New Year’s eve has come and gone, and I’m eyeing the beautiful blank pages in my 2022 calendar, imagining the great things I might accomplish with a full year’s time.
I could start a new project I’ve been thinking about, work on breaking a bad habit or creating a new one, or just resolve to get better at something I’m already doing (like writing here more often… whoops!).
These are classic New Year’s resolutions, which seem to be a love/hate relationship for most people. We are all familiar with that sinking feeling you get looking back at the year and realizing we fell short in achieving what we set out to do the previous New Year’s eve.
There is an inherent problem with New Year’s resolutions, and it’s right there in the wording. A resolution is a firm decision to do, or not do, something. And while that determined vision for the future (hopefully accompanied by a clear goal) is well intentioned, hopes and determination are not enough to push our monkey brains into the concrete action needed to succeed.
Plus ‘resolution’ just sounds so flimsy. “I resolve to exercise twice a week” inevitably comes across as a weak “I really should exercise more… tomorrow” instead of the “I’m amped up and ready to crush some iron!” that we were probably hoping for.
This is where the New Year’s challenge comes in.
A New Year’s challenge is totally different from a New Year’s resolution. By changing the wording it takes on new power, automatically taunting you, implying that you might not be able to complete it. It provokes an emotional reaction from within, stoking your competitive spirit, and driving you to want to succeed if only to avoid enduring failure.
“I resolve to lose 20 pounds this year” becomes “I challenge myself to lose 20 pounds in a year”.
“I resolve to save $5,000 this year” becomes “I bet I can’t save $5,000 in six months”.
“I resolve to learn how to ski this year” becomes “I dare myself to learn how to ski or die trying!”.
Ok, that last one was a little extreme, but you get the idea.
Being particularly boneheaded and with a stubbornness that knows no bounds, this reframing perfectly fools my brain. When I say “I challenge myself to exercise twice a week” what my stubborn brain actually hears is “I bet you can’t exercise two days a week!”. Right away, the competitive corner of my brain fires up in indignation and screams back “LIKE HELL I CAN’T!”.
Excellent! Let us dare ourselves to be better. Let us use our competitive spirit to drive us into achieving our goals.
But we can take it even further.
Want to exercise twice a week? Sign up for a marathon. Congratulations, your innate fear of failure is now your personal coach, who will ensure that you never miss a training session lest you not finish on race day. And if your anything like me you will probably end up training four or five days a week instead of the intended two, out of excited trepidation.
Committing to something concrete is by far the best motivator to ensure that your New Year’s challenge is completed successfully.
Here are some ideas how to add concrete commitment to your New Year’s challenge:
- I challenge myself to travel more:
- Book a flight to somewhere you always wanted to visit without yet taking the time off work, or planning where you will stay. With tickets in hand, you will figure it out before the date arrives. Trust me, I’ve been there.
- I challenge myself to lose weight:
- Set up a bet with a friend that if you can’t lose 20 pounds by the end of the year, you’ll pay them $500. Maybe more depending on your own level of stubbornness. Choose a friend that would love to constantly remind you of your impending monetary loss if you don’t succeed.
- I challenge myself to learn how to cook:
- Schedule a formal dinner with your closest friends and family a few months from now, and write in the invitation that you will be cooking for everyone. Worried yet? Maybe it’s time to finally sign up for that cooking class…
- I challenge myself to learn to swim freestyle (front crawl):
- Sign up for a beginner-level swim meet. Knowing that you will be competing in front of, and against, other swimmers will drive you to stick to your practice sessions.
When we make a commitment that we can’t back out of, the entire way we think about the challenge instantly changes. In a flash, what was something we hoped to squeeze in between the cracks in our busy life suddenly becomes a front-running priority, always on our mind. Magically we make time and space appear for this challenge where we previously thought there was none available.
It’s truly amazing what we are capable of when we feel like we have no other choice but to succeed. Just like a high-school final assignment, there is no better way to force completion of a project than an impending deadline, especially one where your pride will be put on the line.
This year I challenge you to turn your New Year’s resolution into a New Year’s challenge, and guarantee your own success by making a concrete commitment that will drive you forward.
For 2022, I am challenging myself to undertake a series physically demanding expeditions, some alone, some with strangers, and some with friends. To make my challenge concrete, I have already joined a team that will traverse the West Coast Trail in mid-2022, and will be purchasing my permit in the coming weeks when registration opens.
What will be your 2022 New Year’s challenge?
Header Photo: Nearly midnight on New Year’s eve 2019, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam