If you did a New Years resolution, your self-improvement plan will likely kick off sometime January 1st, when the hangover wears off and the search for the “new you” begins in earnest.
But if the research on changing habits is a clue, only about half of New Year’s resolutions should last through January, let alone last a lifetime.
We call it the “old year resolution”.
It combines insights from psychologists and America’s first self-improvement guru, Benjamin Franklin, who developed a habit-changing model that was way ahead of its time.
The âold yearâ approach may help you bypass the inevitable challenges that come with traditional New Year resolutions and make lasting positive change.
3. Practice your resolutions in advance
Research has highlighted two potential pitfalls in New Year’s resolutions.
First, if you do not have the confidence to invest in a full effort, failure to achieve the goal can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you keep making the change but perceive the progress as unacceptably slow or inadequate, you can give up the effort.
The resolution of the old year is different. Instead of waiting until January to try to change your life, do a test run before the new year begins.
How does this work? First, identify a change that you want to make in your life. Would you like to eat better? Move more? Throw away more savings?
Now that January 1st is gone, start living your commitment. Track your progress. You might stumble, but here’s the thing: you’re just practicing.
If you’ve ever rehearsed for a play or played scrimmages, you’ve used these type of low-stakes exercise to prepare for reality. Such experiences make us fail.
However, when people perceive failure as a definitive sign that they are not successful or not at all promising, failure can lead to surrender.
When you are convinced that you cannot achieve a goal, something called “learned helplessnessâMay result, which means you will likely give up on it altogether.
Many of us inadvertently adjusted our New Year’s resolutions to failure. On January 1st, we jump straight into a new lifestyle and, unsurprisingly, slip, fall, slip again – and ultimately never get up again.
The old year’s resolution takes the pressure off. It gives you permission to fail and even learn from your mistakes. You can slowly build trust while failures become less important as they all happen before the solution’s official “start date”.
2. step by step
Long before he became one of America’s greatest success stories, Franklin devised a method that could help him overcome life’s inevitable mistakes – and help you make old year’s resolutions.
When he was a young man, Franklin developed his “bold and arduous project of achieving moral perfection,” as he put it. With charming confidence, he set out to master 13 virtues, including temperance, frugality, chastity, diligence, order, and humility.
On a typically Franklin train, he applied a small strategy to his endeavors, focusing on virtue after virtue. He compared this approach with that of a gardener who âdoes not try to eradicate all the bad herbs at once, which would be beyond his reach and strength, but only ever works on one of the bedsâ.
In his autobiography, where he detailed this project, Franklin did not say that he linked his project to a New Year. Nor did he give up if he slipped once – or more than once.
âI was surprised to be as full of mistakes as I imagined; but I had the satisfaction of seeing them diminish, âwrote Franklin.
He made his progress visible in a book in which he recorded his slip-ups. A page – perhaps just a hypothetical example – shows 16 of them tied to “temperance” in a single week. (Instead of marking mistakes, we recommend successes after the work of habits expert BJ Foggwhose research suggests that celebrating victories helps change habits.)
Repeated failure can discourage someone enough to give up completely. But Franklin stuck with it – for years. For Franklin, it was all about perspective: that effort to make yourself better as a “project” and projects take time.
1. An ongoing project
Many years later, Franklin authorized that despite all efforts, it was never perfect. What is worth remembering, however, is his final assessment:
“But on the whole I have never reached the perfection that I had so ambitiously to achieve, but lagged far behind it, and yet through this endeavor I was a better and happier man than I should have been otherwise.” I would not have tried. “
It worked for Franklin to treat self-improvement as a project with no rigid timeframe. His plan probably helped him Successful in business, science and politics. It is important that he also found immense personal satisfaction in the endeavor: “This little trick with the blessing of God” he wrote, was the key to “the continued bliss of his life until he was 79, when this is written”.
You can enjoy the same success as Franklin if you start on your schedule – old year now – and treat self-improvement as an ongoing “project” rather than a goal with a start date.
It might also be helpful to recall Franklin’s note about a virtue he happened to call âdeterminationâ: âMake up your mind to do what you should; be sure to carry out what you decide. “