Resolutions suck

Categories Big Thinking

I don’t do resolutions. I think they suck.

If resolutions work for you, that’s cool. But it is my deeply held belief that January is long and depressing enough without making yourself feel like a failure halfway through because you thought you ‘ought’ to do something about your weight/finances/fitness/work-life balance or whatever damn thing you’re feeling guilty about.

Goals are good when they’re clear, measurable and achievable. Resolutions, on the other hand, smack of wishful thinking. A resolution is a cop-out. Oh, you ‘resolve’ to do something. Not actually a decision though, is it. Resolution is a kinda-sorta-wanna word. And most people choose resolutions that are destined to fail because they are murky and unclear and the person hasn’t fully committed to them. Or doesn’t even want to do them. Resolutions are invariably ‘shoulds’ writ large.

work-todo-list-july-6
Creative Commons License photo credit: purpleslog

What I do instead are commitments, goals and a Word Of The Year.

So, for example, 365 Jars is a commitment, not a resolution. There’s no resolution involved. I’ve decided that I’m doing it and I know that I will get to the end of 2011 with that art project completed unless I break a leg or something (and I have a contingency plan for that). No excuses. No giving up in February because I’m bored. I’m committed, so I will see it through. That’s how I am with art projects. Which is why I think long and hard before I start them.

Goal Setting

If resolutions give you an icky, ‘don’t wanna’ feeling, please come and join me in the ‘no resolutions’ corner – we have whisky, cough sweets, leftover chocolates and we don’t care what anyone thinks. I’m not even doing any 2011 goals right now because a) I’m knackered from the flu and b) I already have some important goals in play.

However, if you do want to set yourself some goals, here are some helpful tips:

Shoulds are deadly
‘Shoulds’ are killer words: they will eat you alive whilst making nom-nom noises. If the word ‘should’ appears when you’re thinking about goals, you need to chase it out of your brain with much screaming and a chainsaw.

If you don’t give a shit about that last 10lbs, don’t pretend you do. You’re not fooling anyone. Wishful thinking and half-heartedness won’t get you anywhere. If you think that you ‘should’ lose that 10lbs because some magazine says you need to or because all your workmates are dieting, you’ll fail. Because you don’t care enough to do it.

There is a very simple reason that I don’t have an MA – I can’t be arsed to go and get one. Until I have a burning, overwhelming desire to go back to college, I’ll be sticking with my BA. Sure, I’d quite like to HAVE an MA but not enough to do the actual ‘getting one’ part. The moment I realised that an MA was in my ‘should’ category, I gleefully struck it off my list and felt much lighter.

Be creative
For the love of all that is holy, chose something fun or find a way to make it fun. You’ll do much better. Reward yourself with stickers, find a creative way to achieve that aim or do something you love. If you hate going to the gym but love playing with kids, borrow some kids a couple of times a week (ask first!) and take them to the park for a run around. You’ll get exercise and their parents will be pathetically grateful. Or volunteer to coach football at your local school. Or lead a Brownie or Scout troupe.

Most people fail at resolutions and goals because they punish themselves with them. Why? Do you want to change a habit or do you just want to wear a hairshirt? Choose.

Be clear on your WHY
Goals that start with a ‘why’ are always stronger than wishy-washy, direction-less goals.

OK, so you want more time in the studio. Why? What does it get you? What happens if you do lose that ten pounds? How is your life better? What difference does it make?

I started 365 Jars because I wanted to take a daily walk every day during 2011. That was it. That was my ‘why’. I also wanted to get back to a daily art practice and I like doing year-long projects because they have a defined start and end. So that was two good strong ‘whys’ that I realised could be yoked together to make a fun project.

The art is a cheat code. I knew I wouldn’t walk daily if I made a resolution to do so but I sure as hell would if walking was part of an art project. So I came up with the art idea that would accommodate the walking. At this point, my wife looked at me funny and said, ‘you really will do anything if it’s for art, won’t you’. To which the answer was ‘yes, but only when I set the rules.’

Tackle one area at once
When I’ve been trying to change big things, I’ve always been more successful when I’ve stuck to one area at a time. Trying to lose weight, sort out your finances, get fit, learn French and start a daily art practice all in a single month might be doable but hitting yourself with a stick would probably be more fun. Changing habits can be hard. And if you’re trying to change habits in big, scary emotional areas like body image or finances, you can trigger all sorts of defensive mechanisms. Start small and achievable. Or trick yourself like I did with 365 Jars.

Make it measurable
‘I want to get fit’ is a completely pointless goal because you can’t measure it, so you will never achieve it. ‘I will do five minutes of stretching every morning during 2011’ is a far better goal because you’ll know exactly when you’re doing it and when you’re not.

Accept failure
If you do those daily stretches for 300 days out of 365, you’ve won. It’s not a zero-sum game, you haven’t ‘failed’ until you quit completely. 300 days of stretching will still make a big difference to your life. Sure, it’s a bit annoying about the other 65 days but hey, you’re still way ahead of the people who did it religiously for 2 weeks and then gave up. Shit happens: give yourself credit for the things you did, not what you didn’t. If you don’t manage to do your thing one day, pick it up the next day or the day after. If the way you’re doing it stops working, find a new way to do it. But don’t use ‘I missed a day’ as an excuse to quit.

Beware of romanticism
In my head, I can belly-dance. In my head I am also a willowy redhead who plays the harp and floats around in long wispy dresses. One day I may get round to learning belly dancing but frankly, I am shit out of luck with the willowy thing because I am small, dark and very curvy. Sure, I could grow my hair long, dye it red and lose weight but with the best will in the world, I can’t gain five inches in height unless I wear very unsuitable shoes.

And although I would like to be that pre-Raphaelite heroine, in truth, I am not that person. I look kind of drippy with long hair; I would have paint and mud on my long, billowing sleeves in five minutes and I would constantly trip over the wispy hemlines and then swear in a most unromantic fashion. Besides I have very little musical aptitude and no time or patience to learn. It is a pretty fantasy that bears no relation to who I truly am and I wouldn’t enjoy the reality. Now, if my fantasy was to be a bumbling, slightly grubby, female hobbit, I’d be totally sorted.

I once had an amusing conversation with a knitting friend where we admitted to each other that we sometimes knit things we knew wouldn’t suit our body shape just because we fell in love with the model and the way the project had been photographed. That’s romantic thinking. So is ‘I will feel happy in a bikini if I can just lose that 10lbs’.

Accept your reality.

There is nothing mystical about January
Set goals whenever it’s right to set them. I use monthly aims to keep myself on track and make sure important deadlines don’t get forgotten. If I get to March and I decide that 2011 needs its own special goals, I’ll set some then. The goal police won’t come round and arrest me because I didn’t decide on my goals on January 1st.

Commit
If you can’t commit to it fully, don’t even bother: you’re just setting yourself up to fail. Think this stuff through before you decide to do it. Be utterly clear what’s involved and why you want to do it. Make sure it’s achievable. And then decide. And then do it. Yoda was right…



Things to remember

If setting goals right now is a genuinely helpful thing for you, then do it and enjoy. I hope you make positive goals that help you grow and the tips should help you set strong, achievable ones.

But you also have my full permission to take a big deep breath, resolve not to set any resolutions or goals whatsoever, say ‘oh thank god’ and feel instantly better. Here, have a chocolate…


I am an artist & purveyor of obsessive projects based in Hebden Bridge, England. My work involves the accretion of large numbers of small objects - pins in fabric, knots in string or hundreds of envelopes - to make sculptures that deal with fragility, loss, repetition, obsession and time.

23 thoughts on “Resolutions suck

  1. This is the best blog I have read about New Year’s resolutions! You are absolutely correct – there is no try – only do. Great post!

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    Kirsty Reply:

    @Bunny, Thank you so much, Bunny. It came out of having flu over Christmas and New Year and just being so exhausted by everyone else’s ‘ra ra January/new leaf’ posts.

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  2. Aw, Kirsty you make me laugh… Willowy redheads with harps can wear wellies for the mud, right?

    People at the office were talking today about “falling off the bandwagon” already. I make no resolutions other than try to feel happier than I did the day before.

    I have realised my limits. Holding down a part time daily job and my own business competes with a lot of stuff, so instead of doing 365 pieces of art, I’ll do 52. A lot more manageable, and without fear of burnout.

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    Kirsty Reply:

    @Ruth, I think willowy redheads could indeed wear wellies but the one who lives in my head wafts about more than wellies imply.

    I think that 52 pieces of art is a great goal, Ruth – I’m a big believer in respecting our limits.

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  3. This whole post is going to be required daily reading for me for at least the next month! I have got a word for this year and it is ‘Release’ – not just stuff, but also obligations and should-dos.

    Thank you, I needed that chocolate and the whisky! Now I feel brave enough to go through my long list of goals and ask each of them ‘WHY?’

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    Kirsty Reply:

    @Caroline Roberts, ‘release’ is a great word. There’s another post about my Word Of The Year coming later in the week. I bet you’re able to release or redefine a lot of those goals once you ask ‘why’.

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    Caroline Roberts Reply:

    @Kirsty, As soon as I read Release in Christine Kane’s newsletter I knew it was MY word!

    I went through my goals list demanding ‘WHY?’ of each one. I had goals attached to 11 different areas of my life. Talk about ‘should’ writ large! I wrangled it down to 5 main goals with very clear intentions. Thank you for reminding me to stop the crazy over-planning.

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    Kirsty Reply:

    @Caroline Roberts, that’s excellent, Caroline. I’m so glad that you got such clear results.

  4. KIrsty, that was so well said. I have been feeling utterly depressed by the New Year’s resolution clap trap stuff. Having said that I felt very much in need of setting some sort of resolution/goal to kick me out of my negative ‘I can’t do this anymore’ mindset that has been threatening to overwhelm me. So … I made 2 resolutions today and … on the strength of your post I will convert those resolutions to clear measurable goals

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    Kirsty Reply:

    @Carol, There’s nothing wrong with goals, Carol, as you’ve recognised, they just have to be achievable otherwise they only contribute to the depression.

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  5. You are so right about resolutions. I ‘tried’ to give up drinking and smoking many times, new year after new year to no avail. When I was ready, I just did it…….around about March nearly four years ago.
    This year, I am questing. Building upon my achievements of last year. I’m doing it bit by bit with no absolute goal other than to sell something……any one of my pieces of work, to anyone. I just have a barrier I want to get over, and sometime this year I will do it.
    I’m with you and Yoda. Doing is better.

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    Kirsty Reply:

    @Julie Shackson, congrats on giving up drinking and smoking, Julie – that must have made a big difference to your health.

    I love the idea of you questing. I read somewhere that the big leap is not from one to many but from zero to one and I certainly found that true when it came to selling my work. Getting myself to a space where I was even willing to sell took me YEARS.

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    Julie Shackson Reply:

    @Kirsty, That’s interesting Kirsty. So last year I became both willing, and then able, but this year I’m leaping! Very shamanic.

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  6. Well Said! Funny too :)

    As for resolutions – never done ’em – EVER. When it’s time for me to do something and get going on it, I give myself a proper goal and that’s that, whatever time of year it might be.

    I like to take the holiday season off and mooning around over what I might resolve for the coming year would spoil the festivities :)

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    Kirsty Reply:

    @Monette Satterfield, I do enjoy having a bit of reflective time around the holidays but this year I was so sick with flu that I couldn’t see beyond the end of my nose, let alone what shape I wanted the year to take. So I decided to just leave it alone and instantly felt a huge sense of relief.

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  7. I am one to make lots of goals at the start of a fresh year. I really liked two things you said…WHY are you doing it and don’t do it if you can’t COMMIT to it. Great reminders!!!

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    Kirsty Reply:

    @katrhyn, I’m a big fan of goals, Kathryn and often have used the start of the year as a convenient time to start new projects or set goals. I usually enjoy it but I realised this year that it can also be an uncomfortable and unhelpful pressure. I’m all about practicality – does something help or hinder?

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  8. yup…unrealistic goals can definitely be very stressful and can lead to berating ourselves. i need goals because i need to be accountable, otherwise time just slips away from me and i feel like i have nothing to show for it. and having something to show for my time is extremely important to me. accomplishing goals is very satisfying, it’s like a measuring stick, showing that i am getting somewhere in my life.

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    Kirsty Reply:

    @kathryn, Oh, I totally agree, Kathryn. I’m definitely not anti-goal, like you I rely on them a lot but I’ve learnt that they have to be clear, doable and have a measurable end point.

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  9. I like this time of year for goal-making (not resolutions, I object to that word too…smacks too much of rules of order & too many boring meetings). I have three seasonal “reviews” which just seem natural: January; May (ish),which in these parts is spring; and September. I only seem to be able to follow a creative thread for 4 months or so before I want a change…figuring that out released me from a whole list of shoulds. Who says I should do the same thing all year anyway?

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    Kirsty Reply:

    @Frances Vettergreen, Ooh, I like the idea of seasonal reviews, Frances.

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  10. I just visited your site for the first time today and just reading this post made me feel 100% lighter. All of the pressure to create resolutions right after all the pressure of the holidays is just too much. Thanks for the release!

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    Kirsty Reply:

    @Kathryn V, That’s great to hear, Kathryn, I do like making people feel lighter and unstuck.

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