Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Old Year's Resolutions

New year's resolutions are about a month away, but it's not too late to think about making some old year's resolutions. If new year's resolutions are goals you make for the coming year then old year's resolutions are goals you make before a year ends.

Why bother with old year's resolutions?

Some goals shouldn't take an entire year. Sure some of your goals might be habits but there are probably a few small to medium size efforts that just need more than a week or two but less than a year. If you give yourself a year to do these, they probably won't get done. There seems to be a gap between minor checklist items and major efforts. Getting some of those open loops done that take more than 10 hours but less than 100 hours done can be quite satisfying.

Some goals work a little better with some urgency. The house is always cleanest before guests arrive. Use the end of the year to add a fixed deadline to get something done that probably should have been done earlier in the year but wasn't. Yeah you already have enough to do but maybe some goals are actually anti-goals or quitting something or interruptions. For example if one of your old year's resolutions is to quite blogging every day then you might actually free up a few hours to meet another goal, like flossing every day.

Progress on some goals might even enhance the paradoxically enjoyable stress of the holidays. Why wait until after the holidays to achieve some goals that might have otherwise contributed to a more enjoyable holiday season? Maybe a little extra self-discipline added through an old year's resolution will help. Got a bad habit that drags things down, derails the celebration, annoys the extended family - why wait until the short, dark, lonesome days of January to make progress on them?

Some habits only need a little effort to get kick started. If you aim for a year and you don't make it you feel bad. If you aim for a month and you manage three weeks you don't feel so bad. But if you can make it three weeks there's a good chance you'll try again or will still benefit from the effort. Another way to think about this is think of goals that even partial success is better than no progress. There's a big difference between monolithic goals, like finishing a marathon, and scalable goals, like send more postcards.

Some goals might benefit from experimentation. New year's resolutions seem to tend toward initiatives or significant undertakings. Maybe though the key is just challenging yourself not in how major your resolution is but in how novel it is. I can't think of a single weird, unusual, odd goal that someone has set for themselves for an entire year. On the other hand I can think of plenty of personal ones I'd make for a month. Maybe one of the under-appreciated aspects of certain kinds of goals is to get us out of familiar territory. Don't add more of the same types of goals to an already familiar pattern of behaviours. If you're tidy try wearing clothes more than once before you wash them, if you're messy buy a labeler and add labels to something. A month is a good time to try out a goal just beyond your comfort zone.

For example, bold lentil's old year's resolutions are:

1. quit analytics
2. take 1000 photos a week
3. run 100 kilometers
4. volunteer 10 hours
5. eat more toast