THE NEW year symbolizes new beginnings. There’s something exciting about the idea of starting with a clean slate.
For young people it can be about having new haircuts and new outfits. Mostly it’s about resolutions and the temporary (but sincere) resolve to become better versions of ourselves.
Other people have become cynical about making New Year’s resolutions because of failure to realize them. Perhaps more painful than the setback from unachieved goals is how we grow to distrust ourselves.
But what if we’re not the only ones to blame? What if the way we create our resolutions already sets us up for failure?
Systems instead of goals
When people set their New Year’s resolutions, they often focus on their goals. James Clear, a writer who specializes in habit and behavioral change, suggests focusing on systems instead. He argues that even if you completely ignore your goals but focus on your system, you would still get results.
As example, he said he had written a total of 115,000 words in one year. On average, a book contains 50,000 to 60,000 words. This means that in one year, he wrote the equivalent of two books.
It was never his goal to write two books, or to reach 115,000 words. Yet he was able to achieve this because he had a system; he wrote one article every Monday and Thursday. He stuck to this habit and achieved something he did not even plan.
In his book, “Essentialism,” author Greg McKeown talks about the disciplined pursuit of “less”—which doesn’t mean doing more things in less time, or getting less things done. Instead, it’s about “getting only the right things done” or being extremely selective with the commitments we make, no matter how big or small they are.
At first, this idea may seem like a no-brainer since we’ve known about the importance of prioritizing. But if we pause to examine the previous year, how much of our time and energy were spent on commitments that we mindlessly accepted?
When we fail to carefully choose what commitments to accept, it’s like letting other people run our lives.
Time management is having the skill of accommodating and finishing commitments in the shortest time. But what if we go to the root of the problem and manage our commitments instead?
The new year brings the excitement of a clean slate and a new beginning. But when we worry too much about accomplishing our resolutions, we could end up suffering from “perfectionist paralysis”—or the failure to take action because we fear our output will fall short of perfection. This is especially true when a project means a lot to us.
At the beginning of the year, we might be very conscious of avoiding risks in our undertakings. We might even be persuaded to avoid trying, just to preserve the proverbial clean slate. But if we don’t overcome perfectionist paralysis, our resources such as time, focus and resolve might just pass us by.
Aiming for progress instead of perfection makes moving forward less overwhelming. This mind-set also celebrates the journey itself, not just the destination. More important, it gives us a chance to protect our most important asset: ourselves.
This year, may you be closer to where you want to be and cherish every step of the way. May you work smarter and harder. May you be kinder and more compassionate to everyone you know, most especially yourself. Happy New Year!