Stop Making Resolutions (and Just Start!)


I’ve long abandoned the idea of setting and sticking with New Year resolutions. For me, it’s a futile exercise that inevitably results in failure and regret. I’m not a particularly disciplined person, so unless I really want to do something, it won’t happen. If I do want something, I just do it. I don’t wait until the new year to start. If I do wait, it’s a sign that I just don’t care that much.

While I don’t have much interest in resolutions, I do try to take time at year’s end for reflection. This involves analyzing what worked and didn’t in the prior year, and thinking about how to apply lessons learned to future endeavours.

The biggest thing I’ve learned over the last couple of years is that almost everything good, and uplifting, and positive that has happened in my life has typically been accompanied by some feelings of emotional angst, pain and uncertainty.

It’s the paradox of success: achievement requires discomfort, but we’re conditioned to avoid discomfort. In other words, we seek to shield ourselves from the very feelings that are associated with personal growth. The truth is, most of us understand that we have to grind for what we want, but rarely are we willing to pay the price.

This is what makes resolutions so intoxicating. They allow us to conjure in our minds what a “new year, new you” might look like. The dream becomes more satisfying than the reality. In his book, Ego is the Enemy, Ryan Holiday discusses how, for most people, a major obstacle to success is the idea of success. Because there’s no discomfort in dreaming, it’s easy to remain in a state of inaction.

But it’s only through action – often painful – that good things happen. {tweet that} Successful people push forward despite the fear and resistance.

When In Doubt, Ship It

In 2008, four MBA students at Wharton School of Business came up with a novel business idea: to design, manufacture and sell stylish, affordable eyeglass frames over the Internet. Almost everyone told them their idea wouldn’t work. After all, they had little money, experience or technical know-how in building an e-commerce platform.

But they persevered nonetheless. They ordered eyeglass inventory from their overseas supplier, worked with a developer to build a website, and retained a PR firm to help get the word out.

One morning, the company founders (still students at the time) got an exciting call from their PR rep. GQ magazine was going to run a feature story on the company. They were elated. “When will the story run,” they asked. “Tomorrow morning,” they were told. Elation turned to panic. Their site wasn’t up yet, and it still had a bunch of bugs. They worked feverishly with their developer for the next 18 hours to iron out the kinks.

At 4:00 a.m., they had to make a decision. Flip the switch and go live with an imperfect site, or put a hold on it and miss the opportunity to generate traffic and sales resulting from the GQ exposure.

They went live.

The next morning the founders regrouped in an entrepreneurship class they attended together. One of the founders had set his phone to receive notifications when a sale occurred on the website. He started getting pings during class. One, two…ten…one hundred…one thousand. The sales came pouring in. The site worked!

Again, elation turned to panic when they realized that sales were quickly outstripping available inventory and they had failed to build any inventory tracking capability into the site. They soon sold thousands more pairs of eyeglasses than they had in stock, and before they could regain control of the situation they had sold so much product that it would take eight months to catch up.

Within hours of launching their business, they very nearly destroyed it. Yet they soldiered on and turned this adversity to their advantage. Their launch was calamitous, but from that moment they learned valuable lessons that allowed them to grow Warby Parker into one of the fastest growing startups in history.

Just Start 

The moral of the Warby Parker story is that things will never go as planned, so at some point – preferably sooner rather than later – if you want to achieve your dreams you need to just start.

The Warby Parker metaphor is an extreme one. Most of us don’t dream of starting a billion dollar company. But the lesson is the same no matter the objective. Challenges are inevitable. No amount of planning will prevent them.

Hence the problem with resolutions. Resolutions focus on the outcome – the new body, the new friends, the new job or business, the transformation of whatever variety. But it’s easy to overlook the work required – the price to be paid – to actually achieve the outcome. When it comes time to actually do the work, the road to success seems so long and daunting that we never take the first step. Another resolution on the trash heap.

There will never be a perfect time to start. Progress requires a high comfort level with imperfection. Successful people fail far more often than those mired in the status quo. And it is through that failure that they learn lessons that lead to their breakthrough moments. They take their swings. They don’t simply fantasize about success. They start. They fall down. They start again. They seek out discomfort because they learn this is where the magic happens. They understand that time is not on their side. They’ve learned that safe is risky and risky is safe.

They don’t resolve to do something. They simply do it.

Want something? Just start.

Feeling fearful? Do it anyway.

Feel like quitting? Persevere.

In 2017, if you’re willing to pay the price, you can be anything, do anything, and achieve anything you want. But to get there, you have to take that first step. Are you ready?

Looking for some inspiration to keep you centered and dialed-in for the new year? Heather bought me a great new book for Christmas called The Daily Stoic. It contains 366 short, daily musings and meditations related to Stoic philosophy that have really helped me to stay on track so far in 2017.

LifeJay Harrington