How to hack your New Year’s resolutions

by Peter Shallard

Hack your New Year's resolutions

At this time of year, the blogosphere becomes littered with goal-setting guides. Year after year, hopeful people set New Year’s resolutions to do better and try harder. Then, after a brief period of motivation, we slip, forget and give up. Next year, you tell yourself, will be different.

Instead of providing just one more guide for ineffective goal setting, I thought I’d share with you the technique I personally use to hack my New Year’s resolutions. This anti-tactic has been my preferred approach for boycotting resolutions for the past five years. Join me in rejecting traditional and you’ll make 2011 the best year yet.

Step 1: Acknowledge that it’s all bulls***

The first secret to hacking your resolutions is to accept that the calendar flipping from one date to the next is a form of false closure. The date’s significance is a myth. It’s all that remains of the (more legitimate) celebration of the winter/summer solstice.

It’s only when you free yourself of the pressure of “new beginnings” that you’re truly empowered to transform your future. Instead of turning over a new leaf, your New Year becomes a transcendence of your immediate past. You’re not starting afresh, you’re building on the foundation of hard work and experience that last year brought you.

Now that you’ve dropped the notion of a “new year”… take some time to get introspective. This is why I’m releasing this post now, before Christmas. The holidays give you the window of opportunity to do this important thinking – not the date on the calendar. Take advantage of the time you’ve got to review the past and be grateful. Then, think of the future and be excited.

Dismiss the date. Embrace the introspection.

Step 2: Commit to your QUEST

Screw goals. Pick a quest instead.

Us humans have a long history of questing. It’s practically built into our cultural identity.

A quest is superior to a goal because the journey itself is rewarding. It’s an epic ongoing voyage which will immediately go down in folklore as a story worth telling.

Ditch your goals in favor of choosing the journey that you want to go on. Pick a quest that will necessitate the accomplishment of your goals along the way.

It’s a trap to focus on goals themselves. The digital nature of goals is their ultimate undoing. They’re either achieved or their not achieved. You have it… or you don’t.

It’s this on-or-off characteristic that destroys most people’s willpower, a few weeks after setting a big goal. It’s tough to work hard towards “a Ferrari” – even if you’re managing to save 5 figure amounts each month! It’ll be months before you drive it so the tangible accomplishment of your goal feels far away.

Same deal with all the other cliched resolutions.

Weight loss? It sucks that you’re not there yet, so why not eat a donut. Want to escape debt? There isn’t any shade between red and black… and being “only just in the black” is actually a lot less fun than being leveraged to the hilt. At least you can party with a credit card!

When you have a quest, every day that you’re on your journey is a victory. Just like Jason and argonauts sailing the Mediterranean, even on boring days (when you’re merely “sailing”) you do so with a grin on your face. You know you’re on your quest.

What I’m describing is the ultimate reframe from valuing outcomes to valuing journeys. Instead of tangible stuff, you focus on the doing.

This is why I set quests instead of goals.

At a psychological level, this strategy pays enormous dividends in motivation. The feel good vibe of achievement remains consistent throughout the year… so long as you stay on your quest. All that means is checking your compass and trimming the sails… or your metaphorical equivalent!

Of course, some days will be more significant than others. They’ll be days when your quest requires you to do battle with sleepless dragons. They’ll be times when the songs of Sirens tempt you from remaining true to your course. They’ll be days when you celebrate finding your golden fleece… and there will be days when, lost, you despair.

Being lost is part of the quest. It’s to be expected. The dragons, Harpies and other obstacles in your way are all there for a reason. Throughout your year, you’ll never forget that no matter what happens, you’re already on your quest.

Whatever happens is perfect.

When you set sail on a quest, dismiss goals from your mind. The important ones have an uncanny knack of popping up, in unexpected ways, anyway.

Instead, focus on equipping yourself for your journey. Ask yourself:

  • What kind of person do I need to be to be the hero in this story?
  • What beliefs and values do I need to hold?
  • What capabilities do I need to develop?
  • What habits and behaviors do I need to master?

If you choose to set out on a quest this New Year’s Eve, your life will change. If you take the time, this holiday, to answer the questions above… the legend of your accomplishments will travel far and wide.

Sure, you’ll lose the weight, get the car and escape the debt. The goals will get ticked off.

But you know what? My bet is that you won’t care nearly as much as you think you will. Those goals won’t seem important. Once you get started questing, you’ll quickly learn that the journey itself is the ultimate reward.

Addicted to momentum, you’ll accelerate yourself through 2011 and beyond, creating wealth, freedom and impact where ever you go.

Do something truly exceptional and the legend of your quest will be told for ages to come.

What’s your quest going to be? I’ll be publishing the results of my NYE introspection on the blog when I get back from my ritual trip. In the meantime, I’m curious to hear what you’ll be thinking and planning over the break…

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach December 21, 2010 at 12:26 am

Great minds, obviously, think alike; I’m currently building in a ‘questing’ aspect to my site. If anything these past years have taught me, every goal really is simply the culmination of a critical quest; internalizing the journey is what builds up the final success.

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Peter Shallard December 22, 2010 at 8:06 am

Hey Barbara, I can’t wait to see how you incorporate questing into your schmancy new site (lookin’ good btw!) 🙂

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James Chartrand - Men with Pens December 21, 2010 at 12:52 am

SXSW. I have ultra-secret plans in the works – and what’s interesting is that I haven’t thought about the end result, really. I’ve been having a lot of fun planning the journey.

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Peter Shallard December 22, 2010 at 8:36 am

I suspect the tales of THAT quest will be told for countless generations 😛

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Jade Craven December 22, 2010 at 11:02 pm

I may have just decided that debt repayment and a new bed is better than SXSW. Should I reconsider those plans? 😛 You and Peter were the main two reasons I was interested, as I’ll probably be back in America twice more next year.

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Peter Shallard December 22, 2010 at 11:06 pm

I’ll be there. You should do it. New bed’s are over-rated 😛

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Jade Craven December 22, 2010 at 11:37 pm

You live locally and my bed sucks for sleep and extracurricular activities. Even the shrink recommends replacing 😛

You find an extra 2.5k in an expensive 3 month period and I’ll be there 🙂 My priority is sleep atm.

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Melissa Dinwiddie December 26, 2010 at 11:05 am

Jade, I splurged on a European Sleepworks bed in 2003, and it’s one of the few non-travel-related splurges I’m REALLY glad I did! Never regretted it for a second.

Mary E. Ulrich December 21, 2010 at 12:52 am

I like your idea of the quest. But I still want measurable goals to break down the task and know I’m making progress.

Alas, those windmills await.

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Peter Shallard December 22, 2010 at 8:41 am

Hey Mary,

The idea with a quest is to not really *need* such specific milestones… or, to have so many of them that you’re passing them constantly. S’good for morale, you know?

Simply put: Every step in the right direction is another “goal” achieved.

This takes some getting used to for those of us conditioned to “achieve” or “not achieve”

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Matt Swenson December 21, 2010 at 1:17 am

Hi Peter,

Interesting points and take on “goals,” I like it!

I’ve never been one for new year’s resolutions. Instead, I set goals for myself throughout the year. However, as you point out, goals become “black and white” and often don’t allow the enjoyment the journey can bring (whether that’s winning, losing, learning, or “jibing”).

TODAY, I’m changing my course, I’m going to look for ways to have fun on my journey — Not just ways to check-off my goals.

Thanks Peter!

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Peter Shallard December 22, 2010 at 8:44 am

haha Matt! I love this!!

Whenever I’m struggling to get where I want to go… I’m simply gonna tell people: “It’s ALL GOOD!… I’m just jibing!”

Perfect sailing metaphor. Thanks for the contribution! 😀

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Alison Moore Smith January 16, 2011 at 11:16 am

I love goals. I love them to the core. New Year’s Day is one of my favorite holidays and the ritual of resolutions excites me. So reading your post was a kick in the head. But I can really use Matt’s take on this, to make sure it’s not just the check off that is invigorating.

Thanks, Peter, for a very thought-provoking post.

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Martin Stellar December 21, 2010 at 2:39 am

Fantastic to hear this coming from you, Peter.

It’s uncannily spiritual.

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Peter Shallard December 22, 2010 at 8:45 am

No need to sound so surprised 😛

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John Hoff December 21, 2010 at 5:08 am

Very nice post, Peter. I think many of us are on this quest but the failure of us to actually articulate it sort of hinders us in some ways.

With your words, it helps to provide and maintain our focus.

Interestingly, my main objective / goal still remains the same, but some time in the beginning of summer my journey has changed a little…. and I like it. Thank you for putting what I’m doing into perspective.

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Giulietta Nardone December 21, 2010 at 5:16 am

Hey Peter,

Fun post! The main problem with resolutions happening on a certain day is that the day needs to be today. Any other day makes it less likely to happen because it’s in the forefront of our consciousness today. What itty bitty step can you take today?

Quest. Love that. We are all on a hero/heroine/s journey. An Odyssey, so to speak. Once I saw my life as an adventure fraught with the joys and perils of living, it helped change my attitude from one of fear of the unknown to desire for the unknown.

Departure. Start today by committing to a life of adventure. You don’t need January 1st to sweep in to do that.

Me? I’ve been taking steps to my new adventure – the opening of a non-institute institute, where the only credential you need to share is the embrace of adventure and the desire to rebel.

Happy life adventures all! Giulietta

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Peter Shallard December 22, 2010 at 8:46 am

Hey Giulietta! I’m looking forward to hearing more about your non-institute. Sounds like quite an epic quest 🙂

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Melinda | SuperWAHM December 21, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Amen Peter!

I hate New Year resolutions, they’re a complete waste of time in 99.99% of cases. People think up something at one minute to midnight and a week later wonder why it hasn’t stuck…

Love the idea of a quest, the journey rather than the destination.

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Peter Shallard December 22, 2010 at 9:04 am

Yep! That’s why I wanted to post this a few weeks before the actual event… so that people can actually plan to take advantage of the faux-closure.

My only resolution on the night itself is to enjoy as much debauchery as possible! 😛

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Joshua BenAvides December 22, 2010 at 7:17 pm

Peter,
My name is Joshua BenAvides. And I just wanted to say GOOD WORK on bringing forth the PROCESS-ORIENTED perspective to the traditional OUTCOME-ORIENTED “resolutions.

A quest seems appropriate to embrace BOTH…the destination AND the journey there. The over-tone from this mind-set is one of continual presence, gratitude and enjoyment of life. And that…is priceless.

Create a beautiful day!

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Peter Shallard December 22, 2010 at 11:16 pm

Hey Joshua, you said it perfectly. Gratitude and enjoyment of life!

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Lisa December 23, 2010 at 11:09 pm

Love the perspective! Was never really one for N.Y. resolutions anyway. Shouldn’t every quest have some sort of a map though? Maybe not ultra specific goals, but you know, like some sort of milestone… something that keeps your quest on track? Anyway, I’m happy just reminding myself that I started my own biz this year, so I definitely don’t want to be on a “new slate” in 2011… I’m standing on higher ground instead! With a quest to be known as a new force to be reckoned with by local media agencies. Hmmm. I think I like that one 🙂

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Melissa Dinwiddie December 26, 2010 at 11:09 am

Love this post! Goals are great for checking off, but I figured out a long time ago that it’s the pursuit that’s the real prize. “Quest” is a great way to think about it, and is, in fact, very much in alignment with how 2010 has been for me.

New Years Resolutions? Not so much.

Life-path evolution? Indeed!

As my blog tagline says, “Bliss evolves… keep following it!” When you’re really following that evolving bliss — questing — life doesn’t get much better.

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Andrew January 2, 2011 at 8:00 am

This is pretty inspiring! And is also a lot more confronting than writing goals.

I like your counter intuitive approach, and it’s nice to see the mindset behind “Creating Your Life” begin to shift. For the past several years we’ve been told to set S-M-A-R-T goals, where all the attention is on the specifics, the logistics, the tangible, etc. But it seems like your approach seems to put more attention on attaining the INtangible. And I’m open to see if the results, or rather the man I’ll ultimately become, from doing this will be more powerful than the standard approach.

Thank you for this, and happy new year!

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