Spring Clean Your Resolutions

Spring Clean Your Resolutions

March 13, 2022

Believe it or not, spring is nearly here. That means that we have already progressed a quarter of the way through this year.

No time to read? Watch the video instead.

Withering on the Vine

At the very beginning of 2022, you probably set some goals. Maybe you made New Year’s resolutions. What were they? And how are they going?

If you’re like most people, you may not even recall what they were. Were you planning a trip? Undertaking a big home project? Planning to write a book or learn a language? After 6 months, 56% of people say that they haven’t made ANY progress on their resolutions.

But fortunately, it’s only been 3 months for us, and that means there are 9 more months to beat those odds!

Make a Fresh Start

By now, you have likely heard of the Fresh Start Effect. Dr. Katy Milkman described it in a 2014 paper and again in her book How to Change.

It’s the idea that we are more likely to undertake big changes when we feel like we have a fresh start on the calendar. A fresh start lets us mentally draw a sharp temporal line demarcating the past from the future.

The opportunities to start fresh are more common than you might imagine. You get a new one every Monday, and again on the 1st of every month, the seasonal solstice or equinox, on your birthday, and ultimately, every morning when you start a new day.

Research aside, this phenomenon is intuitively obvious. It explains why gyms are most crowded on Monday and emptiest on Friday. And who hasn’t sworn off junk food “starting Monday morning”?

There is psychological power in new beginnings. Hence, the compelling allure of New Year’s resolutions.

Too Many Failures

Resolutions get a bad rap because so few people succeed. There are lots of reasons for those failures. Sometimes we set too many goals, or unrealistic ones. Perhaps most commonly, we just never take the first step, so they languish. Or, the goal requires a complicated process, and we don’t do the planning.

And even those of us who do give it a shot often break our resolutions in short order. It’s easy for unfamiliar behavior changes to get lost while we finish vacationing and resume work,

When we fail it’s easy to dismiss the whole project. In sobriety circles they call it The Abstinence Violation Effect. Having “blown it” once-recovering addicts will often continue to use, believing that all is lost. Dieters do the same thing. After indulging in one cookie, they end up binging.

Any one of those experiences leaves us demoralized. And before you know it, it’s Halloween, and nothing has changed.

Spring Forward for Spring

This essay is meant to act as your resolution insurance policy. We usually avoid thinking about lapsed goals—until the next New Year’s Eve. But that just prolongs the inertia.

Instead, let’s face the failure. Confronting reality creates mental space to reclaim your goal and change its trajectory! So as part of your spring cleaning, sweep away the failure and make room for new beginnings!

There is a special poetry in using winter’s end to reclaim resolutions. In almost every spiritual tradition, spring symbolizes renewal or rebirth. If you happened to plant bulbs in the autumn, your tulips are breaking through the ground! I like to think that nature itself is setting the stage for us to revisit and reclaim our resolutions –or create a new one.

Hot Tips

If you still care about that resolution, or you have a new and exciting goal, here are some ways you might improve your odds of success.

  • Advertise: One way to kneecap your resolution is to keep it a secret. Instead, shout it from the rooftops. There are two ways this helps. First, it creates a support community to remind you of the reasons for whatever change you are trying to make. The other advantage is that sharing your intentions boxes you in. Most of us find it embarrassing to fail in public. Knowing that everyone is watching for you to (say) finish your book, creates external pressure. Use that to your advantage!
  • Phone a Friend: Enlist an accountability partner. It’s a way of outsourcing your willpower. [click here to tweet this]
I have clients who text me their exercise plan every morning, and then text again when they complete it. If I don’t get the first text, they hear from me. If you don’t have a coach, it can be a friend, sibling, or co-worker.
  • Nudge Yourself: Our brains love routine. Just like Pavlov’s dogs, we are hard-wired to respond the exact same way to the same stimulus. If you are trying to break a habit (or create a new one), you can use that to your advantage. Say you want to quit snacking in the evening. Figure out what usually happens before you start snacking. Maybe you grab a snack whenever you turn on the TV. The TV “nudges” you to snack. Change the sequence. Maybe start reading instead. Or sit in a different part of the room where it’s uncomfortable to snack. Build an environment that nudges you to perform your goal behavior.
  • Plan: What are the steps to fulfill your goal? Work backwards and decide what need to happen and when. Put them on your calendar and track your progress. You do it for work projects, do it for yourself too.

There are lots more tactics for successfully making changes in your life or your work. But the most important tip of all is to go for it. Don’t let your resolutions fade into non-existence. Use the chirping birds, budding flowers, and longer days to revive your enthusiasm. Then bring your New Year’s resolution into reality!




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