New Year’s resolutions can be the most daunting to-do list of all. The most popular for 2017 were “get healthy,” “get organized,” and “live life to the fullest,” according to NBC News. No wonder the majority of us fail to make changes.
Instead of declaring a grand life goal, consider reframing the change into an anti-resolution—a not-to-do list of sorts, suggests Mike Vardy, author of The Front Nine: How to Start the Year You Want Anytime You Want.
“January is one of the worst times of year to do something new,” he says. “We’ve just lived through Thanksgiving, the shopping season, and Christmas. We have less than a week to decide what big things to manifest for next year. That’s why the majority of the population doesn’t stick with new habits.”
Resolutions are often born out of thoughts about what we should do, and rarely are they authentic desires, says professional organizer Kelly Jayne McCann, founder of the Organizing Maven. “It’s all too easy to feel like we must meet every expectation that is thrust upon us, whether it’s reasonable or not,” she says.
“What should I stop doing?” is a better question to ask yourself, says leadership coach Jennifer Davis. “There’s a Chinese proverb . . . that says we don’t become free by trying to be free, but rather by seeing how we imprison ourselves in the very moment we imprison ourselves,” she says.
Identifying anti-resolutions provide a better path to what you ultimately want to do, says Vardy: “Having a list of things you’re not going to do is easier to achieve,” he says. “If I know what I don’t do, it’s easier to live intentionally.”
Anti-resolutions create space for the good stuff, says personal development coach Kate Hanley, author of How to Be a Better Person. “Making an anti-resolution list gives you an opportunity to identify some of the ways you’ve been making your own life harder, and then use that awareness to stop doing (at least one of) those things,” she says.
What Should Go On Your Anti-Resolution List
Vardy likens an anti-resolution list to the Christian season of Lent. “Most people give something up,” he says. “I will not drink alcohol or I will not swear, for example. You take something out of my regular day or life, and anti-resolutions can be structured in the same way.”
Instead of making a resolution to eat healthy, for example, start with, “I will not eat fast food,” suggests Vardy. “It’s more specific,” he says. “And we all know what the end result will be.”
Anti-resolution lists can create energy and inspiration in your career. Here are nine ideas to get you started:
1. Stop biting your tongue. When you have an opinion to share, do so, says Hanley. “This will challenge you to find a way of communicating that lets your ideas be heard,” she says.
2. Stop working with bad clients. People who take up too much of your time for too little pay or satisfaction need to go. Start the New Year by firing clients who cause you stress and anxiety, even if you haven’t replaced them yet. “Nothing like a little hit in income to give you the motivation to go after the types of clients you’d be thrilled to work with,” says Hanley.
3. Stop using disclaimers. Starting a sentence with phrases such as, “Sorry to bother you, but,” “I just wanted to tell you,” or, “I feel like” detract from your message, says Davis. “Say what you want to say, directly and confidently,” she says. “While you’re at it, stop apologizing so much. If you have to, say you’re sorry with a smile and move the heck on.”
4. Stop making excuses. Don’t attempt to explain away why you couldn’t, wouldn’t, or didn’t do something, says McCann. Instead, take responsibility for your errors, and don’t worry about softening the truth to make it more palatable to someone else. “In the long run, making excuses uses more energy than truth telling, plus the truth never comes back to bite you,” she says.
5. Stop feeling guilty. “Some say that guilt is anger that we feel we don’t have the right to have,” says Davis. Perhaps you feel guilty about not inviting that annoying, rude colleague to your lunch, or leaving the office early to go to your kid’s school holiday party. “When the guilt creeps in, take a moment to examine the cause and see what’s driving it,” says Davis. “A little clean anger just might allow you to move on.”
6. Stop putting off work that needs to be done. There will always be emails to answer and tough conversations to have, says Hanley. “The more you hate or dread doing these things, the more they will suck the life out of you,” she says. When you notice yourself avoiding a task or spinning a story in your head about how hard or unfair something will be, accept that, for better or worse, it’s your responsibility. “Give it just the amount of attention it needs so you can move on to the more enjoyable stuff,” says Hanley.
7. Stop overcommitting. It’s okay to say “no,” but few of us do it. When you frame the decision as refusing to overcommit, it can be easier to do. “You can also delegate, outsource, or occasionally do a half-assed job,” says Hanley.
8. Stop spending time on social media. Instead of living your life through Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, get out and talk to real people. Connect, get curious and have a conversation just to learn something new, suggests Davis. “Let go of wanting to impress 300 people with the perfect photo of your trip and embrace the old-fashioned world of simply being,” she says. “I’ve gotten some of my best business leads from relationships or conversations where I’ve had no particular agenda.”
9. Stop rehearsing unhappiness. Humans have a negativity bias that causes us to remember and dwell upon things that didn’t work out so well, says Hanley. “What helps us learn from our mistakes can also make us pretty miserable when we apply that neural tendency to the future,” she says. “Imagining worst-case scenarios only serves to reduce your enjoyment and awareness of the present. When you catch yourself becoming anxious, ask yourself, ‘Do I really want to rehearse unhappiness?’ You can’t change a habit you don’t know you have.”