It is getting to that time of year again when everyone is thinking about what resolution they will be making for New Years. And then in a couple of months most people will have already failed at it. Well get ready because I am going to let you into a secret on why people fail, and how to be almost certain to keep your 2018 resolution. I will be sharing with you the only method of setting resolutions which has always succeeded for me.
Where Did It All Go Wrong?
To really understand why my method works we have to understand why most people are unable to keep their resolutions. It is not you that is the problem, it’s not even a lack of willpower that is preventing you from sticking to it; it is the way you set your resolution in the first place that makes it almost impossible to keep.
The most common way to craft a resolution used to be to set a non-specific goal for the year such as: lose weight, get fit, drink less, etc… If you have read about goal setting before then you probably already know what these resolutions are doomed to failure. The terms used in the goal are so often so general that they are meaningless, what “fit” means to you is probably not the same as to me. This means that we do not know what success is. If you want to lose weight, how much do you need to? Is it 20lb, 30lb, or what about a half pound? You will lose weight the first time you go to the wash room next year, is that success? If you do not know when you have won you will probably think of yourself as losing.
Using the SMART goal setting method has become super popular: it brings up over 8 millions results on Google! While it is a little better than the non-specific goals above, there are still some major flaws to this method that still mean it is very difficult to keep as a New Year resolution. If you have not heard of it before SMART normally stands for “Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timed” (though there are other words that are used depending on the context). So let’s say you have set yourself the goal of losing 25lb in the next year: it does meet all the criteria for a SMART goal, so what is the problem? Well the biggest problem is the Time part for resolutions, you have set yourself an entire year to achieve this, and this creates an urge to procrastinate and to rationalize your inaction until you fail. So back to the 25lb, that is less than a ½lb a week. You barely have to do anything to lose that little amount of weight, so chances are that you don’t (not pointing fingers and blaming you, this is what has happened to me too). So then what? If you are still thinking about losing weight in June well then it is only 1lb a week, still easy; 2lb a week in September; and once December hits, well you are probably telling yourself “next year is going to be my year, those 25lbs will be gone soon”; and so it repeats. Or you just get depressed after a couple of months and just give up, either way.
Now there is another problem that both of these methods share that almost guarantee failure. They are both focused on the outcome, not the process to achieve it. Saying you want to lose 25lb or get fit is similar to if I was to say I want my illness to cure itself next year; great, but how? Neither is an action you can actually take. It does not matter how much will power you have you cannot simply say to yourself “body, lose 25lb of fat” and then have it happen. Nor can I simply tell my guts to behave; I have to come up with a way and a plan to make it happen. These are not things that you have direct control over, so how can you be expected to keep to something that you cannot actually do? This isn’t just the reason why most resolutions get broken, but why most goals in general are never realized as well. They get stuck in the dream phase and never progress to action.
The Resolution Revolution Solution
So what do you do instead? Well as I said before I have had great success keeping my resolutions in the past. I often keep them well beyond the year that I set them for. For 2016 it was to eat vegetables with every full meal, for 2017 my resolution was to do some kind of exercise or activity each day so that I would hit my Apple Watch move goal every single day of this year, it is now nearly the end of 2017 and I have yet to break either. So what is so special about me that I can do what 92% of people cannot, and stick to my resolution? Do I have amazing willpower? Nope, I often actually feel quite lacking in that actually. Am I some kind of super human? Unfortunately not, just flesh and bones like you. Am I lying and just making this all up? Nope, those really were my resolutions and I have kept to them. The answer actually lies in the way that I set my resolution.
First, the essential factors of you resolution:
The most important part of my method is that I focus on the process and not the outcome. The real goal of both my last resolutions was to lose weight, which has happened, down at least 40lbs in 2017 (might be more, but I wasn’t weighting myself much in 2016). I could have just made my resolution to lose weight, but that doesn’t work as I detailed before. What I do instead is to have my goal be something that I can actually do, an action that I can take. This means that I am achieving my goal right from January 1st, with each meal when I ate my vegetables, or at the end of each day once I had met my move goal. This allows for daily celebrations of my wins (winning is addictive) and allows it to be regular.
Regularity is the next most important part of the goal you set. You want the action to be something you do at least once a week, but daily would be ideal. If it is a daily, or even multiple times a day, goal like my two examples above you have to get started right away on January 1st. This is normally when you are most motivated since it is fresh on your mind, which helps you power through the early days. The more often you do it the sooner it will become a habit, meaning that for the rest of the year it will feel weird if on days you don’t do it.
It has to be impactful, yet also reasonably achievable for you. If I decided that my resolution for next year was to quit drinking or smoking I would not be challenging or improving myself in any way as I do neither of those things already. I would keep my resolution for sure, but it would make me better in anyway. What is reasonable is based on your current circumstances. Let’s say you decide you want to run 100km a week next year. If you currently do not run at all you will either fail right away or get injured very soon. However if you already run 80km or so each week adding 20 more is not that difficult or dangerous to do. You have to strike a balance between what you are able to do, and what will get you the most benefits, but if in doubt start small and expand through the year (see the first bonus below for more on this).
It must also be a little bit flexible. Life is going to happen and sometimes it will get in the way of your resolution. It is important that your resolution is not so precise and firm that any deviation from it will be a failure. Once you see yourself as having failed at it, it becomes very difficult to motivate yourself to keep going: what’s the point of struggling to keep going if you already failed, right? For some goals doing it every single day may not be practical, so perhaps set yourself the goal of doing it a minimum number of times a week instead, allowing you to have an off day every so often without breaking it. For my vegetable resolution I had it where a can of corn or some pickles would count as my vegetable if we had nothing else, or even when we were eating out I made sure we had extra vegetables in the sandwich or ate the side salad they provided. For the move goal resolution I would reset my move goal lower when I became sick or was traveling a lot. For both it was technically meeting my resolution, even if it was a little bit like cheating, but since I had not failed it allowed me to maintain my motivation and up it again when i was doing better.
Lastly, make it meaningful and is working towards something you actually want. This is because if you do not actually want outcome, possibly because you are doing it to please someone else, then it none of the rest of this matters, because any excuse to give it up or sabotage yourself will be enough. You will purposefully make yourself fail if this is the case, and no system of self improvement can stand up to that.
Now for some bonus factors that will help you keep your resolution, but you are not doomed to failure without them:
The first comes hand in hand with flexibility: expandability. You should set yourself a resolution that you can expand the scope of as the year goes by. This allows you to set an easier goal at the beginning of the year, but then add more to it to keep your momentum going through the year as you master your initial resolution and then get more benefits from it. So for my move goal the target will be raised when I am doing well, for the vegetable one we increased the number of portions of vegetables at dinner. This also creates more flexibility as then you can retract a bit when life gets hard but not go beneath your initial goal.
You want a way to track your resolution. Some resolutions may have some app that automatically tracks whether you are sticking to your goal or not, such as when using a fitness tracker. However most resolutions do not have a built in app, for this I would suggest printing out a calendar of the year on a single sheet of paper. Each day when you have fulfilled the conditions of your resolution cross out that day’s date. This helps in a few different ways: first crossing out the date will actually feel like you won, and the good feelings that come with it become addictive and become their own motivator. Secondly it helps later in the year on days when you are lacking the motivation, you can look back over all the days that you filled in, is it really worth throwing all that effort away over whatever is getting you down that day? Probably not, so it gives you additional resolve to complete that day.
Accountability to someone else is also a great aid. You know who will always accept your excuses about why you cannot do something and not yell at you about it? That’s right, yourself! Humans are great at rationalizing away why we cannot do something when we just don’t want to. So tell your spouse, a couple of friends, or even hire a coach; now you won’t want to disappoint them, and may be embarrassed about the prospect of telling them you failed. This can also have a few more benefits depending on who you tell. If you confidante is supportive of your goal they will be a constant source of additional motivation for you, and if they are knowledgeable they will be able to provide strategies to overcome whatever struggles come along in the year.
I hope you find this technique for setting your resolution useful, and that you too can keep your Resolution in this New Year. Fill out the form bellow to get a handy cheat sheet to use while drafting your own resolution. Or if you would like help crafting your next resolution contact me for a personal one-on-one Resolution Revolution coaching session.