Columns > Published on March 20th, 2019

Blew Your Resolution? Get Back In The Saddle

Welcome, fellow losers!

By now we’ve all failed in our New Year’s writing resolutions. If science knows anything about anything, 80% of us didn’t even make it TO March, let alone this deep into the month.

That said, it’s not too late. That burning desire to get something done this year has died down, but there are still some embers glowing. I can see them. You can feel them.

Let’s get back on track together.

Re-Frame Failure

I’m giving you 30 more seconds, right now, to beat up on yourself for not finishing your goal. After that, we move on.

There's a reason the phrase "get back in the saddle" exists. It's because riding horses means you will eventually fall. A lifetime of riding horses without messing up is not realistic, not even worth discussing. The difference between someone who can ride and someone who can't isn't whether they get thrown or not. It's what they do after. 

The year is still young. You can start digging now and by the end of December you’ll move a lot of dirt. You know what doesn’t move dirt? Lamenting that you’ve missed the first few months of work.

People will tell you writing is a “long game.” What does that mean? It means that 3 months of failure is a forgettable blip. So let’s stop worrying about lost time and start getting some work done.

I’m giving you 30 more seconds, right now, to beat up on yourself for not finishing your goal. After that, we move on.

Need some help?

Damn, you’re a loser who got nothing done. You couldn’t even maintain a resolution for the first quarter of 2019! This year was supposed to be different! You’re not even that good-looking, and your laugh is goofy.

Cool? Failure is behind us, let’s move on.

Ask How

When we build a resolution, most of us get as far as the “What?”

The part we neglect is the “How?” How am I going to get this done?

We THINK we’re providing a “How.” What I’m thinking is that I want to get ripped. The resolution that comes out of my mouth is that I’m going to hit the gym every day, which sounds like “How” to me.

But whatever your resolution, there’s always another layer of “How.” If you want to get ripped, and you say you’re hitting the gym every day, I would ask you: How? How are you going to make that happen? How are you fitting that into your life?

If your resolution was to write every day, I would ask you: How?

Think about it this time. What do I need to give up for writing time? How am I going to make sure it gets done? What are my options if I get towards the end of the day and the work’s not finished?

Whatever your resolution, ask yourself: How?

Increase The Flexibility

I had a Duolingo battle with my girlfriend. Duolingo uses a streak-building system, making it a challenge to spend just a little time learning every day. It’s fun to watch your streak build, but there’s a downside.

My girlfriend had a multi-week streak going. Multi-month even. And then she missed a day, broke her streak, went back to zero, and she’s hardly used Duolingo since.

The system was so inflexible that a single day missed meant disaster.

If your resolution is set up so that a single misstep equals complete failure, you need to build in some flexibility. If you went with “Write every day,” and you screwed up once, you blew it, so at this point, why bother?

An inflexible system yields inflexible results. You’re either a 100% success or a 100% failure. Which is not a good way to look at writing. Nobody is a 100% success. And the only person who 100% fails at writing is the person who never tries it.

What can you do to throw in some flexibility?

If you tried a daily word count goal, try switching the timeline from daily to every two days.

If you decided to write every single day, try switching to writing 7 times a week, allowing yourself multiple bouts in a single day if need be.

Duolingo DOES allow you to earn rewards, including a 1-day protection for your streak. Maybe design your resolution so you could earn a day pass for every 5-day streak.

Rules and structure are helpful when you’re looking to get something done. Just make sure they’re rules that help you succeed rather than bench you for failure. 

Prompting Versus Reward

I know you can do it!

If I have some hardcore spreadsheet nonsense to do at work, what I’ll do is make myself a second cup of coffee. I bring it into work with me, unsipped, and then drink it while I spread my sheets. I don’t know if that’s the proper verbiage, but screw it, I hate spreadsheets.

The coffee is a prompt to get the work done. Not a reward that I get afterward. When I’m making the coffee, I’m resigning myself to doing the spreadsheet. When I’m not touching it on the way to work, I’m saving it for what I know is going to be a lousy time. By the time I sit down, open my spreadsheet and start drinking, I’ve already gone through the whole dread process, and I can get down to work.

I’m a fan of doing something that prompts you to START work rather than rewarding you for finishing.

Replace your rewards for finishing with prompts for getting started.

Honesty Time

I’m not here to pump you up with something like, “I know you can do it!” Although I might use that as a pull quote. Hell, nobody reads an entire column these days. Nobody will know the context.

You might not be able to finish your resolution. That’s the honest truth. You might've gotten thrown too hard to stand up let alone get back on a horse. It happens.

But, if you can try something out, get another two months out of your resolution, that’s better. Because that’s more writing.

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

Reedsy Marketplace UI

1 million authors trust the professionals on Reedsy. Come meet them.

Enter your email or get started with a social account: