I will reduce my reliance on the Internet — so I vowed at the start of this year. Much against my expectations, that has turned into the first new year resolution success story of my life.
Last year, when the question of new year resolutions loomed large, I asked myself, “What’s the point? Whose resolutions last beyond January anyway?” But I resisted the idea of doing away with them altogether. Instead, I tried to figure out why most such resolutions fail and what I could do to make mine work. Here’s how I increased my success rate with new year resolutions, and you can too.
Have One Primary Resolution
The promise of a fresh start is misleading. It can cause you to take on too many changes with eagerness, to patch a bad habit here, fix an unhealthy lifestyle there. But you know it and I know it. You’re not going to eat healthy, work out, slow down, read more, quit smoking, and spend less come January 1st. What you could do is turn your attention to just one of those things and give it your all. That’s what I did.
A week-long digital vacation last year showed me how addicted I was to my online life. I wanted to reduce computer/tablet usage to counter the symptoms of RSI, but my over-dependence on the Internet wouldn’t let me. It was the source of other harmful habits such as ignoring the need for fresh air and exercise, consuming content mindlessly, and shopping online excessively.
Making better use of the Internet while reclaiming my offline life was top priority, which is why I made it the focus of my new year resolution.
The advantage of having just one resolution has scientific backing too. As concluded from this study (pdf) by Baba Shiv and Alexander Fedorikhin, willpower and cognition depend on the same pool of mental faculties. Focus on either one and you’re depleting resources available to the other. The more you scatter your energies trying to keep up with multiple resolutions, the less you’re able to exercise the full force of your will.
Want to make more major changes than just the one? It’s still a good idea to restrict them to one or two areas of your life and tackle them in serial order. Joel’s post on 12 productivity habits to tackle in the new year can show you how to achieve that. And here are unusual resolution lists of some famous people that you might find interesting.
Frame Your Resolutions Right
Wording your resolutions well is half the battle won. For example, you’re more likely to follow through on a resolution that says Eat five almonds a day / Replace coffee with green tea than one that says Eat healthy.
As a mantra for the new year, my resolution sounded great, but it was also quite vague. What did I mean by getting rid of Internet addiction? What did it entail? When could I say for sure that I had succeeded? I answered those questions as best as I could.
I wanted to:
- See the Internet as just another medium of communication
- Be okay with digital disconnect for long periods of time
- Use online resources with care and for something positive
I decided that when I regained my enthusiasm for offline hobbies and activities, I could consider myself to be on the right track.
Next, I listed down certain actions steps and turned them into the following mini-resolutions.
- I will stay completely offline for at least two Sundays every month.
- I will make fewer, and more mindful, online financial transactions.
- I will scale down my use of gadgets, apps, and services.
- I will switch from eBooks to printed ones.
You can opt for a similar approach and break down your main resolution into multiple small ones. This forces you to think in practical terms and weed out unrealistic changes before you set about making them. Every mini-resolution you act upon brings you a step closer to fulfilling your main resolution.
On a side note, instead of having a new year resolution, you can choose one word to inspire you all year long and guide your actions in every area of life. Visit sites like OneWord365 or My One Word to learn more about this approach and find others who swear by it.
Take Some Action Daily
When you have framed your resolution well and come up with a realistic action plan, you’re less likely to mess up and make the wrong choice. But it’s important that you take baby steps everyday toward your goal. This will set the stage for small successes that will then boost your motivation to stick with the program.
If you plan ahead and pack a meal for the plane or carry some nuts, you won’t just grab anything because you are famished, and are more likely to minimize the slipups and stick with your resolution for healthier eating.
~ Arthur Agatston, MD, author of the best-selling The South Beach Diet | From New Year’s Resolutions, 1 Month Later on WebMD
In my case, my four easy-to-remember mini-resolutions made several of my choices simpler.
- If I wanted to read an eBook, I figured out a way to get my hands on its paperback version.
- If I was signing up for a service, I first used AccountKiller to check if there was a way to delete my account when I no longer needed it. I used PasswordBox’s 25-password limit for free users to cut down on the number of services I signed up for.
- When a few domain names I had set aside for “someday” came up for renewal, I did not renew them.
- I opted for inexpensive Web hosting with A Small Orange and consolidated my online life into a single home on the Web.
- Out went nice-but-not-necessary-for-me services like IFTTT, Pocket, and Twitter.
All these tiny actions simplified my online life a great deal and helped me get off the Internet more often.
Tweak Your Strategy Every Quarter
What’s important to remember is that it won’t be smooth sailing all the time. You will get caught up in trivialities. You will slip up. You will feel guilty about it. That’s okay. As long as you stay on track about 80 percent of the time, you’ll do just fine.
Every three months or so, I took a clear look at what part of my resolution I was succeeding or failing at, and why. I tried to find workarounds wherever I could. For example:
Problem: I could not stay completely offline for two Sundays a month.
Tweak: I stayed offline for a couple of hours or so on a regular basis, and switched to offline apps for my work.
Problem: My love of shiny new things online and my job writing for a technology blog made it difficult to avoid digital overload.
Tweak: Instead of signing up for new apps and services, I figured out how to use existing ones in unusual ways.
Good Enough Is Great
I still get obsessed with Web apps once in a while and also fall back into bad computer-related habits. But I have cleaned up my digital life, put a stop to brash online purchases, and switched from eBooks to printed ones. The lack of an Internet connection is a non-issue, as long as I can get my work done. As part of my life offline, I learned to solve the Rubik’s cube, took up swimming lessons, ticked several books off my reading list, and traveled some (minus an Internet connection). All in all, it’s the first time I can say that I have fulfilled my new year resolution.
It might be impossible to stick to your goal one hundred percent, but with the tips listed above, you can do a pretty good job of it.
Do you have a new year resolution success story to share? How about outlining a strategy that worked for you?
Explore more about: Minimalism.