It’s January, and you might find yourself in multiple conversations that include the query, “So what’s your New Year’s Resolution this year?” You’ll wince at the thought, and wonder what’s wrong with you that you haven’t set one yet. But the problem isn’t with you; the problem is with the concept itself.
‘Resolution’ comes from the Latin resolutus, to break up, to loosen, to unfasten. So, a resolution is actually a disintegration, which—let’s face it—is usually what happens to your earnest promise to lose weight each year. Or maybe you’re thinking that resolution is really about determination and steadfastness. When one is fixed on a decision, one is resolute. But if a solution is an answer, a fix, a solve to a problem, then why must I re-solve it? Why must I solve something again, if the (re)solution was so firm and right the first time?
I joke, but not really. I think there is something terribly wrong with the idea of making New Year’s resolutions. Rather, I propose we set New Year’s Goals for ourselves. The difference goes well beyond a simple shift in diction and instead creates space for actual cognitive and behavioral shift—the kinds of shift that really matter.
A cognitive shift, or what some might think of as a paradigm shift—a fundamental change in our thinking or ways of doing—is often the key to opening up new opportunities and success. Think about the massive shift we all experienced through the pandemic: our paradigm of “office” radically changed, from a physical building you go to where you must work and personally interact with colleagues, to a flexible space often in your own home where you work and interact with colleagues digitally. This shift in thinking about office work afforded us many benefits, such as flexible seating, flexible hours, and flexible clothing, which improved our working conditions and our feelings about our work.
So, a cognitive shift, like the one created when changing the label of our desires from resolution to goal, allows us to perceive and experience our desires differently. Consider that a resolution, when not achieved yet, makes us feel like a failure. Resolutions are fixed mindset. A goal, when not achieved yet, encourages us to try something different, to persist, to tweak our plans to reach success alternatively. Goals, therefore, advance our desires with a growth mindset.
What’s more is that goal-setting actually changes our brain’s structure and improves our effectiveness. According to Rebecca J. Compton in her article, The Interface Between Emotion and Attention, goal-setting isn’t just a cognitive process, it’s also an emotional one. When we set a goal, our amygdala (the part of our brain where emotions originate) evaluates how important that goal is to us; goal-setting activates our emotions, our desires. Then, if it’s of high importance to us, our frontal lobe (the executive branch of our brain) steps up to create a plan and outline what we need to do to achieve that goal. So, setting goals helps us achieve behavioral shift as well, because goals help us take different actions than we took before.
This is what truly distinguishes a goal from a resolution. Goal statements identify an outcome, which gets achieved by clarifying and completing action steps along the way. When we set a goal (what to achieve), we also establish how we’re going to achieve it. Want to feel more fit and healthy? Set your goal (lose 20 lbs), then identify what actions you’ll take to achieve it. You’ll increase your exercise, including cardio and strength training, and decrease unnecessary and unhealthy calories. Now you’re starting to formulate a plan: Start with10 push-ups each morning, take a brisk 30-minute walk after every dinner, stop packing cookies in your lunch, and pack salads instead. Finally, you’ll keep track of your progress in a fitness journal so you can feel good about your daily and overall trend success.
What might you want to achieve in 2023, and what behaviors might you implement to reach those goals?
Top photo by PxHere.