- Young Money by Jack Raines
- Everything Wrong with New Year's Resolutions
Everything Wrong with New Year's Resolutions
January Doesn't Have a Monopoly on Behavioral Changes.
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What do luxury gym franchise Equinox, author Nassim Taleb, and yours truly have in common? We all hate New Year’s resolutions.
Today, I thought it would be good to discuss why I feel this way. Some thoughts:
1) If a change is important enough for you to make, you shouldn’t have to wait for January 1st to get started.
When deciding whether to say yes to a future commitment, a good filter is asking if you would say “yes” to that commitment if it were happening tomorrow. A lot of possible “yes’s” quickly become “no’s” when you inject a bit of urgency.
The inverse is true when we consider resolutions.
Imagine that in September 2023, you had decided that in 2024 you wanted to lose weight, learn a foreign language, master a new skill such as Python, cooking, or East Coast Swing, become more social, or reduce your alcohol consumption.
If you cared enough about making this change, you would start immediately (i.e. tomorrow) instead of waiting for some arbitrary date in the future. If your “resolution” isn’t important enough for you to address immediately, it’s not going to stick when you attack it on January 1st.
2) Many resolutions are simply procrastination disguised as productivity.
Let’s refine my thought experiment from the last point. Now, imagine that it’s September 2023, and you have decided that you want to be a writer. You tell yourself, “In 2024, I’m going to start writing.” You spend the next three months setting up your website, brainstorming different ideas that you could write about, and telling a few friends to sign up for your soon-to-be-launched blog.
But three months go by before you ever actually publish anything.
New Year’s Resolutions, especially when planned months in advance, are deceptive because they make you feel as if you’re improving your life despite your lack of taking any real action.
Telling yourself that you’re going to start working out in 2024, for example, creates the positive mental reinforcement that you’re prioritizing your health, even though your BMI is still 36.
A resolution without lasting behavioral change is a unique form of self-delusion, nothing more.
3) Quantifying and calendarizing everything risks turns life into nothing more than a series of habits.
A couple of days ago, Brett Dashevsky posted an excellent New Year tweet:
For those who aren’t aware, James Clear is the author of the New York Times’ best-seller Atomic Habits. I, like ~20 million or so others, have read Atomic Habits. I found some of Clear’s key takeaways to be valuable, and I imagine that hundreds of thousands of readers dive into his book each January 1st to try to make their new habits stick.
My question isn’t whether certain habit-reinforcing methods work, but whether we should be focused on honing new habits in the first place.
I fear that in our productivity-addicted society, our new-found love for habit stacking threatens to crowd out everything else in our lives.
Allow me to explain.
I, like many former 11-years-olds, played an insane amount of Runescape in the 4th and 5th grade. Runescape is an open-world, MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online) game where your character can level up specific skills including, but not limited to magic, strength, attack, defense, smithing, mining, crafting, and fletching.
If you wanted to improve a specific skill, you would perform the tasks associated with that skill. To increase your mining level, for example, you would explore various mines and hack away at the rocks, and to improve your smithing, you would take the ore collected from mines and forge swords and armor.
While these skills would typically increase throughout normal gameplay (one would need to mine for metals to craft their weapons and armor for battle, for example), some players, looking to speed run their skill ascension, would automate tedious processes such as mining or woodcutting, with their avatars chopping away at trees and rocks for hours on end.
The result? You would forego enjoying the game itself to quickly improve in a specific skill.
When you compile and pursue a laundry list of various habits and resolutions, you become the real-life version of these skill-maxing avatars.
Resolutions should, in theory, improve one’s life, but the quantification of productivity hacks threatens to replace one’s life with a list of daily tasks. If all of your day’s activities are parts of different resolutions, your life is nothing more than a vehicle for habits to express themselves.
4) Making positive changes to your life shouldn’t be difficult.
A couple of years ago, I decided to double down on improving my Spanish. For context, I double majored in Spanish and finance in college, I spent a summer living in Sevilla, Spain in 2018, and I realized while visiting Spain in November 2021 that my Spanish had atrophied in the 2.5 years since I had graduated.
How did I plan to improve my Spanish? Studying 500 vocabulary words per day and enrolling in regular Spanish lessons. The results were, as you could guess, poor.
It wasn’t fun. I hated it. Have you ever tried to study vocabulary cards? It quickly becomes a chore. And Spanish lessons, more often than not, suck.
In 2023, I took a different approach. Instead of engaging in a series of repetitive tasks, I integrated Spanish into activities that I already enjoyed.
Each morning, I was already reading different business/finance/politics newsletters to catch up on current events, so I subscribed to a few Colombian and Spanish newsletters (El Espectador, El País) to add them to the mix. I also replaced my structured lessons with open-ended conversations with a Colombian woman named Andrea on the language learning site Italki.
The boredom that had previously accompanied my vocabulary sessions and Spanish lessons never appeared, and my Spanish readings and conversations became a normal, and often exciting, part of my day.
Making a “resolution” denotes a stoic, Herculean undertaking, but positive changes shouldn’t be difficult. If you want to get in shape, find a fun workout class or join a pickup basketball league. If you want to learn to cook, find some fun (and tasty recipes). Don’t force yourself to walk X steps per day, or have 5 45-minute high-cardio exercise sessions each week. You’ll burn out.
Positive change shouldn’t feel like you’re pulling teeth.
If you want to improve your life, do it, and have some fun along the way. But don’t fall victim to the habit-stacking hivemind. Do stuff that enriches your life because you want to do it. Needing a framework or resolution to make that change happen either 1) implies a skill issue or 2) signals that you’re headed in the wrong direction.
Let’s have a 2024.
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