How To Not Set New Year’s Resolutions, Never Set A Goal And Still Thrive

Mitch JoelPosted by

I don’t know about you, but no New Year’s Resolution has ever worked for me. 

In fact, even goal-setting has always been a huge issue/struggle for me. I’ve tried every goal from trying to “lose 10 pounds in 6 months” to “writing an article every day.” Two things always happen:

  • Goal gets accomplished. This is rare. But when the goal does get accomplished, I feel nothing major (in terms of happiness or accomplishment). There’s no sense of true joy or fulfillment. In fact, I’m usually (more than) a little disappointed by the reality that I spent so much time procrastinating, and figuring out how to achieve the goal, plan and execute on it, that finally getting it done is anti-climactic or makes me ambivalent. The worst part? Once the goal is accomplished, it’s usually not a habit that sticks, and I either go back to my old ways or consider the goal done and not continue on, or try to find another goal. Uch.
  • Goal does not get accomplished. This just reinforces my negative behaviors. I feel worse about my situation. My negative self-esteem kicks in. The goal seems forever miles away. I do other bad things (eat poorly, watch crappy shows, etc…) because, well, why bother? Not accomplishing a goal is (mostly) a terrible blow to my self esteem. It’s easy to armchair quarterback this, and beg me to “get back up on that horse and try again,” but we all know how high up that saddle looks from down below in the dirt and dust. 

How I lost a bunch of weight, read a ton of books, spent more time with my family and more. 

Sounds like crappy sappy BuzzFeed (or Medium) link-baity headline, but that’s what happened over the past short while (granted as I type this in vacation mode, the weight is coming back – but not for long). How did it happen? What was the turn-around? What was that magic moment of swift and decisive change? Honestly, it wasn’t much of a big deal. Just a realization. It was one simple mindset shift. It’s working for me (across the board), and maybe it will work for you (I hope it does):

Shift away from goals. Shift to a values-based system. 

Goals don’t work for me (read above), but being a human being with strong values is a critical part of who I am. So… no more goals. With that, if there’s one thing we all know about ourselves, it is our values. Here are some important personal values of mine:

  • I don’t want to die. That’s a little melodramatic. What I mean is: I want to be healthy and be around to enjoy life with my family and friends for as long as possible.
  • I love to read. I love to read business books, biographies and non-fiction (mostly). I love bookstores. I love my Kindle. I love used book stores. I love notebooks. I love pens.
  • I love writing. I love writing by hand, on my laptop, building new PowerPoint presentations, writing emails (I do… I swear), and even writing on my iPhone (which most of this article was written on).
  • I want my kids to be as attached to their father as they are to their mother. That’s important to their health. That’s important to my health. That’s important to building a better and more equitable world.  

There are many others, but you get the drift. 

What does this look like? Let me breakdown the “I don’t want to die” value: How long will it take for me to get healthy? I don’t know. How many calories a day will it take? I don’t know. How many days per week should I excercise (and how intensely)? I don’t know. To answer all of those questions, would require me to figure out the answer and build a set of goals around them to accomplish it. That doesn’t work for me (read above). So, here’s how I changed from goals to values: Being healthy has no end. You just have to chose (all of the time/every day) if what you’re doing is healthy or not. Is this food good or bad for me? How will it make me feel? Am I ok with the consequences of my choices? Did I move today? It’s not about how many miles or how intense, but did I simply sweat enough? Do I need any days off from moving a little? Probably not. Constantly asking myself questions about my choices – in the moment. I don’t harp on the past. I don’t think about those answers for tomorrow (or later in the day). It’s all about right now… am I living my values?

Questions over goals. 

Always be asking questions. This is what has worked for me, in terms of moving towards a value-based life over goals. Did you start the day and read something good? Did you move a little more today? Did you read something interesting that you should write about? You get the idea. It doesn’t always work. I’m not perfect. But, overall, it’s working. Plus excuses work great with values. Here’s an example: did you move/sweat to day? Nope. But I did write over 1000 words and read three chapters of a book. And, in the immortal words of the musician Meat Loaf: Two out of three ain’t bad. 

Measuring results.

How do you measure the results or see the changes with this system? Candidly, I don’t know. I don’t look. I don’t care. That’s how the goal (and that elusive finish line) dies. It just fades away. I don’t even really measure days, weeks, months or years. I just use the values to keep on keeping on. What I can measure is this: I feel healthier today, and that I am making better choices today than I did when I was busy failing at my goals. 

Perhaps that’s the only metric that matters?

(hat-tip to Ion for inspiring this one)