How to avoid the dreaded Resolution Failure cycle

Years ago a friend told me about an article in “O” Magazine that offered several strategies for coping with the holidays. My favorite suggestion: create a “Bingo” card of all the things that stress you out the most. Any time one of them happens, you cross it off — and when you get five in a row, “Bingo!”

You have to settle on what your prize will be ahead of time, and it should be something you really love or want. That way, you find yourself rooting for the bad things to happen — instead of stressors, they become tiny “win” moments, and voila: the entire anxiety-producing nature of the situation is reframed!

Over the years I’ve used this for everything from dicey family gatherings to meetings at work. It was invaluable as I went through my divorce, and I’ve helped both my kids create their own bingo boards for various social events they’ve dreaded.

It’s been a much-needed leavening during some dark times.

A game that redeems the New Year’s Resolution tradition

Just the other day I received an email from that same friend, complaining about having to make resolutions for the new year. “I always feel so judged for whatever I come up with,” she wrote, “and by the end of February they’ve totally fallen apart — a fresh, new set of failures for a fresh, new year. Perfect way to kick off the decade. Why do we do this to ourselves?!”

I wrote back, “Too bad we can’t apply the bingo game to New Year’s resolutions…”

And then I thought — wait, why can’t we?

Here’s how it would work: create a bingo card (FREE space in the middle, maybe one or two others randomly placed for that extra boost), but instead of filling each square with the things you dread, you put in a resolution-related action. No big ticket items, like “Loose 30 pounds,” because this is about getting away from the huge resolutions we can never stick to. Instead, think of all the tiny things that could happen in a day, thing that might add up to a larger goal eventually. “Only ate half dessert” or “Said no to doughnut at work” for example, if weight loss is the big goal. “Left Target Without Buying Anything” or “Found A Great Sale” if saving money is what you’re aiming for.

We each know the little, insidious demons that crowd out our resolve and undermine our efforts to “be good.” Just write down what it would look like to overcome them, and you’ve got what you need for your bingo squares.

The magic of the “Bingo” game, of course, is the reward.

Make it something special, a real trophy, worth working for. Why? Because if it’s enticing enough, you might even start looking at your game board, seeing what’s left, and looking for opportunities to knock out a few more squares.

When you get a whole row of completed squares (diagonals count, too!) BINGO! It’s treat time!

Look what you’ve done: instead of feeling pressure to meet unrealistic expectations and dread of failure, you’re looking for opportunities to do small things that add up to a win — a great flip of the old resolution psychology.

Also, there is no deadline. Any time during the entire year that you manage one of your little achievements, you mark it off. It’s not a cold-turkey, do it all at once kind of deal, there’s no immediate demand for change…just a place to give yourself credit for the baby steps that, who knows, might lead to those big changes you want to see.

Photo by Nghia Le on Unsplash

Best of all…

The thing I love about this idea is that, unlike the big, fancy “New Year, New Me” resolutions that doom us to eventual failure, it is gentle. It gives value to the tiny victories that we fight for each day. And rather than “virtue being its own reward,” we recognize and celebrate our little wins with things we really love.

I’m going to spend the next few days making a list of all the small things in a day that I might change to make life better. There will be a variety of topics: physical well-being, work habits, relationships, green living, charity…

It’s possible I might get a little carried away, giddy with the lack of pressure and possibility of a prize, and I have a feeling it’s going to be bigger than twenty-five squares.

But I also know that I’m going to enjoy the process from start to finish: coming up with the list, creating a grid, writing each thing down…and then, starting in January, looking over my game board, seeing what I can cross out when ever I think of it, and hope for that first “Bingo!”