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Your New Year’s Resolution Should Last Two Weeks

because resolutions that span a whole year just don’t make any sense.

Like every other Medium user, I like the idea giving myself a sleek new habit each year — I’ll write every day, run every day, become a bassist for a punk-indie-rock band. But actually, I’ve come to think that New Years resolutions are some of the worst ways to form new habits. In general, a New Year’s resolution takes the form:

I will do X for all of next year.

and the problem with this is that in general, it’s very difficult for us to know how to realistically go about achieving X before we begin to try.

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For example, this year I want to write more, so suppose for me,

X = write every morning

Now today, on January 1, I hazily fall out of post-New-Year’s-Eve slumber at 12 PM, sit down at my laptop and here we are. But on Monday, when I have to wake up for work, writing every morning will force me out of bed at 7:30, which will be awful and as a result I’ll have to move my bedtime up from midnight to 11. If I change my bedtime to 11, I won’t really be able to go out to bars in the East Village with my friends on weeknights, which means that I’ll have to meet with all of my friends earlier at dinner or not at all. If I decide to crash at a friend’s place, I’ll have to bring a notebook or my laptop and find a quiet place to ignore my friend to write in the morning. In short,write every morning seems like a specific and simple resolution, but actually, if I really committed to writing every morning, my resolution would have a ripple effect that would imply ten more resolutions: go to sleep early, don’t stay out late with friends on weekdays, don’t crash at friends’ places, etc. And most of those resolutions I did not aim to resolute at all.

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Hence making permanent changes to our everyday lives is a hard problem to execute, not (only) because we’re undisciplined and lazy, but also because the actual execution of a change and its consequences are difficult to predict. At the end of the day, we may give up our resolutions out of simple impracticality, for shame.

That’s why this year, I didn’t resolve to do any one thing. I resolved to do many things, for a minimum of two weeks apiece. Every two weeks, I’ll think of a habit I’d like to have. This week, it’s to write every morning. For two weeks, I’ll stick to that habit without waiver, and then I’ll re-evaluate. Maybe two weeks from now, I’ll decide I should try to write every other day, or at least once a week, or maybe I’ll just decide writing is not worth it and pick up training in competitive Scrabble.

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The important gain that working on goals for only two weeks at a time achieves is that it allows us to differentiate between our own lack of discipline and the impracticality of our goals. This way we don’t blame ourselves for failing to achieve the impractical.

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