Resolutions are a Pyramid Scheme (But Not the Kind You're Thinking Of)


How did your 2017 resolutions work out for you? If you’re like me, you probably left a few promises in the dust around mid-March and they’ve rolled over to this year’s list. Sound familiar? That’s because we’ve been doing our new year’s resolutions all wrong.

Before your mind is blown, consider this: what do you tell yourself (and others) when you talk about your resolutions? Does it look like any of the following?

“I’m going to lose 10 pounds.”

“I’m going to save money.”

“I’m going to read more.”

If so, then what you’re doing is focusing the tiniest, most abstract part of your plan for the year when you should be focusing on the largest, most concrete section: your daily actions.



I like to think of resolutions as that food pyramid we used to have in health class; the sugar and junk food sits in the tiny triangle up top while the grains, vegetables and meat set a solid foundation below.

Those short sentences—"I’m going to lose 10 pounds" et. al—are just the tiny, sugary part of your plan. Add some meat and vegetables to your pyramid by writing down what you’ll do to lose the weight. Can you adjust your diet? Can you fit more exercise into your schedule? 

Cool, your pyramid is filling out! Complete it by adding the grains: your weekly actions. How many times will you cook at home each week? What days will you reserve for working out?

Now that your pyramid is full, turn it on its head. Keep the proportions the same, but lead with your “grains”. When someone asks about your resolutions, tell them how you plan to bust out the Jane Fonda VHS workout tapes three times each week instead of leading with a goal weight. That way, there’s less of a focus on a number (“10 pounds”) and more of a conversation starter about your weekly goal (“I didn’t know they still made VHS players!”)

You get the idea.



Another way to approach your resolutions is to add in a crucial keyword: “by”. Instead of “I’m going to save money,” try saying, “I’m going to save money by making a weekly budget for myself.” Don’t shorten that sentence when you tell other people your resolutions and don’t let the second part of it be larger than a weekly task; instantly adding that smaller goal makes the big picture feel more attainable.



Sometimes, we make resolutions for the sake of making them, without a real reason in mind. One I’ve made before is to read more and, oh man, I have no idea if I even did that because I gave no measurement of success for myself. In an era when there is more to read online and in print than ever before, how am I even supposed to define “more”? I had to take a step back from what I was saying and break down what I really meant.

This year, I’ve redefined “I want to read more” into a measurable, meaningful goal. Although mine eventually turned into “I want to read at least five books written by non-male authors,” you might decide that you’re searching for something completely different. Do you want to read more of a specific genre? Do you want to read more blog posts (may I suggest My Pink Docs as a start? ;)) Think about what you’re really trying to say with your goal and tailor your sentence around that using quantifiable, realistic tasks.

It’s easy to get discouraged and think that resolutions are nothing but oversized promises we tell other people to make them think we have a life plan. And while it’s harder to focus consistently on the “little picture” goals—those meat and grains—it is infinitely more worthwhile to concretely measure your success, no matter how small.

“You can’t change the world; you can’t fix the environment. But you can recycle. You can turn the water off when you’re brushing your teeth. You can do small things.” –Patti Smith

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Now that it's officially 2018 (January 1 is National Hangover Day and therefore doesn't count), what are your resolutions for the year? Let me know in the comments below, and try using the methods I shared above if you're up for it!