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News & Insight

Your New Year’s Resolutions Are Holding You Back

By Lauchlan Toal on December 29th 2015

’Tis the season to be jolly and all, but we also have to be realistic and practical if we want to get ahead. If you’re looking for feel good voodoo and holiday cheer, turn back now. If instead you want to look at how you can make 2016 the best year yet, read on. Whether you want to take better photos, grow your business, or gain a deeper understanding of photography, you need to know how to accomplish your goals effectively. Be warned, though, real improvements aren’t made by drinking eggnog and writing down fantasies on paper.


I get it – it’s tradition to come up with New Year’s resolutions. Other people think that it’s the best time to make changes, their record cleared as they turn to a new page, a clean slate.

In reality, it’s the worst time.

New Year’s resolutions are just a fancy term for procrastinating. Why wait until the New Year? What’s stopping you now? There’s no magic about January first. The only thing that changes as you wait is your age, and that’s not making it any easier to accomplish things. Every day you wait is a day where you’re losing potential clients and missing opportunities to capture great moments.

You know exactly what you want to be accomplishing. You don’t need to wait until January to start working towards your goals, and in doing so, you’re actually doing a lot of harm to your resolve. Not only have you wasted time waiting, but you’ve also conditioned yourself to put things off until some abstract, pre-destined, magical time. What happens when the stars don’t align perfectly? You’ve waited this long, might as well delay again for a few weeks. It’s a habit, a routine. Many people get stuck in a hole of procrastination with school, then work. Life isn’t any different.

This is bad enough, but there’s more to it. New Year’s resolutions often involve planning the biggest goals you can imagine and trying to execute them immediately. Too often people resolve to do something great, see little to no change after a month or a week, and burn out. A photographer might resolve to get ten more clients. They cold call 20 businesses, receive no responses and give up on proactively seeking clients entirely – thinking that obviously word of mouth is the only path to new clients. And when this resolution is one of many, it becomes very easy to overload yourself and stop trying at all.

Just because New Year’s Day is seen as momentous, doesn’t mean that your goals need to be Herculean.

Fortunately, these two issues are very easy to work around. You can still set your massive goals for the year as it’s worth it if you can succeed. And in order to succeed, you need to then really examine your goals. It’s impossible to achieve a goal without accomplishing many smaller tasks. Completing the journey of achievement requires that you spend time chipping away at these mini goals. Think about your overarching goal, and then examine all the steps you must take to reach it. Break these steps down further still if necessary, so that everything is as basic as you can make it. Want to get ten more clients? A possible step might be to cold call one business. Just one. That’s not daunting at all and won’t burn anyone out. If it doesn’t work, try another tactic and see if that works. Maybe emailing, or trying to find a contact who can set up a meeting. But one cold call isn’t so hard, and maybe you can repeat that whenever you have some time to kill and see if you get lucky.

This wind farm was started with a single turbine.

This wind farm was started with a single turbine.

When you break things up into easily manageable sections, you remove the fear that comes with confronting a massive goal. It’s no longer monumental, and working towards it becomes habit. Maybe you find that cold calling one person was so easy that you did it again every day, then twice a day. It slowly entered your schedule in a way that didn’t cause you to become overwhelmed, it allowed you to make it a habit. We don’t think about brushing our teeth or getting dressed; it’s just something that our body does automatically. We don’t worry about how much time it will take – we just do it. Any goal can be broken into small tasks that are just as simple to perform.

[REWIND: Need ideas? 8 Things Every Photographer Should Do In The New Year]

Now that you’ve realized that your biggest goals are no more than a series of micro-achievements, stop procrastinating. You know what you need to do, so start now. We can remember the past, and we can dream of the future, but we can only act in the present. If you wait until New Year’s Day, or some other random time, you’re only hurting your chances of success. Start now, and make working toward your goals a habit. A small change made today is worth far more than the big change planned for tomorrow.

What goals do you have, and how can you start working towards them right now? Feel free to share in the comments!

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Lauchlan Toal is a food photographer in Halifax, Nova Scotia. When not playing with his dinner, he can be found chasing bugs, shooting sports, or otherwise having fun with photography. You can follow his work online, or hunt him down on the blogs and forums that he frequents.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Andy & Amii Kauth

    Nice written … You are definitely on the right track with this mindset … “Problem solving” (or “goal setting”) isn’t about jumping to the end … The execution of an idea involves a whole lot more than simply having an idea or goal and immediately achieving it.

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  2. Anastasia Borisyuk

    I never make any NY resolutions, always thought that was really silly too. I’m all for HERE and NOW, what can I do today to grow my business, to manage time efficiently? That’s how my brain works. Not to say I never procrastinate, I do. Running my own business it doesn’t hurt anyone but myself usually. Whether it’s January and July, I like to wake up and do exactly what needs to be done today. Honestly, even though business people always harp on “having a business plan”, I think it is BS. None of us know what tomorrow brings, nobody knows what the economy will be, there are so many variables, like if you’re even still going to be alive. It’s the here and the now that we need to be concerned about. This means when I am booking a wedding 2 years away, I do not assume I will still be on this earth, stuff happens. At the moment I need to make provisions for that couple in case I am not here, to put a plan in place today that will take care of that client later. It’s not a bad thing to have long term goals for a business, but that certainly should never be the focus. Little steps every day to make it better and to manage it efficiently is what makes a business successful.

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    • Lauchlan Toal

      Love this mindset – thanks for sharing. Great point about ensuring that future clients are taken care of in case something comes up, if only everyone did that.

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  3. Ralph Hightower

    Color is what we see, but B&W has a classic look about it.

    Have you been able to visualize a scene in B&W? What B&W contrast filter should you use? Yellow? Orange? or Red?

    In July 2011, I bought a 3-pack of Kodak BW400CN for the final Space Shuttle landing. It was a pre-dawn landing, so color would have been wasted. I exposed it at ISO 1600. In hindsight, I should’ve ordered TMAX 3200 and paid extra for next day delivery, but it was approaching the Jewish Sabbath.
    Anyway, I had these rolls of B&W C-41 film that I had to use. I rediscovered the classic look of B&W.

    It wasn’t a New Years Resolution, but I made the decision to photograph the year 2012 exclusively using B&W film. It was a year of growth for me, of learning to use the B&W contrast filters. . Three months in, I finally started to visualize in B&W. Did I have regrets? Sure! Particularly when seeing a stunning sunrise or sunset; but I stuck with it even thought one of my projects was photographing the sunrise on the equinoxes and solstices.
    Now, with a new, used camera added in 2013, one is loaded with B&W and the other is loaded with color. A DSLR was added in 2013.

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  4. Graham Curran

    Not for me they aren’t – I never make any. It’s been shown that the majority of New Year’s resolutions fail and if you are going to make a change then you should not pick an arbitrary calendar date (viz. Jan 1) to do it.

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