New Years; upload a mental virus, rather than crafting a resolution (aka a promise to yourself you don’t keep)

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I like New Years celebrations, and I don’t mind the ritual of New Year resolutions either, per se. But I agree that simply deciding on a new goal or action because it is “a new year” doesn’t pan out well for most people. We all know the drill; the large majority of us will fail at keeping our New Years resolutions.

I have a bit of a different twist on the idea of using the New Year to spur new actions, commitments and goals.

Here’s what I think.

First of all, time is important. We can all agree on that. In fact, it’s the only thing that is so important, it supersedes those you love in importance. Because without time, we can do nothing else.

Death is; running out of time.

Because of that, how we think of time is very important.

If I think time is important, I must then respect the constructs that are in place to make me aware of it.

New years, new months, new weeks, new days. Hours, minutes, seconds.

Mondays, birthdays, New Years, 1st’s. Beginnings and ends that make up “time”.

In order to respect time properly, thinking long-term is necessary as well. What I do now, will determine where I am a year from now.

There are certain moments or events in life that bring our thoughts around to time, and how much or how little we have, more than at other times. On the New Year, our view of time is condensed and intensified as we look back on a year past and start a new one.

A year is a nice middle-ground for thinking long-term. It’s friendlier than thinking 10 years from now and a longer chunk of time, than 1 month, for instance. A year is enough time to change significantly. Or so we may feel.

At the start of the New Year, we have an automatic and socially constructed window of awareness. “Time” is put in front of us.

This universal awareness of time on New Years, often makes us give in to the “guilty-pleasure” of crafting resolutions (guilty, because we are aware of how little they correlate to action) or perhaps we do the opposite, and make note of the fact that we don’t need “a new year resolution” to start anything, because any time is a good time to start! Both attitudes towards how someone can commit to action can work or not work. Both can be true. But I prefer something else.

The question is always; what will enable action?

Resolutions often fail because they are made off of the panic-feeling of time passing as the year ends. We act on that feeling of dread that time is being lost, not because we have decided to ACT.

You can act any time of course, but what we are often waiting for is the urge to act. And being aware of a loss of time is compelling. We feel that we can make ourselves care in the moment we are most aware that we are losing time.

But what if we harnessed the window of New Years awareness, the feeling of loss and the accompanying motivation to change, without the superficiality of crafting resolutions that we will not keep?

Instead of choosing a resolution that carries with it the enormous burden of action that I have not yet committed to, I pick an idea, or a thought, or a “principle”, and spend the year wondering what it means in real life.

This new year, try this instead: pick a thought or a principle or quote that you feel has “truth” and spend time trying to recognize it in action for the rest of the year.

Personally I look to something said by someone great, that promises to give me insight into how to get something I want, become a better person, or achieve my goals. This is where motivational quotes can actually be useful, rather than just exciting to read and nod to.

Last year, I chose this quote by Steve Jobs:

“That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex; you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end, because once you get there, you can move mountains”

Why is this a better idea?

It prompted lots of questions to ask myself for the rest of the year. Such as:

  • Is my thinking clean? What does clean thinking sound like in my head? What does it look like on paper? What does it mean to think “cleaner/clearer” about my life? My business? My parenting? My training? My programming?
  • What am I over-complicating? What am I not able to act on, simply because I haven’t broken it down and made it easier for me to think about?
  • What have I started and failed on? How can I simplify it so I can think on it easier? Am I willing to? Have I committed to really doing something about it or not? If not, can I clear it out of my head to focus on what I have decided to act on?

The last part of the quote told me something. It promised me something. I wanted to know if it was true.

“If I get my thinking clean, can I move mountains?”

What are my mountains?

There’s all those questions again. They start coming once you are determined to find out what it means.

My mountains are probably similar to yours in general. Improvements in finances, parenting, training, business, creativity etc.

But “uploading” that quote, started the asking. And it is only through asking, that I will hit on the answers needed right now. It is how I will find what is true for me.

The thing is, this quote doesn’t tell me what “thinking clean” and “moving mountains” means in my life. That’s the stuff I  got to figure out. But this is where these quotes have use. Steve Jobs is telling me if I work on my thinking, I can do more. What does working on your thinking mean? What would it mean for you?

After all, a “resolution” is simply a commitment to act and do what we say we want to do. Just saying it doesn’t mean a thing. Only doing the work will mean something! But you can’t DO THE WORK, unless you commit to a plan of action. Someone can say “this year I will start a diet and exercise regularly”, and then they fail because they don’t know how to go about it. Or they can’t figure out how to go about it in a way that allows them to really integrate it into their life. They get daunted by all the pieces that must be in place. Or they let the wave of nostalgia and the awareness of time that New Years brings, motivate them temporarily.

But tying your motivation to that wave of feeling is fleeting. Its not going to last you. Statistics show most of us will fail at keeping our resolutions.

Why? They didn’t upgrade their thinking along with their good intentions. Better actions, require better thought processes. Why not start there instead and instead commit to recognizing if you are putting your own values into action?

What we all need is more awareness. More reminders to engage in our lives actively.

New Years is perfect for that!

On New Years we feel the little whirlpool in our stomach that says “another year is gone, you are one year closer to death, to not existing at all. Act! Now! You are getting older. You will be done with life sooner now, than last year”.

On New Years we face the biggest fear we have. That our existence is limited.

That feeling of loss, is a powerful psychological motivator. We are adverse to loss. We don’t like it. Yet we lose time constantly, because of how we live our lives.

This year, bring those two powerful concepts (loss and awareness of time) to work for you at the ideal time; the start of a new year.

Upload an idea and let it sit and simmer in your head, rather than committing to something you probably will not follow through on or are not prepared to.

How do you pick an idea?

Find something that gives you that feeling of finding a “truth” about life. Doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to feel true to you! And then this coming year, find what it means in your everyday life; which will become normal and busy again post-holidays.

How do you find what it means?

Ask yourself all the time. Let the questions about this “truth” play in the back of your head through the year. (Remember, mine was; “what does it mean to make my thinking clean?”)

Principles and “truths” are broad, general, and rather vague. We have to work to find “what they mean” specifically. And that meaning is always individual, specific to context and specific to your life. And it takes time to find what it means. No one else can really tell you what something like “clarity” or “honesty” or “self-respect” means specifically to YOU. You must discover it.

We must define values and principles for ourselves by understanding them in action.

This takes time. Its where we should focus the work, because the other stuff like “being consistent with training” and “giving a shit about my diet and sleep” is a RESULT of that. You got a year.

If you are not prepared to change, you will not change simply on New Years or simply by writing a list of “to-do’s”. This is why resolutions fail. Try something different.

Then next year, build on your theme. I will always have to work on making my thinking clear and clean, but now I have a solid idea of what it means IN MY life and can build on it. Its firmly embedded in my “way of thinking”. And that makes all the difference.

Happy New Year to you, and thanks for reading.

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  1. That’s funny. I did exactly that this year.

    Mine: “consistency.”

  2. It’s hard to find educated people in this particular topic, but you sound like you know what you’re talking about!