The Charlie Brown Approach to New Year’s Resolutions

2018-0111 Steps

Peppermint Patty: Have you made a New Year’s resolution, Chuck?

Charlie Brown: Remember how I used to dread the whole year? Now I’m only going to dread one day at a time. 

—from A Charlie Brown Christmas

Chuck is onto something. Hint: It’s not the dread.  

There is value in having big goals, long term goals. While the brain is complex and integrated, the right hemisphere is particularly primed to connect with the bigger picture, the larger impact. Without a connection to a long term impact, whatever we are doing loses meaning and relevance. 

But just having a big goal is not enough to spur you to action.  

Thinking about all the things that have to be done over the course of the year to support your goal can be overwhelming. You may find it difficult to figure out what to do first and how it all connects. The end state seems so far away that you can’t even see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

But as Charlie Brown said, one day at a time is the way to go. 

Focusing on a day’s worth of input is more manageable for the brain’s decision making than trying to get a handle on a year’s worth  (or even a week’s worth) of input. 

We can hunker down and make choices to support one day. Thinking of making better choices for 7, or 31, or 365 days can overwhelm us and we lose interest. 

Whatever your big goal—lose 20 pounds, increase sales by 20%, be kinder—the brain has to forge different connections to respond in a different way from what you have been doing before. (We call that creation and solidification of new neural connections neuroplasticity.)

It takes a lot of mental effort to change old patterns—and it’s all too easy to fall back into them.  If we are really committed to achieving our goal, we want to keep at it and not give up at the first, second, or tenth time we stray from our good intentions. A new day brings a fresh new opportunity to practice new behaviors. 

Most of us know better than to think we are going to wake up tomorrow and run a marathon after our previous personal best was a fast walk between the parking lot and the office. We recognize it will take months of work, in small steps, to reprogram our body, our energy, and our minds to undertake a mentally and physically taxing event like that. 

My mind feels like it will explode just thinking of everything I would have to do!

Even looking at a week of consistent working out seems ominous, and likely injurious. Any good training plan will have rest days and easy days built in. 

Just like running a marathon, breaking down any goal—the behaviors around the goal— into bite size steps has a greater chance of success. 

Trying an easy run down the block today is a goal I can get my head around. Tomorrow I’ll make it a little longer, but I won’t think about that now. Let’s just make a better choice for today. 

Having the big ultimate goal and the bite-size daily goals is the perfect leveraging of the big picture tie-in strength of the right hemisphere, and the structured, planning, analytical strength of the left hemisphere. 

Focus day to day. 

Celebrate your achievement (if you do well you’ll do lots of celebrating). 

Factor in a rest day when you get too busy to stick to your daily goal. 

Day by day, week by week, the progress will come. And one day soon,  there will be a big goal to celebrate.  


Photo credit: JMaliszewski, 2016



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