New Years Resolutions Considered Harmful

(let me admit up front I’m playing devil’s advocate here… you’ve been warned)

I’ve had this conversation with multiple people this year. When asked what my new years resolutions are, I’ve told them I’m not doing them any more.

My explanation: New Years Resolutions are inherently waterfall, and I’ve moved to a continuous development project management style.

For the non-geeks, let me explain in real english (the geeks are probably laughing their butts off right now):

For the last number of years, I’ve found myself shifting away from making big plans with lots of drama and instead attempting to focus more on what I need to do next. I still have long-term plans (like, for instance “not have to go to work ever again unless I want to”), but I put more energy into what the next steps to take me closer to that goal are, and less about trying to plan out all of the steps before taking any.

In geek speak, this is moving from Waterfall project planning (do all the planning upfront, work out all the details you can, and then code like crazy until you run into something you didn’t plan for or the client changes the requirements on you. Then iterate) to a more agile view of life (what do I need to accomplish tomorrow? What should I focus on this month? what are the short term accomplishments that I need to put energy into?)

For some reason, that got me thinking about the New Years Resolution — what is it? Once a year, you plan out what you’re going to do for the entire year, make a big proclamation of that year-long project, dive into it, and three weeks later you’ve given it up and sit in the coffee shop going “oh well, maybe next year”.

Think about it for a second. Making resolutions once a year encourages making Grand Plans with Big Scope and Large Impact. You may well be well-intentioned about them, but they tend to be big, dramatic changes in what you’re doing and how you live your life. And then you jump into them without any real planning or preparation. On the 3rd, you cut out desserts, smoking, alcohol and hit the gym. On the 5th, your body is so sore you can’t move, your feeling like throwing up, the nicotine habit is kicking you in the groin, and you can’t move to either throw up or give up. By the time you come out of this “too much too soon” load of feeling crappy, it’s really easy to simply not try again.

And in fact, the way society treats resolutions it’s almost a badge of honor to give up on them. People don’t take them seriously, there’s no real incentive to follow through. you’re expected to fail. And so most of the time you do, because we know going into resolution season that we will and that it’s okay.

So why do we keep doing it? Because we can pretend we tried, but it didn’t work. makes us feel better that we can think that.

Major dramatic lifestyle changes have generally the lowest chance of success, because you’re trying to do too much, too soon.

So instead, what I’ve done is instead of trying to one or two big changes doomed to failure once a year, I’ve been trying to understand what my ultimate goal is, and focus more on what my next change, my next project, my next step toward that goal.

Instead of crossing that canyon in one leap on an Wiley Coyote rocket, I’m using the footbridge, one step at a time. And you know how well those Coyote ideas end up, right?

Maybe your New Years resolution should be to give up New Years resolutions, and instead look for that smaller next thing, next step that you can actually accomplish…