The Alternative to Resolutions: Shock the System

Maybe you missed the boat on resolutions this year. But maybe that’s a good thing.

The conventional wisdom for New Year’s Resolutions includes focusing on one or maybe two things, not trying to change too much too fast, and keeping expectations low.


For me, 2014 challenged the normal advice about resolutions.

Instead of just focusing on one thing—drinking more water or a 30-day sit-up plan or flossing daily or calling your friend more regularly—I want to offer you an alternative.

Shock the system.

And have a drastically different life in a few weeks.

I know, it sounds like pipe dream foolishness. But hear me out.

You can change a lot of stuff all at once, but it takes time. I don’t mean, “It takes a while,” like six months. Rather, you need to open up time in your days and weeks for change to happen. You need the capacity to pay attention to the right things.

You have probably seen articles in the past few years about the importance of saying “no” and how you need to opt out of things in order to focus on your highest priority. I have now experienced that firsthand. This won’t apply to everyone, but for people who plan and fill up their calendars, this could be a very valuable lesson.

Here’s what I mean…

About six months ago, our family moved back to South Africa for Chrissy’s anthropology PhD research. In that process, many of my commitments and responsibilities decreased or evaporated entirely:

I dropped my work hours by 10%. Weekly time savings: 4 hours.

My commute decreased from 40 minutes per day to 20, and I switched to a four-day workweek. Weekly time savings: 2 hours per week.

Less volunteering and leadership at church. Weekly time savings: 3 hours.

We moved into a very small house here with just what we carried in our suitcases. We are renting and have not purchased much. So we have less stuff and space to clean and maintain (and our landlords employ a housekeeper who does laundry and cleaning once a week). Weekly time savings: 3 hours.

Our home is in a pocket with limited cell reception. As we get online through our phones, that means very little internet at home. Weekly time savings: 2 hours. (This could actually save a lot more time, I think, but I’m being conservative in my estimates.)

We don’t have Netflix here, so no Parks and Rec marathons. Weekly time savings: 1 hour.

Our neighborhood in South Africa doesn’t have much going on in the evenings (e.g. meetings, kids’ activities, etc.). Weekly time savings: 4 hours.

We have a lot of friends in the U.S. and hundreds of them are within driving distance of home. Here, there are only two families that we see occasionally in the evening. Weekly time savings: 4 hours.

Gas is pretty expensive here, so we’re trying to drive less. That means we consolidate trips, share rides with others, and waste less time in the car. Weekly time savings: 1 hour.

What does all of this add up to?

24 more hours every week!

Even now totaling it up, I can’t believe it, but I think the numbers are accurate.

I understand you might not be able to do all of these. In particular, cutting work hours and commute time seem the most challenging. And I know you’re not likely to move into a 500 square foot house, and weekly housekeeping is out of most family budgets in the U.S.

But a lot of these things are possible: cutting some social engagements, kids’ activities, time online, other personal time commitments, and driving.

How is my life different from six months ago? How have these extra 24 hours per week improved my life?


I’ve read dozens of books.

I’ve cooked from scratch a few times a week, honing some great recipes.

I’ve exercised 4-5x/week (and lost about 15 lbs).

I’ve gone on walks (nearly daily in the past month), and I’ve taken a lot of photographs.

I’ve played games with my kids and lingered over coffee with my wife.

I’ve gotten back on top of our finances.

I’ve emailed friends.

I’ve been writing more.

I’ve read a good chunk of the Bible and prayed more regularly and deeply than I have in some years.

I’ve even enjoyed washing our dishes by hand (but don’t tell the rest of my family that).

I’ve slept as much as I’ve wanted.

I’ve dreamed about the future, with a solid hope that many great things will come to pass.

I’ve done some pencil sketches for the first time in 25 years, something I used to really enjoy.

I’ve sipped innumerable cups of tea.

In short, it has been a wonderful six months. My life is different (and better!) in almost every way. This is a stark contrast to the graveyard of resolutions many of us have in a month or two.

I don’t know what will last when we return to the U.S. in May. But I plan to have fewer social engagements. I will get rid of a lot of the clutter that I boxed up last summer. I will take time to consider requests on my time before committing to things. In fact, the first month back will be a moratorium on commitments and new activities. I will go slowly, hoping to carry back with me some of this new pace and the habits that have come with it.

As for you, perhaps this week, you can review your time commitments and plan what you can trim, starting this weekend.

A little more time in your week may make a big difference in your year.

Do you over-schedule your life? Have you ever overhauled several parts of your life at the same time?

What would you do with an extra 24 hours every week? What would you do to get them? 

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