The holiday season at the end of the year is a great time to think about the coming year. Many people end this process by setting New Year Resolutions.
I’m a big fan of planning things beforehand. This not only applies to Chess Training, but also to my life in general.
In this article, I will explain the three big mistakes people do with their New Year’s resolutions and how they should be used instead.
Read on until the end to find out my big goal in 2022 and read an important announcement.
The Common Mistakes With New Year Resolutions
Before getting into how I try to map out my new year, I’d like to tackle some common mistakes. More often than not, people hammer out superfluous goals for the coming year that are already forgotten or dismissed by the end of January.
So why do most resolutions not even last 1/12th of the new year? Here are the three points that stand out for me:
1) The resolution is externally motivated
You will get a pat on the back if you tell your friends, family, or Twitter community that you want to lose weight, do more sport or take your chess training more seriously.
But in many cases, these goals are not fully intrinsically motivated. If they were, you would probably have changed that behavior already.
Most of us know we should do more sports, eat healthier, and train harder. But knowing is not doing! Unless you have enough intrinsic motivation to change a behavior, you are prone to fall back into old habits.
Instead of setting a goal that you “know you should do”, go deeper and ask why you still fall back to “bad behavior”. And if you really want to change that behavior.
Just talking about it and not doing it is a big proof that something inside you is not fully convinced of your need to change!
Just stating one more time that you would like to get healthier or do more chess training will most likely not change anything long-term.
Don’t bullshit yourself by writing down New Year’s resolutions that don’t come from within you. You will disappoint yourself, your loved ones and waste everyone’s time and money.
Except for gyms & online course sellers who sell an enormous amount of subscriptions, most of them never used, there are only losers in this process
2) Your Goal Is Way Too High
“New Year, new me” sounds nice, but is most likely not true. More likely than not, you will stay the same person with the same habits in the new year.
But somehow that seems to be unclear to many people. The hope of using the new year to drastically change habits & behaviors is astonishingly big. Thus also our goals tend to be enormous.
Instead of taking on one new positive habit a week, we try to change everything at once.
In 2021 you failed to train 1 hour/day but somehow you will manage to convince yourself that in 2022 you will be able to do 4 hours/day.
Additionally, you’ll stop wasting time on social media, eat healthier than any fitness influencer, run 17 marathons and find the absolutely perfect partner that obviously does not exist.
The trick is that only the thought of these changes will reward you with the release of adrenaline. But that adrenaline only lasts a couple of minutes, not a whole year!
While these radical changes might go well for days or even weeks, it is very likely that you’ll fall back into previous habits after not too long.
You will not only be back to square one. but also be massively disappointed in yourself. “Why can’t I simply change?”. You might even convince yourself that you’ll “never change” until you have a release of adrenaline again by the end of 2022…
So instead of setting several huge goals, tackle one habit at a time and focus solely on what you can control. More to that later on.
3) Achievements Will Not Make You Happier
Sorry to be the one to bring the bad news once more. Someone has to do it.
Even if you manage to get that GM title, your dream home, or any other “success”, you’ll most likely not feel happier than before.
We as a society are endlessly running after external gratifications until we realize that they do not change our inner life at all.
Just remind yourself that there are hundreds of depressed Sports stars & millionaires. Just because “they made it” from an external point of view, does not mean they are happy!
Surprisingly enough, the same is true for you and me. I can assure you that the day I got the GM title I was NOT 1% happier than before. Certainly, it was nice to party and achieve a goal I’d had for so long.
But once the adrenaline was gone, I was the same Noël with the same insecurities as before.
So instead of chasing achievements, it might be better to work on your inner life. Instead of thinking: how can I be more successful you might start to ask yourself “how can I be driven by less fear”? Or how can I feel good with myself, even after so-called failures?
Shifting your goals from achievements to habits also has another benefit: your goals become easier to tackle. Instead of only having one huge goal you’ll have some achievable goals every single week.
As James Clear explains in his bestselling book Atomic habits, a 1% increase every day leads to an astonishing 37x improvement in only one year. Small changes add up if you stick to them longer than only for a couple of days!
How To Use New Year’s Resolutions Correctly
Using resolutions the right way will help you improve the quality of your life. Not only for the new year but whenever you feel you need to change something.
The first step should be understanding how we can form positive habits & rid ourselves of bad ones. There is no better way than reading “Atomic Habits” written by James Clear to do so.
Only when you truly understand why you fall back into your bad habits will it be possible for you to start a long-lasting change. For a quick read, I can recommend his article on the habit loop.
But make sure to really read his book carefully. It might well be the best thing you do in 2022…
Trying to improve habits without knowing how they work is like playing roulette. There is a chance that you hit the jackpot, but you can’t replicate it! It is total luck and long-term you’ll always lose.
Once you figure out how you can improve your habits, it is time to find the most beneficial areas to change something.
To find good habits to improve I try to analyze my life/training with the so-called 80/20 rule, also referred to as the Pareto principle.
The principle says that in every aspect of our life 20% of the things we do account for 80% of the results.
The other 80% only adds another 20% on top of it.
This both works on the positive and negative sides. 20% of people cause 80% of your stress. Similarly, 20% of people will cause 80% of joy & happiness in your relationships.
If you manage to find the 20% in different areas of your life (health, chess improvement, finances, etc.) you only need to invest more time in those activities and be mindful to spend less time on the other 80%.
Obviously, if the 20% have a highly negative effect, try avoiding them at all costs!
In a Chess sense, the 20% that account for most improvement will always consist of using your own head and going to your limits. As much fun as activities like watching your favorite streamer, following some top-level Chess, or checking out a new opening course are, they won’t fit into this 20%.
A good habit to take on would thus be to have more sessions where you solve tough puzzles or play extremely focused training games (with analysis as always!). Now again, instead of dialing up that number to a ridiculous level, try to increase it slowly & steadily.
Keep a bigger goal in your mind, but start small. Let’s say you would like to invest 10 hours per week in the really important chess training. But you struggle to really sit down and do the hard work. Then don’t start with a goal of 10 hours weekly.
You will most likely be discouraged and give up early. Start with as little as one 1 hour session in the first week of the year. Once you’ve attained that first win, dial it up to 2 sessions the next week. You can now map out how your year can look if you finish up with 10 hours per week in December.
As James Clear explains in his phenomenal book, missing one session will always happen and is fine. But by missing two sessions in a row you form a new habit of NOT doing the training. So start with a plan that basically makes it impossible to miss twice in a row.
Increase the stakes
Instead of writing down 15 different goals that you’re ambivalent about, choose a few and increase the stakes. You might want to have one goal each in different important areas of your life, such as:
- Chess improvement
Once you really get the taste of improving your habits you will no longer need a New Year’s period to set new goals. So don’t worry about having too little to improve.
To make it more likely you really change up your behavior, raise the stakes. What I mean by this is connecting a punishment/reward to each goal. It is best to do so with someone else. This person will be your accountability partner.
If you don’t have anyone close, you can find someone on the internet. Chess Twitter might be the right place to start. You will find many motivated adult improvers under the Hashtag #Chesspunks. Shoutout to the founders for creating a great online community!
Put something on the line that would really suck/be a dream if you get to do it. If you have a Million in net worth and put up a 5 dollar bet that you won’t increase the likelihood of changing your behavior. The punishment doesn’t hurt you at all.
But if you have to pay 10k of that Million to a charity you absolutely hate, you will have additional motivation to really change your habit. Having said this, please don’t go as far as to risk bankruptcy or putting your marriage on the line. 🙂
Note that increasing the stakes ONLY works if your goal is really something that comes from within you. It is meant to keep you going on tough days. If the goal is only there to please X person, it won’t motivate you on all 365 days of the year.
What is my New Year’s Resolution?
Now that you understand the theory, let’s get concrete! It is time to share my one New Year’s Resolution. The one big goal in 2022 I have.
For 4 years in a row, my 80/20 analysis looked pretty similar. In all important areas of my life, there is one thing that accounts for most of my pain: my health. I’m still suffering from the consequences of an unfortunate accident in 2017.
The traumatic brain injury caused a massive amount of tension in my upper back & neck area. This tension in my muscles causes concentration problems & headaches on a nearly daily basis. My health situation was also one of many reasons why I decided to retire from competitive Chess earlier in 2021.
I have always told myself that I’ll take care of my health once I achieve XYZ.
First, I told myself I will take some time off after my Chess career. Now that the Blog got some momentum, I told myself I will do so after I “make the blog big enough”.
I finally realized that there will always be the next thing to come. There will never be perfect timing. The only good timing is NOW.
I am really invested in this Blog and am committed to making this my main occupation for the years to come. But I can only do so & bring you the best of content with intact health. For the past couple of months, I have not been able to work more than 2 hours/day on average.
Some days I wake up and there is simply no chance I can do any productive work. This really sucks and needs to stop. I want to get back to a place where I can enjoy work and do as much as I’ve decided. Not just work until my body stops me.
Things need to change and not only a bit. The best way is to start the year with the right priority in mind: my health.
To make sure that I really achieve the pain-free goal by the end of 2022 I’ve decided to take a 2-month sabbatical starting January 4th.
Doctors & physiotherapists have told me to take an extended period of time off work for 4 years now. As I will live for 2.5 months on Fuerteventura (Canary Islands) there will be no better time to do so.
So what happens with the Blog during that time?
In order to keep the Blog going, I have pre-written some interesting articles. They will be released at a three-week interval on Wednesdays at 4 PM CET. If you want more content, make sure to check out some of my earlier articles.
Here are some of the favorites you might have missed:
- 5 must know Strategy tips
- Is Chess a Sport?
- 5 ways to prevent Tilt in Online Chess
- How To Become a Grandmaster In Chess
Those are only 4 out of more than 45 articles on the Blog!
My first course, “How To Study Chess” will be released in the first half of 2022, probably in late April.
Sorry to all of you eagerly waiting to get this course. I have announced it for Christmas/January earlier… But I believe that the wait will be worth it!
This will give me enough time to physically recover and make the course stand up to my high expectations.
As I love to stay in contact with my readers, I will be still writing the weekly newsletter every Friday. If you are not subscribed yet, this is the time!
Expect more non-Chess insights as I’m trying to cure my body & work on my mindset. As chess is closely linked to life, we can always take learning from one area into the other.
I will also respond to questions from my dear Readers by mail. Just expect this to take a while, as I will only do a 2-hour block every Friday (a marvelous triumph over the 4-hour-workweek by Tim Ferriss :-)). Know that eventually, I will get back to you.
Don’t expect me to post on social media though. It is easy to get sucked in there quickly.
I’m confident that this is the right step to take. It hasn’t been easy to make this decision, but more often than not, the hard decisions can really pay off in life.
Most Important Questions Answered:
Q: How do you finance this sabbatical?
A: It is true that I have no real income at the moment. I luckily have some money on the side that I’m using to pay my bills. The sabbatical will cost me around 7’000$. While this is a lot of money, living pain-free is priceless. I’m at a point where I would give up all my belongings for it.
Q: What do you do in these 2 months?
A: I will be a lot outdoors and create healthy habits. Meditation, Yoga, Tennis & Beachvolleyball come to mind. I will certainly also read and listen to podcasts. Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar is first on the list. But I don’t have a real plan for once. If my body requires 12hours of sleep and some nice walks, that is what I’ll do. For once, being productive is way down the list.
Q: How do you know the sabbatical was a “success”?
Re-defining the meaning of success is part of the process. If I manage to listen to my body and enjoy the 2 months I will call this sabbatical a success. Honestly though, being ready to take that decision in favor of my health is already a big success for me.
Q: Will you be back for sure on March 1st?
As Benjamin Franklin said many years ago: “nothing is certain except death and taxes”. I’m optimistic to be back on March 1st. By starting slow I will make sure not to fall back to old habits! Again, creating content on this blog is very high on my priority list. But to do so, I really need to watch out for my health first!
I hope this article helps you set better new year’s resolutions. And show once more that I am a work in progress. Everyone has some battle they are fighting.
On that note, I wish all of you an amazing 2022, filled with great health and many happy moments. Take care! Sincerely,
Hey Noel, Awesome post as always! So sorry to read about your continued health struggles. I admire your decision to prioritize your health. The Canary islands sound amazing, I hope they help you recover. Take care!
Hey Ben, thank you so much for your support. It is really amazing here :-). Glad and grateful that I can take this time to hopefully recover 100%.
Just as I discover your wonderfully insightful blog, you take a sabbatical! Just my luck!
Only kidding. I respect your decision and your sharing it so candidly with the world. It is people like you doing such things that truly changes the definition of success in the world.
I wish you much relaxation and success in your sabbatical- the way you define it. And look forward to reading your upcoming work when you return. Happy new year!
Hey Andrew, unlucky timing! Although, this might be the perfect time to catch up with some of the already written articles :-).
Thank you so much for your kind words. I hope I will come up with some ‘solutions’ for myself and then be able to share them with the world.
Happy New Year!
I started a sabbatical 30 days ago after 15 years in a soul crushing job. I feel human once again. I can’t believe I didn’t do it sooner. Good luck. You will not regret it.
Amazing to hear Stephen! Do you have any tips or best practices so far? Would be very happy to hear them. Continue enjoying your sabbatical and hopefully, you’ll find a job that fulfills you in the future. All the best in 2022 and onwards.
Hi Noël. Best wishes for your sabbatical and your improving health this year. I hope you’re able to rest and recover while you’re away. Thanks for the insights in this article and your blog generally.
Hey Tim, thanks for your wishes and your kind words. Have a great 2022!
Hi Noel, I hope you’re doing well. I wish you a happy new year and I hope you manage to rest and enjoy yourself during your sabbatical. Thank you for all the knowledge you’ve been sharing in this blog, it certainly has been helpful.
Take care as well!
Hi Adal, thank you so much! Wishing you a happy year as well. Keep improving 🙂
Die Gesundheit kommt zuerst. In diesem Sinne wünsche ich Ihnen sehr gute Erholung auf der Insel. Ich freue mich auf Ihre weiteren Beiträge, und ich danke Ihnen für die bisherigen, die ich alle inspirierend fand.
Alles Gute auch zum neuen Jahr.
Hi Karl, thank you so much for your wishes. I’m replying in English as I try to keep the comment section in a way everyone understands.
I hope to keep inspiring you in 2022. Have a great year!
I wish you all the best. Love your blog!
Thanks, Ton! Really appreciate your wish & kind words. Have a great 2022!
Hi Noel, best wishes to you for the new year. I hope you accomplish your goals, and in particular I hope you will fully recover so you can live pain-free again. Take care!
Hi Maurits, thank you so much! Have a great 2022 as well. 🙂
The first blog that I read regularly, because it really rings a bell for me and is truly inspiring.
All the best and a great new year for you from Germany!
Thank you so much, Michael it is really nice to read these lines. Have a great 2022 with lots of inspiration, health & improvement!