When resolutions fizzle, try micro-dosing courage.
- Self-punishment is unlikely to spur meaningful and lasting behavioral change.
- Risks, not resolutions, offer opportunities to build candor, camaraderie, and community.
- Strategic risk can help foster zest for living and meaningful growth.
It’s somehow mid-January and that fresh-start feeling has faded. The resolutions we’d hope would get traction aren’t exactly being followed with the fervor we’d envisioned. The frustration that results from knowing what we want to do but struggling to do so is in full effect.
These are moments when our toxic inner critic enters the scene with a pointed finger. But resolutions don’t fizzle because we’re lazy slackers or hopeless causes. Sometimes we’re not creating enough incentives for change to get traction.
Behavioral scientist BJ Fogg emphasizes avoiding self-punishment. He suggests writing out the statement, “I change best by feeling good, not feeling bad.” Rather than sticking to the same old resolution script, we can choose to take mini-risks that foster courage and zest.
Risks can invigorate a process of behavioral change that enacts greater connectivity and engagement with life. While resolutions are often self-focused, risks offer ways to build candor, camaraderie, and community.
Despite risk being associated with potential harm or danger, strategic ones can help us in many ways. Taking risks is an essential component of building resilience, bit by bit. We can micro-dose bravery in small portions to slowly build the gumption we need to enjoy the richness of life, rather than staying hunkered in our shells.
The thought of taking certain risks can make us cringe, so it can help to start with those that are less provocative and become more daring as you go. Often, anticipatory anxiety over what we think may happen can cause us to hedge, but what we worry about isn’t always an inevitable outcome.
Plus, risks can be fun. They can open us up to new experiences and possibilities. Unlike many resolutions in which we inflict self-punishment, risks allow us to be creative in developing something beyond the typical lackluster self-help advice that’s hard to stick with. As Katy Milkman, co-director of the Behavior Change for Good Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania, puts it, “You’ll learn that making hard things seem fun is a much better strategy than making hard things seem important.”
Science shows the many benefits of becoming bolder in the decisions we make, and that we often need to nudge ourselves to choose wisely, spurring meaningful learning and growth.
Here are some risks worth taking to put on your 2023 growth agenda:
- Be silly. Life is full of trauma and suffering. Playfulness and humor can seem counterintuitive, but they can bring needed levity. Worry less if someone thinks you’re weird—it’s better to risk looking foolish than feeling bad. Plus, joy is contagious.
- Get creative. Allow your artistic juices to flow. Consider which forms of art or expression you’d like to explore. Writing stories, performing comedy, sketching, painting, and other mediums can be highly therapeutic. If you want to up the ante, share what you’ve done at an open mic, show, or exhibit with a friend.
- Try something new. Our brains crave novelty and variety. Shake up your routines, habits, and preferences with something out of the usual. Stretching beyond the bounds of what we know can help expand our repertoire of things we enjoy. Try a new food, visit a new place, or do something “out of character.”
- Reconnect with someone you lost touch with. The dread of reaching out after a long stretch is real. The pandemic made it easy to lose touch with one another, so even if you worry about the terribly long period of silence, it might not be as uncommon as you think, and you may just find the person delighted to rekindle.
- Make new friends. With loneliness being called the “new smoking” in terms of its health risks, it’s clear that many of us could use some company—not just warm bodies. Still, it can be a bit awkward, particularly for the more introverted. Start small. Smile and strike up a conversation. Join a group or club. Look for people with both shared and diverse interests and identities.
- Go against the grain. Groupthink can be a surefire way to remain stale and insular. Question authority, raise concerns, be contrarian, and resist the urge to conform.
- Admit you’re wrong. As Alan Toffler put it: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Humble pie is hard to swallow, but throughout our life, we will be wrong countless times. Those who can recognize and admit it can serve as a display of humility, stellar thinking, and curiosity.
- Reveal more of yourself in relationships and conversations. Worrying that we’re oversharing TMI (too much information) can hold us back from developing candid, trusting relationships. This doesn’t mean quick and dramatic reveals, but letting our guard down slowly can help build bonds that help us know we belong and are more fully seen.
- Set boundaries. Confrontation dread is hard to contend with. It’s easy to let things slide and not express true identities, wants, and desires in the interest of people pleasing or avoiding conflict. But when we speak up and make clear our expectations and capacities, it allows us to build stronger more reciprocal relationships, where mutual respect can thrive.
- Ask for help in all forms. Many of us find much more comfort in giving than receiving. It can be counterintuitive and vulnerable to ask for support. But given the burnout epidemic and global mental health crisis at hand, it’s a vital skill of today. Help from therapists, friends, and family can help us stay on track with the responsibilities at hand and the changes we are working to make.
Despite all the hype, resolutions often lose traction shortly after they’re set. Instead, consider which risks are worth taking, so that your micro-doses of courage can add up, leading to momentum, creative flow, zest for living, and meaningful connections.