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New Years Resolutions - Valhalla or Hel

During all those family, friend and work colleague Christmas lunches, dinners or general end of year conversations, one question comes up a lot… What’s your new year's resolution?

From the Cambridge Dictionary:

New Year’s Resolution:
A promise that you make to yourself to start doing something good or stop doing something bad on the first day of the year: "Have you made any New Year's resolutions?" "Yes, I'm going to eat more healthily and give up smoking."

One interesting day that has spawned because of this is ‘National Quitters Day’. This is the second Friday in January which has been shown to be the most likely day by which people have given up on their new year’s resolutions. This year it falls on Friday 12th January.

So this begs the question: Are new year’s resolutions just a pointless waste of time?

If most new year's resolutions fail, less than 2 weeks after they’ve been made and even if you are one of the few who manages to push through January, the excitement and commitment is often long forgotten once we get into February and March, then are you just setting yourself up for failure? Heck, if I asked you in December during that same conversation where you were planning your resolution for next year if you’d achieved what you set out for this year, in all likelihood you won’t even remember what your resolution was. OR It’ll have been the same one it’s been for the past 5 years of losing 20 pounds/ drinking less/ eating better/ giving up smoking/ taking a hiatus from social media or whatever else has been the villain holding you back from your dreams and goals.

What if there were a better way? 

Here’s my 2 cents on it. I’m a strong advocate of setting goals. Not just goals. Big Hairy Audacious Goals. Or BHAGs for short because who doesn’t love another pointless acronym.

Odin looking out over a fjord
WWOD? - What Would Odin Do?

But seriously, if you never set out a goal for yourself, then can you really complain when you don’t achieve anything? Are you really in control of your life or are you just leaving it all up to fate or the gods? What would Odin do?

At Steel Viking, we’re big fans of myth and stories. And not just the Norse and Viking myths, stories and history. I’m personally a huge fan of the Greek myths and heroes as well as modern real life success stories. 

Have you ever read the book Shoe Dog? It’s about the founding and struggle of Nike. Yes, that giant conglomerate that now dominates was once a little underdog themselves trying to take on the likes of Puma and Adidas. It’s worth a read, even if you don’t like Nike. 

Who doesn’t love an origin story? Where would Michael Jordan be if he’d never set a goal? 

Ok, so what do myths and stories have to do with New Year’s Resolutions you ask? And my reply is everything!

Your life is a story. And the great part is, you get to decide and write, right when it’s happening. And every great story has 4 key characters: the victim, the villain, the hero and the guide.

Look at your life right now and be honest. Which one are you currently embodying? 

For many of us, we actually shift through all 4. 

Victim: Why is this happening to me? This is so unfair!

Villain: He only achieved that because of x. That’s not really a great achievement. 

Hero: I have a mission I need to achieve and I’ll get there no matter what the setbacks are!

Guide: I’ve travelled the path before. I’d like to share my wisdom with you and guide you along the way.

So rather than thinking of New Year’s Resolutions as a simple, basic statement on something you will start to do or will discontinue, why not use this next year as the next chapter in your very own hero’s journey and create the story that you want to live.

How much more powerful and exciting does that sound?

To quote Simon Sinek, ‘Start with Why’.

Goal setting is a process and when done the right way, it can have very powerful and lasting results.

The first mistake that happens when goal setting is not even writing them down. What’s the difference between a dream and a goal? A goal is written down. 

Runstones on a fur
Cast your own future

Why? We only retain about 10% of what we read, but that jumps up to about 50% retention of things we write down.

Writing it down makes it real. Now we need to go about creating the outcome.

Personally, I like to have a vision. 

“Ordinary people plan in years. Extraordinary people plan in decades.”

How would you like to be remembered? What do you want to achieve in this life? Do you want to be the best father, mother? Do you want to be the greatest athlete ever? Do you want to be a successful entrepreneur?

Write down your life vision. This will be your guiding star. 

The next step is to write a 10 year, 5 year and 1 year goals. You start with the 10 year goal which is a key step to achieving your vision. Then you move onto what needs to happen in 5 years to set the pace for your 10 year goal to come true and then you write down what your 1 year goal needs to be in order to hit your 5 year goal.

Each goal builds up towards the next. It’s like milestones on a project. You start with the end in mind. There’s a reason this is habit 2 in Stephen Covey’s ‘the seven habits of highly successful people’. Once you’ve got the end result you create milestones you need to hit along the way. Those are your 1, 3, 5 and 10 year goals.

And remember, most people overestimate what they can achieve in a year but underestimate what they can achieve in a decade. Use the SMART goal setting principles to keep you grounded but allow that 10 year goal to be a bit unreasonable. People need to think you're mad when you talk about your vision. 

Think about all those people who inspire you. Did they have reasonable goals? Or did they have unreasonable goals?

Now that you’ve got your goals, you’re ready to set out on your own hero’s adventure. You are Thor on a quest to save Asgard. Jason on his quest to find the golden fleece. Heracles on his 12 labours or Harry Potter on his quest to defeat Lord Voldemort.

On a side note, Joseph Campbell has written extensively on the hero’s journey and I highly recommend you check it out.

Now that you’ve got your vision and you’ve got your goals, you need to start taking action. Unfortunately, writing down our goals will not make them happen. It’s the first step of many. Your goals will only happen if you take action. It’s time to take responsibility for the outcomes you want in life and take responsibility in what is your own origin story.

One of the most powerful ways to take action and make your goals come true is to have a mindset shift in your identity. Rather than identifying as the victim, to whom bad things happen, you need to identify as the hero, who makes good things happen. Stanford Professor Dr Carol Dweck refers to this as fixed mindset vs growth mindset in her great book aptly named Mindset.

Lanny Bassham, an olympic gold medallist, and multiple world record holder in shooting as well as a mental coach to the Navy Seals, CEOs, PGA tour golfers and olympic athletes describes in his mental management system that in order to achieve a goal, you need to become the kind of person who does achieve this goal. You need to shift your identity towards the person you need to become in order to achieve your vision.

When Lanny hit 10 shots out of 10 shots, he’d say to himself: “That’s like me. I do this all the time.” What he was doing was building his self-image. At the end of the day, we’ll pretty much do what we think we’re capable of doing. As Henry Ford said: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”

What self-image will you create for yourself?

So in order to achieve your goal or ‘New Year’s Resolution” you need to shift your self-image and start identifying as one who embodies those habits.

If you’re looking to lose weight and make better food choices, then you can switch your self-image from someone who loves cake and hates exercise to someone who loves cooking healthy, nutritious, high protein meals and enjoys the feeling and the result of working out.

Eat a healthy meal - That’s like me.

Get out of bed to do a workout - That’s like me.

Take that ice cream back out of your trolley in the supermarket and put it back on the shelf ‘ That’s like me.

And that’s where habits and actions come in. What do you need to do consistently to hit your goal?

Use the Seinfeld Strategy

Keep it simple. Just 1-3 habits max at a time. Then gamify it. Start getting streaks. Tick them off on a calendar, in a notebook or journal. 

Jerry Seinfeld is one of the most successful comedians of all time. How did he do it? Well one of the actions he credits his success with is asking himself what comedians do? Comedians write jokes. So he set himself the task of writing jokes every day. He had a big wall calendar, and every day he wrote a joke, he put a big X in the box. Then after a few days he got a streak going. Now you want to keep it going. It doesn’t matter if you are motivated or not. What do you identify as? A comedian. What do comedians do? Write jokes. So he took action and wrote jokes EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Note there’s nothing about the quality of the jokes. Just showing up and doing the work.

You can use this towards achieving your New Year’s Resolution or better, your life vision and goals.

Want to lose weight?

What does the version of you do who is 20 lbs lighter? They cook and eat healthy nutritious food. Adopt that identity. Tick that box every day. Become that person. Ditch the victim mentality: I can’t lose weight! Be a hero and see every meal as a new opportunity to slay the dragon and make the right choice. And when you do, say: “well that’s like me. I do this all the time!” Eventually, it’ll be true.

I’ll leave you with a final note on following a better process to turn your New Year’s Resolution into a goal and vision and then make it happen. 

Once you’ve written down your goal, because remember, the difference between a dream and a goal is that a goal is written down, put it somewhere where you’ve got easy access to it and read it every day. Make it part of your routine. Get up and read your goal. Put it in your phone notes. Read it when waiting for the train. The more you read it, the more you’ll activate your Reticular Activating System* (RAS) and the more you’ll make choices and take actions to make the goal happen. 

So New Year’s Resolutions, valhalla or hel. Well, if you’d like to create a meaningful origin story that you get to live and enjoy? You tell me.


*More on this in a future article.

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