An Alternative to New Year's Resolutions
Why I'm resisting them this year and what I'm doing instead
You likely won’t be surprised to hear that I used to be VERY into making New Year’s resolutions. Something deliberate geared towards self-improvement? Sign me up!
But this year, I’m not doing any of these. Sure, there are a few things I want to do more of (go on artist dates, wear socks) and things I want to do less of (be on Instagram, purchase things online and return them) in 2024. But I’m not feeling my usual pull towards resolutions.
Part of my resistance is likely related to my wintering (pretty sure making a 24 for ‘24 is not on Katherine May’s “approved” wintering list). But it’s also because resolutions feel limiting to me right now.
Don’t get me wrong: a fresh calendar page is a powerful motivator, and I’ve personally experienced how small changes can (and do!) compound over time. And trust me - I’m far from perfect; there are things I certainly could resolve to improve. But the past few years have been full of big shifts for me and my family (we’ve changed just about everything in our daily lives except for where we live), and I find myself resisting any more tinkering around the edges for the time being. But what do to instead?
The power of articulating a long-term vision
Some years ago, I found myself in the confusing position of being in a job that wasn’t a good fit while simultaneously feeling the pull to start a family. I wrote about my experience in my book, Money and Love:
Needing to get out of my own head, I hired a career coach, and I worked with her for four months to try to sort out my feelings and what my approach should be. I was terrified that if I wasn’t in a job I loved when I got pregnant, I wouldn’t want to go back to work after having a baby, which would penalize me financially (as I had learned in Myra’s class) and make it harder to find a job once I had a baby.1
One of the exercises my coach had me do was write my fifteen year vision: describe a day in my life fifteen years in the future in terms of my relationships; accomplishments; job; and contributions to friends, family, and my community.
At the time, I wasn’t sure how the exercise would help me solve the pressing question of whether to seek out a new job first or have a baby, but I played along.
I recently re-read that fifteen year vision. Want to know the first line?
“I pack my bag, putting a copy of my book into it because I told a friend I’d lend her a copy.”
I wrote this vision in 2012. At the time, I didn’t have a clue what I would write a book about, let alone how I would do it. But my vision included being a published author. And now I am one.
What else was in that fifteen year vision? I have two kids. I’m an entrepreneur. I have a strong marriage where we’re both equal contributors and set an example we’re proud of for our children and others. I prioritize travel, my health, and my community. I mentor people who go on to have a positive impact on the world.
When I re-read my vision recently, I got goosebumps. So many things I wrote about have come to fruition. Sure, there are some differences (I imagined I’d have a daughter - though now I can’t picture my life without either of my sons). And parts of my vision have yet to be realized (for example, I wrote that I’m teaching a class at a university)…though if you’re doing the math, you know I have a few more years until the fifteen year timeframe is up. But more things have “come true” than not, which feels eerie.
A vision is not a strategy
I spent the first three years of my career as a management consultant, helping non-profit organizations articulate the results they wanted to achieve and crafting detailed strategies to ensure they’d meet their goals. I know what a good strategy looks like, and I’m well aware that my fifteen year vision was absolutely not a strategy.
In an episode of “Hello Monday,” branding expert Katie Millman tells host Jessi Hempel about a similar exercise she did as a student of the graphic designer Milton Glaser. As Millman describes on her website, the assignment was to articulate “what your life could be five years into the future…if you could do anything you wanted without fear or failure.” She wrote a ten-page essay outlining “her biggest, most audacious dreams,” (which, she notes, have all come true).
Millman describes the magic of outlining a vision, which is decidedly not a strategy: "There is something tangibly mysterious about this exercise. Maybe suspending disbelief in steadfastly rigid beliefs can allow some light in. Perhaps declaring what is possible out loud helps it all feel real. Or it could be just human hope, manifested in a moment and forgotten.”2
There’s now a deck of cards to guide you in this work. I just ordered it to help me articulate my next long-term vision, which I plan to write during my upcoming meditation retreat. (I’m choosing to ignore the fact that the cover calls it a “ten year plan” since the whole point is that it’s not a plan - but I bet the publisher thought that would sell better.) You can get your own deck here, if you’d like. [Note: this is an affiliate link, which means I make a small commission if you use it.]
Consider becoming a paid subscriber to Practically Deliberate with Abby Davisson. Writing a newsletter wasn’t part of my last long-term vision, but it should have been!
Readers who have known me a long time might be surprised to see “wear socks” on the list of things I want to do more of, since socks used to be my signature accessory. In fact, my essay about wearing quirky socks helped me get into college back in the day (I still remember the admissions officer’s hand-written note on my acceptance letter: “You’ll have to pick up a pair of Yale socks to add to your collection!”).
However, sometime over the past few decades it became less fashionable to wear socks, so I stopped. In San Francisco, you can *almost* get away with having bare ankles in the winter - but not quite. So why the renewed desire to wear socks? Two things have changed: socks are back in, and I’m tired of having cold ankles.
I recently went down the internet research rabbit hole to refresh my sock collection, and I’ve found two sources of socks that keep my ankles warm and me feeling stylish:
Favorite casual socks: Le Bon Shoppe’s boyfriend socks.
Favorite fancy socks: Hansel from Basel’s sheer socks.
No affiliate links or discount codes this time, just a genuine desire to share my sock love with Practically Deliberate readers.
Are you making resolutions, setting intentions, or doing something else similar this year? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
Myra Strober and Abby Davisson, Money and Love: An Intelligent Roadmap for Life’s Biggest Decisions. (New York: HarperOne, 2023), p. 78.