Did Quitter's Day get you?
January is over. How are the new year resolutions going after one month? I've made progress on one of mine, struggled a bit with the fitness because of illness, and put one on the back burner for now, to revisit in the spring.
I’ve seen a lot of comments on social media this year from people saying that they don’t believe in making new year resolutions. They prefer to set realistic goals anytime.
Personally, I’ve always loved new year’s resolutions, even though I have an abysmal past record of keeping them. There’s something about the idea of a new start that’s appealing to me, and I’ve developed a theory about this. No scientific research to back me up, just a pet theory based on my own observations and personal experience, but hear me out on this one.
There are two types of people – those who believe in making resolutions, and those who don’t. (Actually, as I’m making this up as I go along, maybe there are three types – those who don’t are subdivided into two types.)
Those who don’t believe in making resolutions
People who prefer to set realistic goals anytime.
My pet theory about these people is that they are the ones who don’t struggle with motivation, are able to deal with setbacks and persevere with working towards their goals, have good systems in place to track their progress and adjust if things aren’t going to plan. They don’t suffer from procrastination. I spoke to one of these creatures a few years back, a guy who said he didn’t suffer from procrastination. I was envious. He gave me some advice, which was to read Eat that Frog by Brian Tracy. Now, I know that people love Brian Tracy, but this turned out to be rubbish advice for me. He said it worked for him. Or rather, I think he just knew this stuff without having to read it in a book. Being the kind of person who didn’t suffer procrastination, he didn’t really understand a procrastinator’s brain. The sum of the advice I took from that book was, do the most difficult thing first, get it out of the way. What this resulted in for me was that I didn’t get anything at all done. I procrastinated. I needed to do the difficult thing, I procrastinated on that, and didn’t do anything else instead.
What that advice doesn’t take into account is that procrastination isn’t a time management problem, it’s an emotional management problem. Better advice is to do some very small, unthreatening thing first. Success breeds success. A procrastinator is more likely to feel that success by doing some small non threatening thing first, not their most difficult thing of the day. There’s lots of scientific studies that back up that this is the way our brains work, but I can’t be bothered to look them all up right now. My task for today is to write this article and I’m in flow. If I have to stop to look up sources then damn, I’ve got to make myself start again! I wrote last year about taking the first step, you can read this article here. I think I might have cited some sources in that one.
Those who do believe in making resolutions
I put myself very firmly in this group. I love the idea of a fresh start, and have set new year’s resolutions probably every year of my life. I’ve set the same (ish) three for probably around the last ten years.
I even wrote about these three aims in one of my very early posts, and considered whether it was feasible to succeed in all three at the same time. The fact of me still working on them after all this time probably gives me the answer. Unless it’s just that I was still looking at it all wrong at that point.
Another popular theory is that what motivates us is big fat hairy audacious massive goals. Whatever adjective you prefer. Or SMART goals, let’s set SMART goals.
Long experience of setting goals – aka new year’s resolutions – have taught me that it’s not about the goals. Not for me, and I suspect many other resolution setters. It’s about implementation. It’s about systems and processes. It’s about monitoring and reviewing progress. It’s about overcoming difficulties and setbacks.
Where I think we’ve been going wrong, us people who love setting resolutions, is that we want something, and we want it badly, but we don’t really know how to go about getting it. So in January (and September) we join Weight Watchers or Slimming World. We join a gym. We start looking for a new job. We wish for things, and think we’re working on them, but really, we’re not sustaining that effort long enough. Or we’re doing the wrong thing, and when that doesn’t work out, we get despondent and give up.
Strava, the fitness app, has analysed its users’ data and found that people give up on the third Friday of January. They’ve called this Quitters Day. Which just goes to show how prevalent this phenomenon is. More about this below.
Those who don’t believe in making resolutions
A sub group who have no ambition or goals at this time in their lives.
I’m making no judgements here. Maybe you’re genuinely happy with your lot. If so, fabulous. If you have more complex needs, I have empathy and sympathy, but I’m not equipped to help you. I mention this just for completeness, and I hope you're able to find the help you need.
If you’ve succumbed to Quitters Day this year, read on
But if you recognise yourself in the resolution setters, this is for you. This is about beliefs. And the things I said above – implementation, systems and processes, monitoring and reviewing progress, overcoming difficulties and setbacks.
If you’ve taken a look at my previous post, you’ll see that I talked about my weight loss progress, and how I’ve finally cracked it after a lifetime of failed diets. Well, I’ve got to confess that it hasn’t gone so well since then. I’ve had some setbacks. Since October last year, I’ve struggled with the exercise programme. A back injury , a wrist injury (neither serious, but enough to disrupt the exercise programme), Christmas, a cold, dental treatment – all got in the way of a regular gym commitment. Add in some wintry weather, and even the daily walking has suffered. This also means I overeat, so not losing weight either.
It's easy to give up in the face of a challenge. And certainly, I have, many times. As I said, a lifetime of failed diets. But now I’m still tracking and monitoring my progress. I’m persevering. I’m going to the gym as soon as I’ve finished writing this article. I’m working on getting my diet back on track, even though it’s more difficult now that I’ve already lost some weight. I haven’t given up. I haven’t put weight back on.
So what’s different? I don’t really like the word ‘mindset’ it sounds like a buzzword to me, but it’s mindset. Anyone who’s read anything about goals or personal development has probably come across the word ‘mindset’. You may well have come across Carol Dweck’s book of the same name. I’d seen this referenced so many times, and figured I got it – fixed mindset, people who think they can’t change, versus growth mindset, those who know they can and love personal growth. I believed I had a growth mindset – after all, I love reading, learning new things, personal development. It wasn’t until I actually read the book that I discovered it was more nuanced. I was horrified to realise that sometimes, in some areas of my life, I had a fixed mindset. I gave up in the face of challenges, instead of dealing with them and overcoming them. You know those people who, when told they can’t do something, respond by ‘showing them’. I usually didn’t do that. I was more likely to agree - oh yeah, I can’t manage that, get despondent and give up ☹. That’s a fixed mindset. Not always, not with everything, depended what it was. But reading the book opened my mind, and that has made the difference. You can watch my review of the book here.
And how can you use the lessons I’ve learned to help you reach your goals? This isn’t meant to be a post about weight loss, but it’s such a useful analogy I can’t help using it. If your goals are work goals, if your new year resolution was to get a new job, or get a promotion, or have better working relationships (Ok, I doubt anyone set that as a resolution, but it’s a great goal to have, right?) how are you feeling about progress one month in? Did you quit on or around Quitters Day? If you have, don’t worry, we’re into a new month. You can have another fresh start for February. If you need a bit of a boost to get you back on track, this is a great book to help you make changes.
In my next post I’m going to talk more about those goals and how useful is it to set them. In the meantime, if you’ve got any questions about how to make changes at work, feel free to contact me or leave a comment, and I’ll be happy to talk to you.