New Year’s Resolutions: What Not To Try

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Many people make New Year’s resolutions, and many people get discouraged when they fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions.

We often get advice about what we should try—but it’s also useful to think about what we should not try.

We’re all different, and different strategies work for different people. It’s helpful to be able to identify, and then eliminate from consideration, strategies that probably won’t work for us.

Often, we try to do something the “best” way, or the “right” way, or try to force ourselves to adopt a system that works well for someone else. But there’s no magical, one-size-fits-all-solution for good habits or happiness.

Consider these points as they pertain to you:

The Four Tendencies

Consider my Four Tendencies personality profile, and whether you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel. (Don’t know your Tendency? Take the free, quick quiz here—more than 3.2 million people have taken it!)

The Four Tendencies is a framework I developed to help you identify your personality profile, based on how you respond to expectations. Knowing your Tendency reveals how to make your life better (and other people’s lives better, too).)

Our Tendency shapes every aspect of our behavior, so understanding this framework lets us make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress and burnout, and engage more effectively. The Four Tendencies explain why we act and why we don’t act.

What tends NOT to work for each Tendency?

Upholders have less success when it’s not clear what’s expected, or when the rules are ambiguous. They can get anxious if they think they might be doing something “wrong” or if they’re entering a situation where they don’t know how to behave properly.

Questioners have less success when they don’t understand exactly how or why they’re doing something in a particular way. If they’re not utterly convinced by an approach to healthy eating, say, or a fitness regimen, they can stall out. They need to think, “I’m following the most efficient, well-justified course of action, and I’ve customized it exactly to fit my needs.”

Obligers need outer accountability. It’s that simple. Not motivation, self-care, priorities, clarity, or purpose. They will not succeed if they do not have outer accountability.

Rebels have less success when they feel trapped, controlled, or chained. They tend to resist to-do lists, scheduling, oversight, check-ins, and any situation where someone is telling them what to do. There are always exceptions, because Rebels can do anything they want to do, but often those factors hurt their chances of achieving their aims.

For more ideas about using your Tendency to help you keep a New Year’s resolution, read here.

Abstainer vs. Moderator

Abstainers tend to fail when they try to indulge a little in a strong temptation. One bite, one sip—then they want more, more, more. They do better when they avoid a temptation altogether. (I’m an abstainer, and I can have no cookies, or five cookies—but I can’t have just one cookie.)

Moderators tend to fail when they try to avoid a temptation altogether, or when they follow all-or-nothing rules. They do better when they indulge a little bit, or sometimes. They have a few french fries, or half a brownie.

Owl vs. Lark

Owls tend to struggle when they try to tackle a challenge first thing in the morning. They’re not at their more productive, energetic, and creative until later in the day.

Larks tend to struggle if they try to tackle a challenge in the evening. Usually, the later in the day it gets, the tougher time they’ll have.

Novelty-lovers vs. Familiarity-lovers

Novelty-lovers tend to struggle when they feel stuck in a rut or bored by a routine that never changes. They do better when they mix things up, try new challenges, or explore new places; the novelty keeps them engaged and energetic.

Familiarity-lovers tend to struggle when they have to adapt too much to new situations, people, or places. They do better when they know what to expect and tackle a challenge in a familiar way in comfortable surroundings.

As you think back on your own experiences with good habits, bad habits, and New Year’s resolutions, what hasn’t worked for you—and why? Because of course, when we figure out what doesn‘t work, it’s much easier to figure out what to try.

If you’d like to hear me tell the famous story of the Bed of Procrustes, and why it’s relevant to New Year’s resolutions, listen here.

As you’re thinking about possible resolutions, reflect on your past. Looking back, was there a time when you had trouble keeping this resolution? Or when you did manage to keep it? The past holds important clues for the present—about how you might set yourself up for success.

We can all achieve our aims for ourselves, but we all must do it in the way that’s right for us.



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