There are a lot of haters on the internet when it comes to New Year Resolutions.  I, on the other hand, am on the record declaring my love for the timeless tradition of the New Year Resolution, and urging you to ignore the cynics.

The statistics about “only 8% of resolutions coming true” encompass EVERYONE. But don’t forget, there are those who never meant their resolutions- they just wanted to have something to say when asked. Obviously, these people will NOT keep their resolutions.  Then there are those who make miracle wishes that they have no faith in, and that’s obviously not going to work.

overcome your fear

But then there are those of us who seek change because we truly want our lives to be enriched, healthier and more joyous and we are willing to work for it!

If you join me in this camp, I want you to IGNORE the haters.  Cynicism has no place in personal improvement, it’s just another name for your fear.

Honestly, that fear is rational- there’s nothing scarier than overcoming your fear or change.  It changes things in small and large ways and can cause you to feel entirely off-kilter while you get used to your new normal.  The hardest part of any resolution (New Year or otherwise) is making it through the first few weeks while you are disoriented and confused.  The good news is that there is a hack on how to overcome your fear- and it’s SUPER fun!

To get through the start-up phase on any change: Overcome your fear and THINK BIGGER

Let me tell you about my 2018 New Year Resolution.  In the second half of 2017, I started hating email. It had been biting at my ankles for years, keeping me up late and derailing my mornings, but I accepted it as a foible of modern times. Then I read Cal Newport’s “Deep Work” and he declares that the whole thing is a choice.

I couldn’t get it out of my mind!

Was I choosing to be this beholden to other people’s agendas? Could I be more in control of it?

A New Year Resolution was born: “In 2018 I will take control of my email.”  Now, that’s a terrible resolution, if that’s all there was to it.  When in 2018?  What does “take control” mean? So, I spent some time with it and set my 90-day goal to limiting my email to just one time a day.  I would somehow avoid checking my email except for one dedicated time each day.

I was immediately awash in fear (a sure sign that I was onto something good)!

What would people say? Would I miss anything important? What if it didn’t matter that I wasn’t available? Did it mean that I was (gasp!) INSIGNIFICANT?  You know how it goes, when your brain feels any threat to “normal” it shows you every reason why normal is actually just fine.

So, what do I do to handle this fear before it derails me? That’s where thinking bigger comes in.

1. Think bigger by spending time exploring your hope.  Spend time thinking about how your life will be better, what you’ll avoid, what you gain, and how much better your relationships will be when you’ve made the change.

The point of this exercise is two-fold.  First, it’s fun!  Most of us who are drawn to personal improvement are dreamers. We like the idea of being someone new, of charting new courses, of being on adventures.

Let your own little goal become an adventure for you!

Take the time to explore what could come from it, if it all went smashingly well! You can do this by journalling or vision boarding, or by talking to yourself into your phone’s voice memo app.

Second, if you do this well enough you’ll fall IN LOVE with your own potential. This love affair will keep you in it, even when fear rears its ugly head.

For example, I’m using inbox pause to schedule times when I allow email to be delivered. I’ve chosen two times- 10 am and 4 pm.  That means that between 4 pm and 10 am there is NO EMAIL to read.  When I went to bed on the first night of this experiment (bedtime is when I would always go through and read emails, send quick replies, and archive things I didn’t need)I  was very disconcerted!

Every normalcy-loving neuron in my brain was sending messages to my fingers, whispering “just take a quick look” and hovering over where the mail used to be (I moved it off the dock and put it inside a folder).  Just as the fear was rising up, I got out my journal and read about how great it was going to be when email was on lock-down

One of the things I had written was how great it would be to have time to read a book like I used to.  I had written how much nicer it would be to simply unwind with a story and leave the world to its dithering without me, for once.

Remembering that hope pulled me back from the edge. I picked up a book that has been sitting on my bedside table and read it. It was FANTASTIC and I realized I want this to be normal!

2. Think bigger by pushing the goal to YOUR limit and keeping it there.

The actual “size” of a goal is a tricky thing. To some people (my husband, for example) checking email only twice a day was ludicrous.  To him, this would have been on par with base jumping off the Eiffel tower.  For Cal Newport, on the other hand, perhaps checking twice a day would still seem excessive. He might suggest checking once a week (I have no idea).  The point is, it doesn’t matter how other people perceive it,  it matters how it makes you feel.

At first, my big idea for the first 90 days was to put a note on my email that said “I only check email once a day, so you should expect a reply within 24-48 hours” and I expected that to feel scary.  It did, for a few days, but then it didn’t anymore.  Then I wasn’t interested anymore (boredom will kill a goal just a quickly as the fear) so I had to push the goal out a little, to keep it exciting.

You want to keep your goal at a level that feels invigorating and engrossing (see #1) but not so huge that it feels downright terrifying.  You have to be honest with yourself here.  Do NOT let other people tell you how to feel about it. My husband would have told me that this was too much, too soon. My fictionalized version of Cal Newport would tell me that I’m not thinking big enough!

Neither of those opinions matter- the goal is to keep things at your edge.  Then when the edge starts to feel normal, move it out (eventually I’ll have to try checking only once a day!) until it’s where you want it to be.

3. Think bigger by declaring what your goal IS and what it ISN’T.

The biggest goals are those that are bounded. You want to be clear with yourself at the outset (and at every adjustment) about what you are really trying to accomplish.  Why are you doing this?  This will help you make decisions that have the possibility to send you into a tailspin.  When someone says “could you check your email quickly to see the attachment I just sent you” how do I decide?  If my goal is about re-asserting my autonomy to overreaching colleagues I might say “No, sorry, my email isn’t accessible again until 4 pm.” But since my goal is to keep my own brain from getting jerked around by other people’s agendas, I will say “Sure, but could you send it to this random email I only use for this purpose?”

Decisions are hard enough (Google “ego fatigue” for more info), but they are oddly paralyzing when you aren’t clear about what you are really, truly trying to accomplish.  You could give up on the whole thing when someone asks you a question but you aren’t sure how to respond.  “I guess I’m not that serious about it after all, or I would know what to say!”

You can do this as part of the same journalling:  Once you’ve worked through your hopes, give some thoughts to your why.  Why do I want to give up email?  Why has it been such a problem for me so long?  Be careful here, the goal isn’t to point fingers or take on shame, it is to understand why you want this to be your new normal.  How has it worked? What’s been at play?

When you are taking on an important new goal, give yourself time to make it bigger, richer and more specific

The time you spend thinking through these three questions is, absolutely, time well spent! Let’s do it together in the Great Work Community!

About the author

Dr. Amanda Crowell is a cognitive psychologist and business coach who helps accidental entrepreneurs get more clients and have a bigger impact. She is the author of Great Work, the host of the Unleashing Your Great Work podcast, and the creator of the Great Work Journals. Amanda's TEDx talk has received almost two million views and has been featured on TED's Ideas blog and Ted Shorts. Her ideas have also been featured on NPR, Al Jazeera, The Wall Street Journal, Quartz, and Thrive Global.