Rebooting the Resolution

This post will be published on the last day of January. Statistically speaking, many of us have already had to rethink or abandon our resolution for the new year. But is there another way of thinking about this?

Christina Caron, a writer, clinical researcher, and ethicist publishing at the New York Times, recently authored a piece examining why we get stuck and describing 5 ways we can try to get unstuck from common traps that can impede progress toward our goals. You can read her full article at and these 5 tips are summarized below.

Do a ‘friction audit’: The friction audit is one way organizations weed out areas of inefficiency. Individuals can apply the same principles to their own lives by identifying the things that create obstacles and add complications or stress, Dr. Alter said. To get started, try asking: Am I repeating certain patterns that are unhelpful? Are there certain things I do regularly that I don’t enjoy? The next step is to either trim away or smooth out each friction point. Say you dread your commute but feel powerless to change it. Dr. Alter suggested asking yourself: “What’s the part that makes it most unappealing?” What specific changes can you make to address the problem? Will it help to listen to a great podcast or audiobook? If you drive, can you start a car pool with other co-workers? Is there a way to work from home more often?

Reframe negative thoughts: Maybe you engage in “catastrophizing,” or thinking the worst will happen. Or maybe you are overly harsh with yourself and have a case of “the shoulds,” as in: “I should have gotten more done at work,” even when you accomplished a good amount. Persistent thoughts like these can create stress and interfere with your goals, said Judy Ho, a clinical neuropsychologist and associate professor at Pepperdine University. Try to reframe your thinking, Dr. Ho suggested. For example, instead of “I’m going to fail at this project,” you can think, “I’m going to do the best I can, and if I’m struggling I will ask for help.” Finally, she said, aim to evaluate your thoughts objectively: “I’m having this thought. What’s the evidence for it? And what’s the evidence against it?”

Try ‘futurecasting’: “Imagine a future life where you are unstuck,” said Sarah Sarkis, a clinical psychologist and executive coach in Boston. What does it look like? How do you feel? Then think about the specific steps that would help you work toward that vision. Write those steps down — ideally by hand. This helps us commit to them, Dr. Sarkis said. And don’t wait until you feel “ready,” she added. Do at least one step each day if you can — but be kind to yourself if you cannot. If you skip a day or two, just start again tomorrow. “Paint the future that you’re seeking,” Dr. Sarkis said. “Map a plan to get there.”

Share your goal: Telling other people about your plans can also be helpful. Adam Cheyer, the co-creator of Siri and the vice president of A.I. Experience at Airbnb, has said that this was crucial to his success. “Just the force of putting the words into the world now makes you believe — makes you commit,” he told an audience at the University of California, Berkeley. The added benefit is that people may want to help you out. “Somehow, the universe will help you achieve this goal,” he said. “It’s been a huge, huge tool for me.”

Do something meaningful: Spending time on activities that align with your values “moves you forward if you feel stuck in completely unrelated domains of your life,” Dr. Alter said. When he was feeling unmotivated early in his teaching career, he came across a poster at his gym — a group was looking for volunteers to help raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society by running in the New York City Marathon. It felt almost like fate, he said; one of his friends had died from leukemia years earlier. While training, he ended up making several friends. “I felt like a more productive person and it gave me confidence to tackle other areas of my life,” he said. “We need meaning more than ever when we’re feeling stuck.”