The 6 Anti-Resolutions You Should Have Made for 2015

Achieve more than you expected by embracing failure, boredom, and pain.

Posted Feb 01, 2015

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The gym was packed last month, while January cigarette sales declined, and sales of self-help books rose. Now that it’s February, though, things are back to normal. Most of our 2015 resolutions have fallen by the wayside, and many of us won't think about self-improvement again until next December 31.

Fortunately, there's a better way—and here are 6 anti-resolutions that are actually worth keeping. Science (and experience) have shown that these approaches can make you happier, healthier, and more connected.

Why wait till next year?

1. Less Positivity

I’m far too optimistic. In fact, according to neuroscientist Tali Sharot, about 80% of us are afflicted with an optimism bias. This means we underestimate our chance of getting divorced or getting cancer and we overestimate our own ability to drive or to get along with others. What’s the problem with a Pollyanna perspective?

Psychologist Gabriele Oettingen has found there’s a massive difference between being an “unrealistic optimist” and a “realistic optimist”. In one study, she found that dieters who believed that losing weight would be easy (unrealistic optimists) lost twenty four pounds less than those who thought weight loss would be doable, but difficult (realistic optimists).

In her book, 9 Things Successful People Do Differently, psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson offers great advice for the rest of 2015: “Don’t visualize success, visualize the steps you will take in order to make success happen.”

2. More Boredom

I’m never bored anymore. The second I feel a twinge of unused time, I reach for my phone and the satisfying dopamine hit of a Twitter notification. Even the time alone in my bed, waiting for sleep, is no longer spent in thought but in scrolling the new releases on Netflix. My hyper-connectedness and the rate at which I consume digital media have all but replaced the actual human connection in my life. The quantity of my relationships has eclipsed the quality of them.

In 2015, join me in being bored more. Let’s resist the pull of a digital entertainment IV drip and push ourselves to look up and be present with the people around us. This year, dedicate “No-Phone Zones” in your home and a pledge that face time will not be replaced by FaceTime. We must force our relationships to exist beyond the cozy confines of two thumbs and a screen.

3. Less Ambition

Motivation is important. I’ve got a family to support and a message to spread. These intrinsic drives will continue to propel me forward. I’m not advocating all-out laziness.

It’s the extrinsic rewards that I want to learn to ignore. I don’t want “more stuff” to be my driving ambition. Instead of trying to grab more chips off the table, I want to spend more time and energy appreciating what I already have. At the end of our lives, we’ll think about our connections, not our collections. It’s possible to accumulate too much stuff in this world, but it is impossible to accumulate too much gratitude.

While the Rockefellers of the world are fanatically striving for “just a little bit more,” let 2015 be a year of rich appreciation for you and me.

4. More Pain

For too long my motto has been, “No pain…no pain”. I believe behavioral economist, Daniel Kahneman when he tells me that I am doubly motivated to avoid pain over the desire to gain pleasure. Pain has been a dirty word in my life. If something hurts, it must mean you’re doing it wrong. Happy people just don’t feel pain, do they?

As it turns out, they do. A key characteristic of sustained happiness is the ability to change, grow, and improve. Pain is a big part of change. In fact, the only time change happens is when the pain of staying the same gets worse than the pain of change. Pain moves people like nothing else. Pain is the seed of change and therefore, the seed of growth and happiness.

I’m tired of chasing comfort. In 2015, I’m going to view pain as something not to be avoided, but something to be used as motivation. And why stop at my own pain? Hunger, war, poverty, abuse, neglect. Instead of turning away to avoid the pain of these things, maybe it’s time to face them, allow ourselves to feel the pain, and be motivated to DO something.

5. Less Authenticity

Every new skill feels weird at first. Driving a car. Swinging a golf club. Public speaking. Usually, people accept this awkwardness as a natural part of the learning phase. But when it comes to learning communication skill, all bets are off.  Any new technique that feels strange is immediately rejected as “inauthentic”, “phony”, or “manipulative”.

There are 7 billion people on this planet. Your natural communication style ain’t gonna work with all of them. Most of the time, the difficult people in your life won’t be willing to come to your side of the table. You’ll need to be the one who steps outside yourself in order to create a bridge. Things like patience, forgiveness, and selflessness would be impossible without the ability to go against your feelings and be “inauthentic."

When meeting new people authenticity is downright dangerous. As Halvorson writes, “The way we see one another can be irrational, incomplete, and inflexible—and largely automatic.” In other words, even if you’re a good person with great ideas and lots to offer, most people may never see it. Like it or not, you are constantly being judged, often unfairly.

There are two phases of being judged: Phase one is their primitive brain’s snap judgment of you. This puts you into one of four buckets: good, bad, sexy, or boring. Your natural whims and authentic self is going to get you dropped into the boring bucket nine times out of ten. It’s not your fault. There are just too many people. Their brain can’t possibly be interested in everyone. Phase two is a more detailed evaluation. This is where authenticity belongs, but you won’t get there unless you get past phase one.

In 2015, strive for what I call “intentional authenticity.” Stop trying to be so rigidly “true your own feelings” and start focusing on other people’s feelings. How can you connect with them authentically, despite their brain’s biases and snap judgments? There’s a skill that’s worth stumbling through the awkward learning phase for.

6. More Failure

We’re too afraid of failure in our culture. Teachers can’t give kids Fs anymore because it makes them feel too bad. Managers can’t give employees negative feedback without causing a mutiny. Unfortunately, the truth is that failure is not only the best way to learn; it’s the only way to learn. When there is an aversion to failure present, we take fewer risks, avoid change, and generally don’t take on challenges or face fears. In short, we don’t grow. We stay within our range and continue succeeding at things that don’t really matter.

If you’re not failing along the way, then what you’re doing clearly isn’t big enough.

In 2015, make failure okay for yourself, your employees, and your children. Even better, let’s make failing forward a priority. After all, isn’t fail just an acronym for “first act in learning”?

As I look back over this list I realize that all of these are best kept inside our heads. We probably don’t want to go telling people that our revised resolution for 2015 is to fail more. Not only because they look at us sideways, but also because that’s not really the end goal. There’s a bigger picture—one that most people miss.

Many people miss out on long-term success because of fear of failure. They won’t achieve true “intentionally authentic” human connection with everyone they could because they can’t bring themselves to get past the inauthentic feeling of phase one. Most people can’t tolerate the temporary boredom of a device-free moment even if it leads to more fulfilling relationships.

Maybe this is the problem: New Year’s is a time for self-improvement when most people want self-approval.

That’s why this list might be called the six least popular resolutions for the rest of 2015. I guess that means I should add one more to the mix: “Be Less Popular."