No resolutions, just vibes

Stop overcomplicating self-improvement

Happy New Year!

I've been exploring Barcelona, Spain for the past few days and haven't had an opportunity to read through the hefty backlog of newsletters in my inbox. As I sit on a train on the way to Valencia, I've been playing catch-up. While I subscribe to a lot of different newsletters, one thing I see in common among many (as well as in my social media) is the prevalence of New Years Resolutions.

I mean, I get it! This is nothing new; the new year gives us an opportunity to reflect and plan the 365.25 days ahead. But as someone who has probably never gotten through a year having fulfilled his resolutions, this meme is incredibly annoying to me. Here's why:

You are not a company

Year end reviews and planning happen at probably every serious business in the world. Leaders want to maximize output, and analyze the previous year in order to find the behaviors they should double down on/encourage as well as those they should eliminate/discourage.

One common framework that exists in business planning is that of SMART goals. This framework encourages businesses to analyze previous behavior, trends, and performance in order to set goals that are:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Attainable

  • Realistic

  • Time-bound

The idea here is to create a set of goals that can be dispassionately analyzed going forward in order to further iterate along the path toward financial success. This all makes sense for any organization. I'm glad that this is a practice many businesses engage in. I hope my government does the same!

But you and I are not organizations; we are singular human beings. We don't have to report our resolutions to HR, Accounting, or Legal. As far as 99% of our new years resolutions go, we are not accountable to anybody but ourselves at the end of the day. So why the hell are we so focused on making our goals for the year ahead as complicated as possible?

Creation and consumption

Let me give you an example, using the ideas of content creation and content consumption.

I think I've had a very productive 2022 at work. I've created a lot and added a lot of value. And I think this is because if you were to create a pie chart comparing the ratio of my creation and consumption at work, it would look something like this:

But if you take a look at all of the content I've created in 2022, you'll see... a single post in July. In short, the pie chart of my personal life would look more like this:

A standard "SMART" resolution would be something like: "Write for 20 minutes every day" or "Publish 1 newsletter per week". These seem like fine enough goals. But what about when you miss a day of writing? Or a week of publishing?

Specificity gives us a way out

For so many of us, the specificity of these resolutions create failure conditions. And in business, there are real consequences for failure. If I fail to do my job on a consistent basis, I might get demoted or fired. But If I miss a day of writing, or fall off my diet, or don't exercise, it's pretty dang easy to say "Well, I failed that resolution! Back to video games and Funyuns it is!"

When our goals are hyper-specific and we have external force to hold us accountable, failure is a reward rather than a punishment. It's an excuse to not have to worry about sticking to the resolution any more.

In defense of vibes-based planning

The solution here is to stop caring so much about the data of how we live. Rather than creating these hyper-specific goals of "walk X steps per day" (trust me, I've been incredibly tempted to set one of those goals for myself), we should err on the side of a simple "more" vs "less" dichotomy.

Rather than saying "I'm going to publish a new piece every week" or "I'm going to walk 15,000 steps per day", I simply want to write more and walk more.

It's as simple as "more" and "less"

The only rule that exists here is one that is a universal constant: that every action have an equal and opposite reaction. Our time and energy is limited, meaning any change in how we allocate them must be zero-sum.

Let's refer back to my consumption-vs-creation pie chart. If I want to create more, I must consume less. It's as simple as that.

That all being said, here are some of my goals for the next year:

  • Write more, which means reading less

  • Read more books, which means reading fewer articles/spending less time on social media (this also means quitting books earlier when I know I won't finish them)

  • Move more, which means sitting less

Now, all three of these have many sub-components that I could dive into. How do I want to move more? Walking, running, weightlifting? What ratio of articles to social media do I cut? Which books should I focus on?

It may be helpful to consider all of those possibilities, but they cannot be rules. The only rules are that if I write more, read more books, and move more this year than I did last year, it's a success. Everything else is noise.

So, what are you going to do more this year? And what are you going to do less?

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