New Year's Experiments vs New Year's Resolutions
Jan 11, 2024
"New year, new me." A familiar mantra for the start of another year, brining with it a classic set up for failure - the New Year's Resolution.
I'm presuming it's common knowledge at this point that most New Year's Resolutions fail. If it isn't, there are tons of articles going into great depth about the topic¹. Despite the slew of articles delving into the pitfalls of resolutions, few provide useful alternatives. Some simply dress "resolutions" in new language, like focusing on "goals" instead. As if there is any significant difference? Others offer only slightly different alternatives, like focusing on the reason behind your resolution, or gimmicks like setting up a journal or calendar with checkmarks or stickers to make a "streak" you can stick to. 🙄 Ugh.
"No one tells me what to do. Not even me!"
However, New Year's resolutions, regardless of their guise, have never really resonated with me. It's probably because as soon as someone tells me I have to do something, I don't want to do it. The more I stew on it, the more I begin to resent them for making me do it. What is a resolution, if not my past self, 😐, throwing out easy words and lofty goals burdening today's me with all the hard work and obligations? 😠
Years ago, I stumbled upon an alternative - the New Year's Experiment. I wish I remember who shared it with me, because it has profoundly impacted my life. The concept is simple - rather than setting yourself up for failure with a resolution, frame them as experiments. A scientific experiment rarely "fails", in fact some of the biggest breakthroughs come from experiments gone awry. As the saying goes: "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but “That’s funny …" ⁴ Best case, you achieve what you set out to do, and in most worst cases, you still yield some valuable insights about yourself.
For example: Instead of resolving to "read 50 books this year" you could conduct an experiment with hypotheses like "If I read every night, would I read more books?" or "If I lean into a specific genre, will my yearly book count increase?" This approach not only helps improve the behavior you're aiming to change, it does so without the pressure of the arbitrary targets and self-judgement from your past self. 😐 Additionally, you'll find yourself genuinely curious about how you work, and apply the things you learn to the relationship with yourself throughout your lifetime. Perhaps in this example you find the ideal time of day to read, or a genre or author that really suits you. Or, maybe you discover that reading isn't really your thing, but audiobooks at bedtime or in the car? Well, that's your jam.
It's that simple. You can reframe any resolution as an experiment, and with this subtle change you'll be free to explore a new dimension of yourself. More importantly, you spare yourself the headache, heartache, anxiety, self-loathing, and judgement that your past self, 😐, attempted to put on you.
The best part? It's never too late to start an experiment. Best of luck with whatever you hope to discover in 2024! 😄
In the hopes it provides some inspiration, I've shared some of my previous experiments here.
What would happen if I didn't eat added sugar for a year?
This sucked. The first week was the hardest. The first 6 to 8 weeks were still tough and I'd often catch myself absent mindedly reaching for candy. Man I love candy...
I was incensed to discover that most food, even beef jerky, has sugar added. What the hell?!
I became "that guy" and ordered fruit at restaurants for dessert.
What would happen if I didn't drink alcohol for a year?
Having never been a huge drinker, this wasn't too hard. With the exception of social events.
The first 15-30 minutes I'd normally have a drink and "settle in". Turns out that is just an acclimation period, and you can "settle in" even without the alcohol.
I got very used to ordering soda and lime or something as an alternative - though I still tipped as if I bought a drink. As an ex-bartender I feel like that's important to mention.
Most places now have mocktails too, but if you're aiming to avoid sugar, those aren't going to help. 😝
What would happen if I worked out every other day for a year?
I hated it for the first several months. After the first several months, I actually hated it more when I didn't go.
This turned into a lifelong thing, I really enjoy it now and if I miss a few workouts in a row I really hate it.
I did get stronger, but did not become Hugh Jackman in Wolverine ☹️
What would happen if I judged everyone by their intentions, rather than their actions?
This one deserves it's own deep dive. Long story short, it's really easy to excuse anyone's behavior if you consider the possible intention behind it.
After months of doing this, I found myself becoming a total pushover. I'd make excuses for any behavior and would just kind of accept it.
I snapped out of it when someone cut me off in traffic with my kids in the car, very nearly causing an accident. It wasn't the first time I'd been cut off during this experiment, and I usually rationalized it that maybe they were late for a work or an important meeting. In this case, my kids being endangered, the obvious suddenly dawned on me that no matter their intention, it didn't make their behavior okay. You can understand, and empathize, with why someone may have done something, and still disagree with it.
It helped me generate a lot of compassion, and also helped me become much better about enforcing, and articulating, my own personal boundaries in a much more intentional manner than I was previously capable of. I am now an adult.
What would happen if I journaled every day for a year?
I learned I am not much of a journaling person. No matter the time of day or medium, pen and paper, phone, app, computer, voicenotes, selfie videos...
I tried squeezing it in at night, but this was during my peak "revenge bedtime procrastination" period where I was still acclimating to being an actual adult, and parent, and I didn't have the amount of free time I was previously accustomed to. Shoehorning in journaling rarely happened.
What I did record where often one or two line little snippets of a memory, and I will admit, I am glad I did, and still try to do this. Some of my favorites from over the years:
"There may be nothing better as a father than picking up your sleeping daughter, she startles for a moment, notices it's you, and then feeling her put her head on your shoulder and wrap her little arms around your neck and immediately fall back asleep."
"Somehow Dante skipped the circle of hell that consists of Zoom meetings called for no other reason than to sate someone's ego... please kill me now."
What would happen if I meditated three times a week for a year?
This may also deserve a deeper dive. For now, in short, I hated this one.
I spent most of my life getting my brain to the point where it ignores most of the "noise" going on around me, and focuses on the more important "signals".
🐿️ Oooh squirrel!
And then along comes meditation, the answer for everything, opening these cranial floodgates I'd spent years building to dam out all the noise.
Didn't work for me, hope you have better results.
What would happen if I fasted intermittently for a year?
This was peak intermittent fasting craze, but it was helpful. It changed how I think about eating throughout the day.
This ended up mixed in with some high stress at work, drinking more caffeine, intaking more artificial sugars, and the confluence of these things ended up teaching me a lot about myself. It was not a fun lesson to learn.
What would happen if I did regular extended fasts for a year?
I chose to do a complete 3-day fast once per quarter. Plain coffee, tea, and water were allowed, and that was it.
First day is hard, second morning is the hardest, and then it's surprisingly easy.
This was one of the most eye-opening experiences I've had around food. Most of our relationships around food are based on routine. Break that routine, and you get a whole new perspective on your relationship with food.
Would I build more muscle if I ate over 100g of protein each day?
I'd been working out for years at this point, and I still wasn't Hugh Jackman in Wolverine. Unacceptable.
Turns out eating more protein does help. A lot. Turns out everyone already knew that². Took me a while to catch on.
Dialing in a diet that worked for me took a while, especially since I try not to eat much red meat³.
Still not Hugh Jackman ☹️
What would happen if I had "Pronoia" - the opposite of Paranoia, essentially believing the world is out to help you?
This one definitely deserves a more in depth story. In short this experiment changed my life. I have not, traditionally, been someone who is ok "letting go" of things.
This mindset, while it took practice, and I'm still not great at it, has helped me feel more positive about things and more accepting of things that happen be they seemingly positive or negative.
I think it also helps that my personal "Why" isn't a self serving one, and so why wouldn't the world want to help improve itself? I suppose we'll see.
No matter if, or how you go about it, don't beat yourself up too much. The fact that you're even considering a way to learn more about yourself and grow is a lot more than most do. Good luck!
National Institutes of Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7256495/