Instead Of New Year’s Resolutions, Make New Year’s Challenges That Encourage You To Compete With Yourself

If you’re like me and failing at New Year’s resolutions makes you feel guilty and at least a little bit like a failure, here’s an alternative: Gamify your resolutions and make them into New Year’s Challenges, instead.

Gamification can be a huge help for your motivation — it’s the application of game thinking to non-game situations. One of the most successful examples of gamification in pop culture in recent history is the app Zombies, Run!, which turns training to run a 5K race into an epic quest to escape zombies, earning supplies along the way. Playing games is fun, but running, for beginner runners, isn’t.

Most resolutions also aren’t fun, because most of them require a sacrifice of some kind, and the looming threat of failure just makes it worse. Instead of telling yourself “Well, for the indefinite future, I’m not going to do this thing that I like doing,” trying asking yourself, “How long can I go doing this new thing before I cave? And then how long can I go the next time?”

Embracing the fact that you’ll eventually need a break, fail, make a mistake, or have a bad day as an inevitability is compassionate to yourself in a way that requiring yourself to make sacrifices without any leeway or forgiveness isn’t. It also allows you to treat your resolutions and a process of practice, wherein you get better and better at forming good habits the more you practice those good habits.

Furthermore, setting challenges for yourself rather than resolutions provides motivation to break your resolutions up into smaller steps. “Lose weight” is super-vague, but “don’t add sugar to things for a week” isn’t. Building up those good habits will lead to a gradual lifestyle change over time rather than one great big purge that’ll leave you emotionally spent.

Here are some new year’s challenges you can set for yourself:

  • How many days in a row can you go drinking only water and unsweetened tea?

  • How many days can you go without making lifestyle purchases (purchases outside of groceries, utilities, rent, and bills)?

  • How many hours can you go with your phone turned off?

  • How low can you get your grocery spending this month while still eating well?

  • Can you ride your bike for a week instead of taking public transit or driving?

  • Can you go a whole month without going out for entertainment?

  • How long can you meditate? Can you meditate for a minute longer next time?

  • How many weeks in a row can you manage to get to the gym two or more times?

  • How many days in a row can you dedicate 20 minutes to cleaning or organizing something?

  • Can you take sugar or salt out of one food to which you normally add it for a week straight?

  • Can you schedule time to do two things that would make you happy this week?

Focusing on your endurance with a good habit — not how often you do it, but how long you can go doing it before you need a break — acknowledges that you’re trying to practice and improve your endurance rather than asking you to cold turkey just start doing something with which you’re unfamiliar or uncomfortable, and that when you start that practice, you’re not going to be good at it. Feel free to give yourself a small productive reward for it, whether that’s a gold sticker or a mental high-five or a grocery item you wouldn’t normally buy — and try to enjoy your new good habits and how they make you feel.

Happy New Year and may the best you win!

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