A Brain-Friendly Alternative to New Year's Resolutions


Looking for an alternative to the ambitious New Year's Resolution? Try quarterly resolutions (Q Resolutions), for a psychology-based method to slay those aspirations. 

Rather than come up with a big whopper of a New Year's resolution, (which honestly freaks me out) you can break up the year into chunks by making quarterly resolutions (Q Resolutions) that build on each other. Let's illustrate this with an example -- let's say you want to exercise regularly in 2018 (one of my personal goals for 2018) -- here's how I'd transform this into Q Resolutions: 

  • Q1 Resolution (Jan - March)
    Sign up for 1 super fun weekly exercise class
    Miss no more than 3 sessions total (for all 3 months) 
  • Q2 Resolution (April - June)
    Sign up for 2 total exercise classes per week
    Miss no more than 6 sessions total
  • Q3 Resolution (July - Sept)
    Up the ante -- sign up for 3 classes per week
    Miss no more than 9 sessions total
  • Q4 Resolution (Oct - Dec)
    Stick to 3 classes per week
    Miss no more than 6 sessions total for all three months

Alternately: No need to draft out all four quarters!  I personally only make a game plan for Q1 and Q2 at the new year. Why? Because my brain reserves long commitments for really special things (my partner and my business) so I keep my resolutions the same. I'll be using only the Q1 and Q2 resolutions above. Come July, I'll revisit and iterate as needed. My point - make this the length that energizes your brain. 

The Psychology 
The brain releases dopamine when it feels a sense of progress, including when it anticipates progress.  Setting up quarterly resolutions creates a clear "progress map" for the brain -- just looking at this list is likely releasing dopamine in your brain.  And as many of you already know from our past posts: dopamine = motivation.

Secondly, it allows you to start small (i.e. realistically) and yet still reach an amazing goal in 6 or 12 months. By starting small, you're decreasing the likelihood that you'll procrastinate (see our post on the psychology of procrastination) since the likelihood of success is high. Case in point: I can totally find one class that works into my schedule -- but finding 3 would be a challenge right now, and my brain would come up with excuses ("I'll wait until after the store opening"/ "I'll wait until after all my travels are done"/ "I'll wait until they invent an 8th day in the week"/ etc).  

Look ahead and prepare for the obstacles: One obstacle I faced last time I tried to do exercise classes was that, once I missed a few classes, I let the whole thing fall apart, because I felt dumb or like I "fell off the wagon". And as I look ahead into my Q1 2018 schedule this time, I can see that already there is a bit of travel that overlaps with some of the class times I'm looking at. So this time, I'm building in an "allowance" of how many classes are ok to miss and still stay on goal. It's both a buffer for the craziness of life, AND a subgoal I can lean into -- knowing I can only miss 3 motivates me to be strategic about how I schedule things moving forward. Most importantly, if I do miss my subgoal (let's say I end up missing 4 classes) I don't give up altogether -- I have Q2 where I can get back on track. Check ourour Habit Tracker post tolearn more on preparing for hurdles. 

When you're ready to try Q Resolutions:
Write your game plan in your journal, on a calendar, or you can print copies of our Goal Tracker template(it's free!) and use one Tracker per quarter. Bam. Bam. Done. 

Feeling stuck or out of ideas about how to create incremental Q Resolutions for your yearly goal? Email usand we'll be happy to offer tailored help.  

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