A better approach to New Year’s resolutions

As another year rolls around, I see a lot of people making New Year’s resolutions; to lose weight, to stop smoking, to do this or that, etc. And let’s be honest, most of these resolutions rarely make it past the end of January. I have developed a very effective alternative framework for what are essentially annual objectives, and it works really well. This includes three areas:

Become an expert. Most of us are already experts at something (hopefully our jobs), but I mean become an expert at something you don’t know anything about, that doesn’t necessarily focus on work. For example, last year I decided to become an expert on Russian history. Every night before I went to sleep I would read about Russian history for 30 minutes. I may not have PhD level knowledge, but last year I read about 30 books on Russian history, so compared to your average bear I am now very knowledgeable. It wasn’t a big time sink, and over the course of a year I picked up something new and interesting.

Learn a new skill. This could be learning to play an instrument, learn to speak a new language (e.g. listen to language podcasts rather than music on your way to work, it’s a great way to use otherwise down time), or focus on something that makes your brain work in new ways. Last year I focused on learning jazz improvisation on the piano, and now I can jam with my son. Totally cool.

Learn a stupid skill. It can be very easy to forget it’s important to have fun. There are lots of relatively pointless skills you can pick up that are entertaining and can be used to liven up a party, and depending on the skill, even liven up a business presentation. Last year I learned to juggle three balls (and actually used it to illustrate a point while training sales reps on a new product—it totally worked), the year before I learned how to moonwalk. YouTube is a great resource for tutorials on stupid skills.

I’ve suggested this framework to my friends over the years, and the feedback I get is consistently positive. The beauty of this method is it doesn’t really cut that much into your otherwise tight schedule (everyone has downtime—why spend time vegging in front of the TV when you can become an expert or learn a new skill?), and every year you can layer on more skills and knowledge.

I hope this post stimulates some new thinking, and a very happy new year to those of you who’ve read this.

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