Dec. 26, 2022

Why New Year's Resolutions Suck--And What To Do Instead (Challenge #47)

Why New Year's Resolutions Suck--And What To Do Instead (Challenge #47)

Pretty much every year around this time, I sit down with a notebook or Word document and make my goals for the new year. For many years this planning session would yield a long-ish laundry list of personal and professional resolutions, half of which would be abandoned by Valentine’s Day. However, the last few years I’ve taken a different approach to this new year’s ritual, one which actually has helped me accomplish some pretty cool stuff! And today, just in time for your new year’s planning, I’m going to share my new approach with you. 

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Transcript

As I release this episode, we’re in the closing days of 2022. Because of the nature of my work in higher ed, I’ve pretty much always had the week between Christmas and New Year’s off. I watch a lot of bad TV, pretend I’m going to accomplish a lot more housework than I will actually complete, and catch up on sleep. Finally, some quiet afternoon in there I usually sit down with a notebook or word document and make my goals for the new year. For many years this planning session would yield a longish laundry list of personal and professional resolutions, half of which would be abandoned by Valentine’s day. However, the last few years I’ve taken a different approach to this new year’s ritual, one which actually has helped me accomplish some pretty cool stuff! And today, just in time for your new year’s planning, I’m going to share my new approach with you. 

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Welcome to the Kind Leadership Challenge! I’m Dr. Sarah Clark, founder of the Kind Leadership Guild, where I use my PhD in Higher ed leadership and nearly 2 decades of experience in academic libraries to teach and coach my fellow educational and library leaders who want to build a better world without burning out. 

Kind Leaders know how to make the tough decisions without becoming jerks. We grow our organizations’ impact without unsustainable workloads. And we’ve learned that when we stop controlling and start collaborating, the impossible becomes effortless. It all sounds pretty simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. So if you’re up for a challenge, stick around for the next 10 minutes as I teach you to part with perfection so your school or library can make your community a more educated and informed place to live, work, and thrive.

Before I share my new approach to planning for the new year, let’s talk about the problem with New Years’ resolutions as typically created. Now the cliché is that pretty much all new years’ resolutions are abandoned by the end of the month, as can be seen by the traffic in your local gym or fast food establishment. But why is that? I’m told I have more willpower than the average person, and I have no problem accomplishing most goals. And yet, my failure rate on resolutions used to be pretty pathetic. After reviewing previous years’ attempts at self-improvement, I found three common themes between what stuck and what didn’t.

1.       Biting off more than you can chew. For many years, I made long lists of 5-10 resolutions covering every aspect of my life, from health to career and leadership goals to my social life. I would get excited about making a profound shift in my life, but reality was different. I quickly got overwhelmed with tracking all my new goals and fitting them into my daily life. In addition, I was too scattered to truly commit to every one of those goals. When you are trying to do a dozen things at the same time, none of them get done well.

2.       They’re not what you want to do. Part of the reason I made so dang many resolutions was because I weighed down my list with shiny object projects that seemed cool in the moment but that I inevitably stopped caring about two weeks into the year. Worse, I would pick resolutions that I felt I should care about, but didn’t care about enough to do the work required for it. I think both these scenarios happened because I wasn’t making a goal inspired by a real life motivation. I was making the goal because it was December 29th and time to write my resolutions. This is not a recipe for success. 

3.       We can’t predict the future. When making a resolution, we often assume that life will unfold pretty much as it did the previous year. Unfortunately, this became a problem when I set “take an international trip” as a goal for 2020. Through no fault of your own, or simply because priorities shift, a resolution sometimes becomes unworkable. And that isn’t a failure. That’s life.

So, looking at these three themes of failed resolutions, we see a few things. For a new year’s resolution to work, it needs to be focused, so you can actually put enough energy into it to accomplish it. It also needs to be flexible, so a shift in circumstances won’t torpedo it. Finally, it needs to be motivated by a need or challenge you are feeling in your life right now.

Which leads me to what I’ve been doing the last few years in lieu of a resolution. I’ve been picking a word of the year. This is a trend that’s been floating around the self-improvement world for a little while now. Rather than making a goal (or goals), you pick a theme for your year, which influences all your goals and decisions. The word of the year concept addresses all three of the common problems with resolutions. First, you don’t get much more focused than a single word. Second, picking a word or concept to influence your goals, rather than limiting yourself to a goal, allows you to flexibly deal with whatever the year throws at you in the spirit you want to encourage in your life. And finally, the word of the year works because it is the theme or value that can potentially inform everything you do.

For instance, my word for 2021 was “Connection”, because like most of us after 2020 I was feeling a bit isolated and adrift. Not coincidentally, I held a lot of monthly workshops and took a brief foray into group coaching. 2022 was “Rhythm”, because I was making some major health changes as well as starting the podcast, and I wanted to take a sustainable, habit-based approach to stick to both for the long term. I’ve achieved my health goals and have put out a weekly podcast without fail, so we can call that a success too. As for my 2023 word? Well, make sure to catch next week’s show, where I’ll share my word for 2023 and how it will influence the Kind Leadership Challenge and the Kind Leadership Guild. 

So between now and then, here’s your challenge: Pick your word for 2023. Sit down and make a list of the values or themes you’d like to incorporate in your life and work for the coming year. Then let it sit for a day or two, and come back to it. review the list, and you’ll probably see the one you want to focus on the most. And only pick ONE word. If all else fails, flip a coin. And then email me or visit the Kind Leadership Challenge community to let us know what your word is and why!

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Thanks for listening and for taking action to become a kinder leader. If you found this week’s episode insightful, give the show a rating or review—or even better, share this episode with your fellow leaders!  Never doubt that day by day, you’re building a better world, even if you can't see it yet. So until next time, stay kind now.  

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