If you ask holistic health advocate and notorious boat-rocker, Dr. Neal, the last two weeks of the year should be a national holiday.
Instead of jam-packing our already jam-packed festivities with overwrought productivity and additional stress, we should do absolutely nothing. Except maybe have a Lord of the Rings marathon or snuggle up to a good book. Midday naps are okay, too.
But don’t get us wrong! We’re not saying you should just rest until January 1st and then jumpstart your life as a new, shiny person.
In fact, we’re pretty anti-resolutions around these parts. New Year’s promises and proclamations usually fall flat by February, leaving us guilt-ridden and feeling gluttonous. Is there a way to side-step this annual angst? We asked Dr. Neal, and his clinical psychologist friend Dr. Lawrence Dresdale, for the psychological low-down on setting goals that stick.
The answer? Setting a New Year’s vision, instead.
Read on to learn more from both practicing experts — why resolutions suck, how to create sustainable change, and a 5-point plan for actually accomplishing your vision for 2024.
In This Article:
- 3 reasons New Year’s resolutions are damaging
- Why and how to set a New Year’s vision
- Establishing your 5 steps to accomplish your 2024 vision
Why We Hate New Year’s Resolutions
A quick disclaimer: We’re not against people setting goals, pushing to new heights, or continuing to evolve. That stuff is great!
It’s not a bad idea to make a commitment to ourselves for positive change, but we have to do it in a way that’s realistic and actually works instead of being like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna be a completely different human being right now.’Dr. Lawrence Dresdale
But the reality is that our modern framework for creating change doesn’t…really work. That’s why your gym is empty by Valentine’s Day and why your summer bod hasn’t magically arrived by June. Not only does the New Year’s resolution approach leave a lot to be desired, but it goes against human nature in ways that can actually be damaging.
1. Because Humans Stink at Long-Term Change
While it might sting to hear, understanding how the evolution of the human brain didn’t prioritize big-picture and long-term thinking can be really freeing.
You see, in our early years, we were busy making quick, moment-to-moment decisions to survive. Like, “Should I throw a spear at this sabertooth tiger or should I run?” Not, “Should I buy a bunker for the impending climate apocalypse or should I keep investing in my Roth IRA?”
The former kind of decisions yielded immediate consequences or benefits, and so our brains adapted their wiring for this short feedback loop of action and reaction. When a decision, change, or development is positioned far in the future and requires consistent effort without instant results, we hate it.
It doesn’t work for our brains because our brains simply don’t work like that. So no, you’re not lazy or lacking ambition — it’s biological. Freeing, right?
2. Because The Marketing Machine Benefits from It
But as the contemporary American escapes one trap, they’re caught in another! Modern marketing tactics use every psychological trick in the book — including this one on short-term results vs. long-term change — to influence millions of people for one goal and one goal only.
Even incredibly intelligent or relatively discerning people can fall for marketing schemes when they leverage the deeply entrenched patterns of our fallible and fragile human brains. Because even if you know, logically, that major goals take time to accomplish, the emotional part of the brain says, “Yeah, but I still want it right now.”
That’s why, as the Christmas ornaments are tucked back in their snug little boxes, millions of dollars are made on weight loss pills, detox programs, repentant supplements, fitness courses, et cetera.
Scores of smug influencers and so-called wellness companies line their pockets by promising us results so instant our lizard brains can’t resist.
3. Because It’s Just Not Natural
Every section of the calendar has its respective sales schtick in the wellness industry. Spring is time for allergy support supplements, summer for sunscreen and glowing skin, fall for cough and cold herbs. New Year’s sales and services are driven by this narrative, too, despite the fact we could just as easily begin our lives anew today as the first day of our human-created year.
But that wouldn’t be very helpful for the companies who need to keep profits up after the gift-buying frenzy of December, now would it?
What came first — our desire to get ‘back on the rails’ after the holiday season, or the marketing engine that sells magical products that we absolutely need if we want to feel better about ourselves after ‘indulging’?Dr. Neal Smoller
This kind of fabricated urgency created by companies and influencers is inspiring at first, but it doesn’t lend well to longstanding change. After your credit card has been swiped, the buzz starts to dwindle because this kind of external motivation is like our own fickle whims: short-lived.
Set a New Year’s Vision Instead: Getting Started
So when we set goals based on momentary motivation from external (and typically profit-driven) sources, we’re actually setting ourselves up for failure. Then, as these new habits and hobbies inevitably fall off, we label ourselves as just that: Failures.
Maybe you disagree, but we don’t think we need any more reasons to lack self-trust or feel like capital-l Losers. We have enough already.
That’s why Dr. Neal‘s psychology-backed structure for creating a New Year’s vision is such a welcome relief. Rather than prioritizing outcomes or getting attached to expectations, a New Year’s vision allows us to work towards our ideal selves slowly, sustainably, and safely. But it does require a mindset shift to integrate something so contradictory to our current paradigm.
Keep these 3 things in mind before you dive into creating your perfectly personalized New Year’s vision:
1. You’ll Need to Get to the Heart of the Matter
It’s time to find what really, truly, genuinely moves you. If you’re trying to lose weight in 2024, then “because I want to look hot,” isn’t going to be the motivational mantra that gets you through the months of hard work with no results.
“I want to live long enough to watch my grandchildren grow,” on the other hand, is the kind of deep-rooted, galvanizing truth that can drive change.
2. You’ll Have to Adjust Your Expectations
When you first begin working towards a goal or building a new behavior, you’re going to have to give maximum effort for minimum return. There won’t be any dopamine-boosting animations to reward you for the small accomplishments — unless your only goal is to master Spanish on Duolingo, that is.
The good news is that, if you stick with it, you’ll eventually reach a point in the learning curve where you’re putting in less effort and seeing more results. And, if you go into this evolution of self expecting hard work, you won’t be as disappointed when you’re actually doing the hard work.
3. You’ll Have to Track Your Progress
Sometimes, when July rolls around, we’ve abandoned our New Year’s resolutions not because we’re unmotivated or complacent, but because we simply forgot about them.
All this is to say that, well, we don’t remember sh*t. Especially good sh*t, like making small, incremental changes that propel us ever further toward our objectives. That’s a big part of why long-term change is really difficult — day to day, it often feels like we’re making no progress at all.
So keep a journal, okay? Or at least a note on your phone. Review your days, weeks, or months, and actually write down the positive steps you’ve taken.
Create a New Year’s Vision You Can Actually Accomplish
Okay, enough with the lofty dreams of perfect physiques and uninterrupted mindfulness. It’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of creating a New Year’s vision that works for you, specifically.
Following Dr. Neal’s framework, we’re going to ask ourselves two imperative questions to lay the groundwork for the New Year’s vision:
- What is it I want to do/be/accomplish by the end of this year?
- What are the 5 actions I must take consistently to do/be/accomplish that?
Because, first, we have to establish the long-term goal, even if our brains hate it. But directly after that, — by defining the 5 actions we need to take daily, weekly, or monthly to reach our vision — we effectively reduce that long-term goal into 5 short-term ones.
These 5 actions should be measurable and tangible if we want to work with human psychology instead of against it. They should also be objective, or as objective as we can get, so you can say without a shred of doubt, “If I do these 5 things, I will have reached my vision.”
Set yourself up for success with these objective objectives by, like we done said already, getting to the heart of your goal, establishing realistic expectations, and tracking your progress.
Continuing with our weight loss example, that looks something like:
- Swapping “I want to lose weight,” for “I want to lose 15 pounds over the next year.”
- Defining your motivating factor, ie, wanting to watch your grandchildren grow up.
- Delineating the 5 tangible actions that, if done, will result in your vision.
- Writing down each time you accomplish one of those 5 actions.
- Continuously reflecting on your daily, weekly, or monthly progress.
And here’s one final pro tip that you might not have been aware of — you don’t have to do this alone. As long as it’s not during the last two weeks of the year, you can give our team of holistic health experts a call any time you need personalized advice for this journey.
Our Counterside Consults, believe it or not, are always free.