It’s five months after January, how’s your 2016 New Year’s resolution going? Have you completed the squat challenge, called your grandmother, quit stalking your ex on Facebook, found love, read Nietzsche, and lived life to the fullest yet? No? That’s what we thought, but hey, you’re not alone and we feel you. Right now, the typical approach to ‘bettering’ ourselves includes a complete overhaul of our mindset and everyday routine. No wonder 88% of Americans give up on their resolutions; it’s an admirable human endeavour that is incompatible with our modern soul. Ironically, to us Millennials, the generation most keen to better ourselves, who religiously buy into services that do the heavy lifting for us, the New Year’s resolution seems like a lot of the lifting with barely any payoff.
The New Year’s resolution is not a modern phenomenon. The concept has existed across religions and cultures throughout history. At the core, it’s human beings attempting to fix and align themselves with what society considers aspirational at the time (FYI, in 2016, if I ask ‘does my butt look big in this’, you better say yes.) The approach hasn’t changed much: we get furiously drunk at the start of each year, grasp the fact of our own mortality, and promise to #getstrong #eatclean #dreambig. But the reality is an #epicfail.
Remember if you made a New Years resolution you are a douche and you will fail.— Jailbait Bieber (@BiebersMugshots) January 1, 2014
As two strategists at Sylvain Labs, we wondered if perhaps the way we traditionally approach New Year’s resolutions needs a bit of an update? We decided to explore this question by throwing ourselves into a month long experiment testing our ability (or inability) to undertake new habits. Our friends and colleagues followed our progress on this blog where we posted daily updates on our highs and lows. Our aim was to observe the common successes and pitfalls of New Year’s resolutions, and to see if there could be another, perhaps more realistic and enjoyable road to success.
The Problem: Experience Has Taught Us To Expect Failure
As New Year's eve approached last year, we noticed a good amount of anti-resolution sentiment amongst our online and offline friends. Even our family members, who used to support and encourage us, have supplanted their cheering with dramatic eye rolling at our deluded vows. It’s no surprise people are bitter about resolutions they know we all break.
Searches for ‘resolution’, ‘diet’, and ‘fitness’ dramatically spike on Google every New Year, and then fade until the next January. It’s like society has a collective existential crisis at the end of each year, decides this year will be different, and then gives up by mid-January. Did we even try?
Old Model, New Lives
As millennials, we have grown accustomed to products and services that simplify our lives and basically reward us for existing. After all, we are the coddled generation. And we love it.
Yet, the defining principles of a New Year’s resolution encompass everything we try to avoid: it’s hard, uncompromising, no fun, a full-time commitment, and preachy. It’s not that we Millennials have short attention spans, we just don’t have to be patient when there is a shortcut to everything. The irony for the so called lazy generation is that we are also the most determined to disrupt the status quo. We want self reform but only if it’s done our way: 94% of Millennials reported making personal improvement commitments. They also spend twice the amount as Boomers on self-improvement, yet have half the discretionary income. (Forbes).
If the New Year’s resolution is all about setting ambitious (often ambiguous) goals that, when not met, drain our confidence and shed light on our flaws, then it’s clearly time to find an alternative approach. One that suits our new lifestyle of high expectations, tight timelines, self reward, and constant entertainment.
The 30 Day Challenge: A Solution for The Snapchat Generation
Julie Beck writes in The Atlantic “The word resolution— simultaneously suggests a beginning (setting a goal) and an end (achieving that goal), but it doesn’t say much about the middle.” To us, the 30 Day Challenge is all about the middle and that’s where the solution lies.
While New Year’s resolutions tend to be vague, long-term goals*, a challenge is more tangible because it forces you to reframe those long term goals into daily actions.
A challenge forces you to define a specific and clear plan of action instead of vowing to pursue abstract goals. For example, instead of ‘getting fit’, you ‘run 3K per day’, instead of ‘reducing stress’, you ‘meditate for 15 minutes’.
So instead of focusing on resolutions, we should be focusing on challenges, sprints of change in our lives that can provide novelty, but more importantly allow us to successfully improve ourselves. Afterall, above all else, the goal of a resolution is to improve ourselves and the quality of our lives and it's our belief that challenges can do this with an infinitely greater success rate than the traditional year long resolution. The following section outlines five tips we've learned from our own experiment to help you approach a challenge in your life.
30 Days Later And Five Reasons to Pursue A Challenge Instead of A Resolution
1. It’s always better to try before you buy
With a 30 Day Challenge, we did not have to make any long term commitments. It was essentially an experiment that allowed for an iterative approach to behavior change, and the rightsizing of challenges to our lives and context. We established what we did right, what didn’t work, and what we could have improved upon for the future.
1. Use the 30 Day Challenge as a self reflective tool to better understand your strengths and weaknesses.
2. Keep your challenges flexible and allow them to evolve. It’s better to adjust than to abandon them completely.
2. A tangible finish line keeps you motivated and in control
Knowing the 30 Day Challenge had an end in sight made starting the challenge less daunting. Seeing the days pass on a calendar gave us a clear perspective of where we were and where we were headed, and kept us motivated throughout the experience.
1. Establish a deadline: even if the deadline isn’t the very end of the project, but the start of another stage of the project.
2. Keep a countdown calendar in order to view your progress over time.
3. Since progress is measurable daily, there’s room for frequent celebration
Since our challenge was to do a daily action, it was very clear when we accomplished our task and when we didn’t. Small, measurable daily actions meant we could reward ourselves for accomplishing that action every day, rather than having to wait weeks for some kind of outcome or result. And when we didn’t accomplish a task, it was clear what we could do to make up for it. This made failures feel more like small missteps or bumps in the road.
1. Treat yourself for accomplishing the mini milestones with mini celebrations.
2. Hold yourself accountable but avoid viewing missteps as failures.
4. You get to step inside many shoes to play many parts
Certain challenges were much more approachable when we knew they would be temporary. This gave us the courage to venture out of our comfort zones. Curious to know what it feels like to be a vegetarian? Try it for 30 days! Want to control your social media addiction? Temporarily disconnect for a month. Amazingly, we saw that certain ‘short term challenges’ left a lasting impression.
1. Don’t narrow your options to what you think you are capable of achieving.
2. Pick some challenges that broaden your perspective.
5. It’s more fun when you have a partner in crime
Changing a habit is not easy and the journey can be full of ups and downs. Having a friend or community to share those experiences with is not only motivating, but way more fun. Sharing our story on the blog encouraged us to be more vocal about our experience. We were surprised to see that even our far off acquaintances were eager to share tips and tricks to improve our experience.
1. Team up with someone or a group of people.
2. Share your challenge with others so they can hold you accountable, share their knowledge, or cheer you up along the way.
The Verdict: Just do it.
To us, the 30 Day Challenge was a more realistic, explorative, and enjoyable alternative to the New Year’s resolution. While we made the case for our approach to the 30 Day Challenge, our biggest learning from this experience has been that ‘bettering yourself’ is an extremely personal experience and what works for one person may not work for another.
Ultimately, we recommend taking a step back and evaluating your existing approach and expectation of New Year’s resolutions. As a generation that challenges and disrupts so many traditions, it’s surprising we haven’t yet updated the methods we use to achieve what we hope will yield a better, happier self.