New Year’s is a time to reflect and ponder resolutions. Maybe you want to lose weight by eating more healthily or exercising more frequently. Maybe you want to read more books, discover new music, or see your friends more often. The list goes on.
But resolutions like these are usually abandoned by mid-January because they leave little room for meaningful growth. They force you to change your habits through sheer willpower, rather than work to change your attitudes and motivation.
If you’re one of the many people who struggle to keep their New Year’s resolutions, you might be better off setting a New Year’s theme instead.
In this episode, Dylan talks about New Year’s themes as a realistic and viable alternative to New Year’s resolutions and how you can create yours.
- [02:07] On the time-honored tradition of New Year’s resolutions
- [04:06] Weight loss as a New Year’s resolution
- [10:44] On setting a New Year’s theme instead of a resolution
- [12:39] Why your New Year’s theme has to be broad
- [15:20] Why your New Year’s theme needs to be directional
- [16:27] Why your New Year’s theme has to be resonant
[00:00:00] Intro: Forget the civilized path. It’s time to break the chains of debt and dependency, take control of our financial lives, and live free. This is the Fiscally Savage Podcast.
[00:00:16] Dylan Bain: Hello and welcome to Fiscally Savage. My name is Dylan Bain. And today, I’m thinking about a time when I was still coaching wrestling as a teacher. It’s February and for anybody who does high school sports, particularly wrestling, you know that February is the month of the state tournament. And I’m getting ready for that state tournament. I have four wrestlers who’ve qualified this year. And I’m laying out my clothes just like a kid on Christmas ’cause I’m so excited to return to state wrestling as a coach. And I pull my coach hoodies on and it’s tight. It doesn’t fit. And I’m suddenly overwhelmed with feelings of shame because I had promised myself that this was the year that I was gonna lose weight; that finally, I was gonna bend the curve down and be the example for my wife and my kids and my wrestlers and my students. Rather than just being the ever-expanding teacher, I was gonna be the person who was serious about their weight. And I thought for sure this year — when I set my New Year’s resolution to lose weight — this was the year it was gonna happen. And as I’m struggling with this hoodie, it occurs to me that the problem wasn’t necessarily the goal. The problem is that the goal itself was an anomaly in my life. And as with everything, there’s a regression to the mean of my life. As I pushed out and started to change, that anomaly was forced back into the average of my life. And then I realized if I wanted to lose weight, I was going to have to start in a different spot than I had started originally.
[00:02:07] Ladies and gentlemen, I tell that story because as of this recording, I’m of course recording in advance because of the holidays, but this will be dropping after Christmas, and that means that the next holiday is everyone’s annual drinking fest — New Year’s Eve. What do we do on New Year’s Eve other than get sloshed, sing songs the lyrics of which none of us actually know? And then, of course, there’s the time-honored tradition of the New Year’s resolution. And if you’re anything like me and — I would hazard to guess — 99% of the population, New Year’s resolutions never happen. And so, we’re always like trying to find different ways to state, oh, this year I’m not making a resolution. I’m not gonna give up something. I’m not gonna take on something. I’m gonna give up something. But we always like to believe that like this year, this is the year that it’s all gonna happen. And then by the time we get halfway through January, we discover something very fundamental to the human experience. That is behavior change is really hard. Like changing human behavior requires like an act of Congress. And we all know how productive Congress is, so not something that’s going to happen anytime soon.
[00:03:22] But ladies and gentlemen, I want to posit something maybe you haven’t considered. That is this idea that we didn’t get here because we as people are bad per se. We got here because our behaviors that aren’t serving us are serving something else. And I’ve talked about this on the podcast a lot. And if you actually are counting episodes, I think this is episode 25 and I started in October, so you can kind of imagine what’s coming for you this upcoming year. And talking about behaviors and systems that serve themselves or serve someone else that don’t serve us and New Year’s resolutions when we’re trying to change our behaviors are great examples of how hard it is to break out of those systems.
[00:04:06] I’m gonna use weight loss as the example here because I would imagine nearly everyone who’s listening to this has at some point had a health-related goal that they took on as a New Year’s resolution. Here’s a fundamental fact about weight loss: if you wish to lose weight, food is infinitely more important than exercise. And when you start to realize this, when you start to understand food is far more important than exercise, then you immediately go to the next thing of like, okay, well, how do I change my food? And good food, ladies and gentlemen, requires time. And anyone who’s actually had the thought “This year, I’m going to eat better. I’m going to make my own food” has figured this out. There is a legion of YouTube channels, cookbooks, and different shows that will make this idea that we can just have food and it’s easy, but it’s not. It takes time. It takes time and it takes dishes and it takes effort and it takes mistakes and it takes iteration and it takes a complete change of culture.
[00:05:12] And how did we get here? Because I just stated that this behavior serves something. And if it’s not feeding us and nourishing us, then what is it? So, if we kind of step back in time, I’m gonna take you through kind of just a really brief timeline of how our food culture changed. Because prior to the Industrial Revolution, food was an intensely communal thing. There was women who would prepare the food and then men who would come in from the fields or out of the different places they worked and they would have meals together. And those women who were preparing all of that food would then send it out with lunches for the men when they go out to work in fields or they’re working in the factories or whatever it is. You know, this is pre-Industrial Revolution, so 85% of the economy is agricultural of some stripe, but there were still smaller like factories, just not factories that we think of. So, right off the bat, one of the things that we should notice here is that the labor that the women were doing in the home was supportive of the economic labor that men were doing outside of the home. That is to say, the labor inside the home is priceless. That labor is what allows the economic labor to take place in the first place. That’s really important. For one, because I think it’s overlooked in society. And number two, it’s gonna come back up here in a second.
[00:06:34] When the Industrial Revolution starts to gain steam over time, what this means are that men are no longer on farms. Because, ladies and gentlemen, when you would bring in a harvest, what would happen is the entire community would show up at one person’s house and their wives and their partners would show up, too. And those people would cook big meals for them while they all pulled in that guy’s field. And once that was done, they would move to the next place. There would also be, you know, traveling people who would be hired on as farm hands during the harvest. That is to say that there was always more work that could be done, but we did it communally. When the Industrial Revolution happened, we no longer had to do that. And in fact, we had machines that were enabling us to no longer have to be in the field, which means that there was less time at home and less need for people to be continuing to make food.
[00:07:28] When the Sexual Revolution picks up, now what ends up happening is women start entering the workforce. So, this has a dual effect of the person who’s the homemaker preparing food. She’s gone now because now she’s in the workplace and nobody steps in to take her place. Except nature abhors a vacuum but business abhors a vacuum even more, so when the women left the home to enter into the workforce, businesses stepped in and said, don’t worry, I got it. And this gives rise to things like the TV dinner. We industrialized our entire food chain to try to backfill for the fact that women left the homes.
[00:08:10] And I’m not saying or making any commentary on whether or not this was a good thing. I would like to just state for the record my wife makes more money than I do; has a higher level of education than I do; and I very much support her career and always have. And I can still be very honest about the fact that the both of us work means that the food in our house is very difficult to maintain in a healthy manner. In order for us to make a choice for our family, in order to have a scratch kitchen, which is how we run our kitchen, it requires constant inputs, constant trips to the grocery store, constant planning. And we even have a roommate who participates in this, too. So, there are three adults cooking, including children who are capable of cooking in their own. There’s a ton of work and a ton of dishes. And we barely, barely make it work.
[00:09:01] So, it’s worth noting that when you make a New Year’s resolution to eat better food, this is going to require massive changes to how you’re running your life. Because what you’re essentially doing is stepping back and telling the businesses, no, I want my kitchen back. Because losing weight is a lifestyle change and lifestyles are social. When you change your lifestyle, when you decide you want to lose weight, you’re going to run the risk of social isolation. Why? Because, well, you might be saying, well, yes, I want my food to be good, nutritious, and nourishing on more levels than just the calories. Other people might not. And when you start breaking from that, they’re going to push back. And now suddenly on a very human level, we’re afraid of losing our tribe. This is a primal thing. We’re worried how other people are going to judge us as we make changes and that’s going to suck us back in. The bottom line is that when it comes to weight loss, part of the reason weight loss is so difficult is because food is more important than exercise. And we currently live in a system that is set up to sell you “nutritional solutions” without ever considering what the human part of this equation truly actually needs. And ladies and gentlemen, this applies to literally any resolution you’re going to make. Because the New Year’s resolution that says, I wish to get my financial house in order, I wish to lose weight, I wish to read more — it really doesn’t matter. It’s going to require a lifestyle change and there’s going to be a consequence that goes with that. And it’s better at this particular point in time to face that reality and plan accordingly.
[00:10:44] Thankfully, ladies and gentlemen, there is a better option. And so I’m going to just — before I even get into it — I’m going to say thank you very much to CGP Grey and his YouTube channel because I’m going to be using him as a great deal of inspiration for the rest of this episode. The link to his video is in the show notes and 10 out 10 would recommend you go take a look at it. A better option than a New Year’s resolution is to give your year a theme. It’s important for us to understand that when it comes to changing our lives — be it finances, be it health, be it anything else — the individual data points themselves, that is, our individual actions on any given day, are irrelevant to the change because it’s the overall trend that counts.
[00:11:34] When I was getting my financial house in order for the very first time, there were days where I really screwed up. And I’ve said this before. When I first started budgeting, it took me nine months before I came anywhere close to actually being able to accomplish what I had set out to do. But every month, I got a little closer. And those small wins, those small incremental changes created a trend line that was going up. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the truly important thing when it comes to making changes in your life. Yes, yes, yes. Discipline equals freedom. Consistency is critical. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. You are going to fuck this up. No matter what your resolution is, you’re going to fuck it up. So, let’s just make peace with that and plan for it and understand that the individual days don’t matter. It’s the overall trend. If you are going $900 in debt in one month, but you only go $500 into debt the next month, that’s a win because the trend is going in the right direction. Keep going.
[00:12:39] So, let’s talk about how to create a theme so that we can have something by which we can benchmark our individual day-to-day decisions against. A theme would be something like health, wealth, reading, joy, discovery. You want to start off with your theme being broad. So that’s number one. The theme has to be broad. You want it to be a big thing; something that encompasses a bigger part of your life. So, like with health, when you sit there and say, well, okay, this is going to be the year of health, what does that even mean? Well, you might say, well, health to me is I wanna exercise. Cool. But then you suddenly discover that that aspiration you have of getting up at six o’clock in the morning to go to the gym never happens because you don’t get to bed at night and therefore, you don’t get up on time. And then if you’ve named your year the year of health, it is okay to say, well, okay, the gym isn’t actually what I need to focus on right now. Sleeping is a huge component of my physical health. And so, I’m gonna focus on that nighttime routine and changing my environment so that I can get to bed on time and have good sleep so that 6:00 AM becomes something possible. See, if you had made the New Year’s resolution of “I am going to the gym at 6:00 AM,” you’re locked into something that can never change. But when you have a broad thing of this is the year of health and the gym stops working, you can look to the next thing and go, okay, that’s not gonna work for me, but I still want to be healthier at the end of this year than I started. And sleep seems to be the place where I can make the most progress.
[00:14:19] That’s the same thing true with wealth. In the example I just used above, well, you went $900 in debt one month and now you’re going $500 debt in the next month. Hey, the bleeding is in fact slowing. Your wealth is deteriorating at a slower rate, so if you keep up, then the next month you only go $100 in debt, and then the month after that your net worth increases by $300 if you can keep that trend line going. This is the whole point in having something broad because shit’s gonna change as we walk the path. We’re going to learn more about ourselves and our environment through any period of change. And this, too, includes the other people who are chronically in your life. This includes spouses, roommates, kids, friends, coworkers. They’re all going to be part of this change because as you change, your influence on them is going to change. And so, having something broad, a broad theme, this is the year of wealth. That’s going to help you adjust and make those adjustments as you go along.
[00:15:20] Number two is that your theme needs to be directional. So, when you start, you have to have a vague direction to start wandering in. And this is kind of part and parcel of the GPS example that I’ve used before. When you call up your GPS in your car and put in a destination, it doesn’t tell you which way to go until you actually get in motion and it can tell that you’re actually trending in a particular direction. That’s how GPS works. So, the same is true with your theme. When you say, this is the year of reading. Okay. Well, that’s broad, but it’s also directional because in order to be the year of reading, I have to actually read. So, I need to make progress, whether it be pages or audiobooks or something like that. Health works exactly the same. I just wish to be healthier at the end of this month than I was at the beginning of this month. And so, maybe that’s just going to include a five-minute walk in the morning. Okay. Well, hey, the trend line is heading in the right direction. A year of wealth. I’m just gonna save 20 bucks this month. I’m gonna prove to myself that I can actually do this. Okay. Hey, the trend line is in the right direction. You’re going to start stacking small wins.
[00:16:27] Number three in how to create a theme is that it has to be resonant. And ladies and gentlemen, I have podcasted on this before. I will podcast this on again. If you’ve been listening to me on other people’s podcasts, this is the theme that comes up all the time. Money is emotional. And the fun fact here, ladies and gentlemen, is everything else is, too. It’s not just money. You see, when you’re living your life, we like to believe that we’re living life from the neck up; that somehow the logic brain is in charge. And nothing could be further from the truth. The logic brain is in the passenger seat of the car with its maps and equations and spreadsheet, desperately trying to reason with the madman of your emotions who is careening that car a thousand miles an hour down the highway of life. Ladies and gentlemen, if your theme doesn’t resonate with you on an emotional level, you’re not gonna make any progress ’cause your logic isn’t at the wheel; your emotions are.
[00:17:24] And so, when I first set a theme for myself, the theme I set was the year of health. And that resonates because out of everything in my life, my physical health is the thing I struggle with the most. And you’re gonna hear more about that in the coming weeks because I’m gonna be talking about it on next episodes. But those three things on how to create a theme is a good theme needs to be broad, directional, and resonant. Ladies and gentlemen, rather than making a New Year’s resolution that’s going to lock you into a particular direction or a particular thing that, let’s face it, you have a 99% chance of failure, maybe this year, give your year a name. Give it a theme. Give it a chance to be truly successful by doing something different. And ladies and gentlemen, I would love it if you go to Instagram and tell me what your year theme is going to be. Because I’m gonna be talking about that next week.
[00:18:20] And ladies and gentlemen, I know how this feels. Because when I first did this, I called my first year the year of health, and I started off by trying to make better food for myself. I tried with this idea that I was just going to make all of my food from ingredients that I could recognize. And over the weeks as I was doing this, I started to notice that I started to have panic attacks, literal hyperventilation panic attacks at the idea of making good food for myself. Because not only was it more expensive and it took extra time, but it also created a lot of dishes that then had to be washed. And it’s not that I minded any of those things, it’s that I was scared of the idea of doing it. And I’m struggling because I’m feeling shame and guilt of why can’t I just eat in a healthy fashion? It’s not like I don’t know what to do. After all, this is the year of health. Why can’t I stick to it? And then I realize the issue. It’s not that I don’t know what to do. It’s not that I can’t prepare the food or afford it or even clean the dishes. The issue isn’t that I don’t know how to eat. The issue is that I’m not emotionally ready to feed myself in any true sense of the word. And ladies and gentlemen, it’s the year of health. And mental and emotional health are real things that are part of the healthy equation. It’s not just my physical health that was in danger. It was my mental and emotional health, too. And so with that, I sat down at the computer. I found a gathering of men who were focused on helping deal with their mental and emotional health. And I signed up for my very first men’s gathering. That, ladies and gentlemen, was perhaps the most profound thing I’ve done in my adult life. It was the 90-degree turn because I had a theme that this was the year of health. That allowed me to be flexible enough to understand that my mental and emotional health needed to be healed first before I could heal my physical health.
[00:20:38] So, ladies and gentlemen, I’m gonna leave you with that story. I’m gonna raise a glass in New Year’s Eve to each and every single one of you. Wish you an amazing 2023 when it gets here. And I hope that you have named a theme for yourself that’s broad, directional, and resonant; and that when 2024 arrives, we will toast to the most successful year of growth and change you’ve ever had.
[00:21:08] Outro: Thanks for listening. If you like what we do here, please hit that subscribe button. Leave us a rating and review. And share the content with somebody who would benefit from the message. You can follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, all @fiscallysavage. And head over to fiscallysavage.com to get our free tools, suggested reading, and everything else you need to take control of your financial life and live free.