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Don't Make a New Year's Resolution...

Don't Make a New Year's Resolution...

New Year's resolutions have a bad rap — it starts with a well-meaning desire to lose a few pounds in weight, drink less, or quit smoking. Sure enough, a couple of weeks later those "promises to self" lie in tatters and you discard any further well-meaning thoughts. So don't think about making one, instead, go the whole hog and make three!

New Year's resolutions aren't all about lifestyle changes, for photographers there are many things you might decide to start the new year with. For example, a 365 project is a classic way to start the year and seems like a great way to combine a long term commitment with what you love doing best. But if you over-commit then it becomes much harder to complete. That's obviously the point of setting a lofty goal, but it shouldn't be to the point of making it too difficult to complete. As Fstoppers Mike Briggs points out, there are a number of things to consider before starting, not least whether it's the right thing for you. There are variations on the 365 theme, such as completing a weekly 52, posting (but not necessarily shooting) each day, or entering competitions (possibly monthly). Of course, photographic challenges don't have to stop there and this is something I've covered before with 12 Photo Challenges to Push Your Creative Boundaries; the images below are an example of ten different photos I shot from the same spot that required the use of a range of lenses, techniques, and viewpoints, pushing my creativity along the way.

Why Is Failure Such a Problem and What Can We Do About It?

So why is it that when we set a New Year's resolution, there's an expectation — at least across society — that we are going to fail? I think there are two main reasons for this. Firstly, we often set ourselves one highly challenging target that we really want to achieve. It might be the proverbial "lose fifty pounds in weight" or more photography focused such as to "go pro" or "double my income." The problem with going down the route of making ambitious targets is that you can be setting yourself up to fail. Yes, making a significant achievement is important, but putting yourself back to square one if you don't complete it can be counterproductive. Secondly, resolutions can often be negative in nature such as to "quit smoking" or "stop drinking." If you fail in achieving a negative resolution it can spiral you into a downward spiral which is very demoralizing.

For some people, setting these types of targets is fine, it works for them. If you have a singular focus and almost always achieve what you set out to do then setting ambitious targets is great. If you don't fall into that group or have a working mentality that operates in that manner, then there are alternatives to "go big or go bust."

Firstly, remember that resolutions are about self-improvement — affecting change — and that is what the end goal should be. Think about the person you will become at the end of the journey. Secondly, then the journey is often as important as the end result. If you complete a 365, the final portfolio you piece together will be impressive, however, it is what you have learned along the way that will be priceless to your future self. Thirdly, it's not just about photography, although everything can ultimately impact upon that. Setting a resolution to hire an accountant to submit your tax return might well be a catalyst to a better business and more time to do the things you live. Fourthly, think about setting positive resolutions: things that you will do, rather than will not do. Rather than losing weight, how about getting more exercise? Or, instead of not buying new gear, what about trying a prime lens challenge?

Five, six, and seven all combine together to create perhaps the single most important factors that all stem from setting multiple resolutions. Don't just stick to one big one, rather go for three, five, or ten resolutions that target a whole raft of different activities. Central to these — and ultimately to breeding success — is that you set the bar to achievement both high and low. Yes, try starting a 365, but why not also hire that accountant, shoot with a prime lens for a day, take that course in Facebook ads, and photograph your kids once a month. All of these goals have the traits of setting the bar to achievement at different levels; some are easy and some are difficult, but ultimately you will pick off some and not others, learning good stuff along the way. Additionally, not only are some easy and others more difficult, but the commitments can be both short and long term. Photographing your kids might last all year, but you only need to get them around the dinner table for a selfie to pick off one month

What Will You Do in 2021?

Looking forward to 2021, the canvas will be blank waiting for you to start making your mark on the world. In terms of what I'm going to do, well there are some that I've already started as a result of lockdown. I've pondered the idea of penpals for a while before I came across Postcrossing.com which is a community project to enable people across the world to send postcards to one another. I started this resolution in December with the goal of printing and sending my own photographs, many of which (but not all) I will shoot purposefully for the recipient. It's an engaging way of (virtually) meeting people in different countries and cultures, whilst always being able to actively engage the photographic side of my brain. The other long term project I started in 2018 was shooting a selfie every day: it's always the same shot, against the same backdrop. I might not quite achieve Noah Kalina's remarkable 12 years in 15 seconds, but it will be a great archive to look back on. Other goals this year included cycling 300km in one day (achieved) and sport climbing a 7a (not achieved).

What will your 2021 hold in store for you?

Lead image courtesy eliza28diamonds vis Pixabay.

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Tony Clark's picture

I have learned that there are things that are beyond my control. How many saw the pandemic coming? I do the best I can under the circumstances and live with the results.

Tom Reichner's picture

The reason that New Year's resolutions fail for so many is that most of the resolutions that people make require an uptick in their work ethic or discipline. Work ethic and discipline are two character traits that are completely "fixed" in early childhood.

People with a weaker work ethic or lower level of discipline are incapable of ever increasing their work ethic or discipline. It just doesn't happen. There are a lot of things that people can change about themselves, and make great improvements on, but work ethic and/or discipline are two things that cannot ever be increased or improved upon.

So if people want to make resolutions that they will actually keep, then they need to be resolutions that do not require the person to exhibit a greater amount of work or discipline. Realize that if your resolution is going to require work, then you will need to take work and effort away from one thing in order to have some to spare for the new thing that you resolve to do. No one is going to be able to do more net work or expend more net effort than they always have in the past. Just doesn't happen.

Malcolm Wright's picture

One of my favourite perennial questions is to ask my boss or bosses to think of something they would like too set me to do that will make me more useful..
I apply similar questions to what I could improve on to family, friends, members of several clubs I'm a member of, as well as work colleagues.
I end up with many, many resolutions given to me by people who would like to see me try to improve or do something new or even differently.
You don't have to think of resolutions yourself, you also discover that most people have your best interests at heart.
When the Covid crisis is over enough to allow adult education classes to re-open, I will take another course in a subject, art or craft that I haven't experienced before.