Discover more from The Radical Moderate's Guide to Life
Radically Moderate New Years' Resolutions
It can be done! Really!
It’s that time of year again, that time when we vacillate between the immoderate extremes of giant lists of 50+ resolutions on the one hand to rejecting New Year’s resolutions as bad and depressing on the other.
But radical moderates can rejoice! There are easy ways to moderately ring in the New Year feeling like you’re making progress toward your goals without wearing a hair shirt of shame when things inevitably go off the rails in February.
One of my gigs for a while was coaching early-stage academics on work-life balance and productivity tools. I also happen to really love reading productivity and personal development stuff. While that’s not usually the theme of this blog, it turns out that a lot of our cultural and political immoderation seeps into our personal lives as well. This is particularly true around New Year’s, where it’s tempting to start with a list of radically immoderate resolutions like “work out every day for an hour” or “lose 100 pounds by March” or “read all of Tolstoy this year” that inevitably fail by January 15.
But just because a lot of resolutions fail by January 15 doesn’t mean they all have to. I’m not anti-resolutions. It’s about making the right kinds of resolutions at the right time for the right reason. It also turns out that our previously discussed principles of radical moderation - humility, complexity, tradeoffs, and compassion - work pretty darn well in the personal development space too.
As a quick summary of a LOT of personal development and habit-building literature out there, here’s a brief run-down of best-practices in resolution-building:
First, it really helps to do a basic “year in review.” That sounds crazy and time-consuming, but it could be something as simple as looking over your calendar or planner from the past year or looking over your journal or perusing your credit card statements. The goal is to get a feel for what worked, what didn’t, and what you’d like to improve on in the coming year. Even just identifying a pattern in the past year can help you clarify your goals for the next year. Constantly losing your keys? Maybe organization is a goal to focus on. Feeling frazzled and pulled in all directions? Maybe starting a weekly planning practice would help. Or adding in 5 minutes of meditation each morning. The goal is not to envision a perfectly new you, but instead to identify friction points in your existing life that you could spend a little bit of time and energy buffing out.
Once you’ve identified one or two friction points that you’d like to lube up in the New Year, you want to break down the solutions into easy and actionable steps. If organization is your goal, start by identifying one simple thing you can do this January and focus on that thing alone until it’s solid. Something like installing a key rack on the fridge or setting up a single password system. The important part is to just focus on ONE single thing so you don’t get overwhelmed trying to change too many things at once (ask me how I know…).
Finally, you’ll want to put in place systems that support those simple habits. Get an accountability buddy for your writing or workout sessions. Set Alexa reminders to put your keys on the new rack. “Habit stack” by building new habits onto existing habits, like doing a five minute meditation when you pull into your parking spot at work. Incorporate your new habit into your weekly planning and/or add it to your calendar as a reminder. If your habit requires you to do something 3x a week or something, pick those days out each Sunday and make sure you’ve carved out time on your calendar. Not creating sustainable systems is probably the #1 reason resolutions fail.
As you think about what resolutions you want to choose and how to incorporate them into your life, focus on the radically moderate lessons we’ve discussed elsewhere on the blog:
Remember, improving our lives is a complex task. Approach it with humility and a sense of curiosity. If you’ve been struggling to become a morning exerciser for years and have never managed to make it stick, try something new: workout at lunch or after work, do shorter morning workouts, combine morning workouts with something you really like, change up your location, find an accountability buddy, etc. If something isn’t working and you know it’s important to you, keep tweaking it until you find a way to make it work. It’s also ok to realize that something you thought was important really isn’t (or isn’t important right now).
On that note, remember that tradeoffs exist. New resolutions need to be compatible with other aspects of your life, including whatever season you happen to be in. I’ve long wanted to take an illustration course, but finally came to the conclusion last year that my life is full. There are just only so many hours in the day, and illustration, as much as I love it, doesn’t fit around other stuff that I also love. And that’s ok. It’ll fit later (maybe) and if it doesn’t that’s ok too.
Finally, remember that human beings matter and this applies as much to you as to every other human out there. When thinking about what you’d like to accomplish next year, give yourself a little grace and leave yourself time for things you really enjoy, even if it’s just taking a nap every Saturday afternoon.
If you want any additional resources, here are a few of my favorite quick reads/listens for building easy and sustainable habits in the New Year:
Atomic Habits by James Clear is a great starter guide to sustainable habit building. I’ve found the concept of habit stacking really helpful in the past and am using it to try to incorporate 5 minute meditation sessions after my morning workouts this year.
Tranquility by Tuesday, by Laura Vanderkam, is an easy and actionable read with layerable advice. I expected to not find it that useful, since I’m pretty enmeshed in this literature already, but found a bunch of great ideas for the new year inside. This year, I’m working on adding one big adventure and one little adventure into each week. It’s particularly good for parents.
I like all of Cal Newport’s work, but if you’re looking to get a bit more focused and spend less time online this year, his Digital Minimalism is a great read with concrete steps. I usually do a digital declutter for Lent and this is a nice read to get ready for it each year.
Finally, I like the podcast the Productivity Show for tips and tricks for work-life harmony and their episode from Monday on New Year’s Resolutions has some great tips on creating systems for your resolutions.
That’s it! We’ll be back next week with more radically moderate content, but in the meantime, share your resolution and how you’ll accomplish it in the comments! And, as always, please share and subscribe.