesn’t make you any less of a person.
I’m writing this for both of us because often I need to hear this too.
Through the ups and downs, let’s work on giving ourselves some grace. Being okay with whatever happens—and realizing that some things are just out of our control.
That doesn’t mean that we are embracing mediocrity or are stagnating. The opposite of overachievement doesn’t have to be mediocrity. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.
Give yourself some grace and live in the gray zone sometimes.
Embrace the Process Over the Outcome
Along with giving yourself some grace is embracing the process over the outcome.
Going back to the saving rate example mentioned above, if you achieved a 49% saving rate, chances are that you’ve made some significant changes to how you spend, save, and invest your money.
Take some time to celebrate that growth and those wins. And the journey you took to get to 49%. The final 1% that you didn’t achieve is not the be-all and end-all.
The process and journey feel more critical as we get closer to financial independence.
I don’t want to get to the point where we can both leave our jobs, and they are miserable because we have no purpose anymore. We are currently thinking about and working towards what life looks like without a full-time job. This will help smooth the transition to FI once we get there. And it makes the journey and process a little more enjoyable.
It is always a good idea to reflect on your ideal lifestyle design. The new calendar year often acts as a reminder of this. Often this reflection leads to setting goals or resolutions for the year.
But you aren’t a failure or success if you choose to set or not set new year’s resolutions.
Growth (and failure) can happen without a new year’s resolution.
As much as I want to avoid the discomfort of feeling like a failure, I know that it’s inevitable. But I still like to feel like I have some control at times. So, this year I’m not setting new year’s resolutions. But I still plan on continuing to grow and evolve into the best version of myself – whatever that means.
Part of that will be letting go of the binary thinking of black vs. white and mediocrity vs. overachievement. At times and in some ways, we are all enough who we are. We don’t always have to rush or strive for the next big thing.