You don't need a resolution, you need a plan
There is a sort of global running joke these days that new year’s resolutions are doomed to failure. We set goals every January fully expecting to fail in the long term.
But what about people that really do want to instigate some sort of meaningful change in their lives? New Years day is as good a time to start as any. Actually no. The best time to start with any positive lifestyle change is right now. It doesn’t matter what day your calendar says it is.
Regardless of when you start, saying that you are going to do something is easy. Anyone can do that. Saying you are going to do something and actually following through over the long term is something else entirely.
Step one in making any meaningful change is figuring out WHY you are doing it. Don't just say you are going to do something, say WHY you are doing it too. Even if you are only saying it to yourself. This is what will provide motivation when January 1st has become a distant memory and you're struggling on some miserable Tuesday afternoon.
Maybe you want to get fit and healthy so that you can play and be active with your kids, or see your grand kids grow a bit older.
Maybe you lost a friend who always wanted to run a marathon so you are going to do it for them.
Maybe you lost your parents to some chronic lifestyle disease and are determined that your kids won't have to go through the same.
Understanding this 'why' is crucial for long term success. Doing it for your kids, or your friends or whatever thing means something to you is a lot more valuable that doing it because it’s what you think you should do, or because it's trendy or fashionable. Do it for you and know why you are doing it.
If you have trouble figuring out your why then try this exercise. Ask yourself why five times. Ask why, answer and then ask why again. For example:
I want too lose weight
Because I want to be thin.
Because I would look better
Because I would feel better
Because I don’t like looking at myself in the mirror
Because I was bullied as a kid for being fat
It can hurt, but it’s worth getting to the bottom of why you are really trying to make change. Write it down, hold on to it, remember it. It might not take all five whys to get to the bottom of it, or it might take more, but five is a good starting number.
Once you know why, then you need to figure out how. What most people need at New Years is a plan, not a resolution.
Oh, you're going to quit smoking?
What are you going to do in three weeks when you've had a horrible day at work and you're now stuck in traffic? In 2018 you would have whipped out one of those sexy little cancer sticks and gotten a quick mental massage. But it's not 2018 anymore. How are you gonna to deal with the stress now? Chewing gum? A quick meditation?
It's important to think about this stuff. Identifying the hurdles up front will help you get over them.
That's what planning is all about, being prepared. It’s not about creating a rigid set of rules to live your live by, it’s about being prepared for the challenges that you will face along the way… and you will face them.
Step one is to identify your goal, which we’ve talked about already. Now you need to ensure it’s SMART. By this I mean make it Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant & Time based.
The next step is to figure out if there are any dependencies. Maybe you are unequipped to actually follow through on your resolution. Will you need money? Are there cheaper alternatives?
Then you can figure out what tools you will use to help you on your journey. These as simple as a bunch of post-it notes or as complex as a full featured diet and exercise tracking app.
Finally you need to figure out how to measure progress and by what standards you will judge your success.
As you can see the resolution is just the first step.
Lets go ahead and apply this theory to some real world examples, hopefully someone out there finds it useful.
Resolution: To eat healthier
This isn't a great resolution because it is too fuzzy. What does 'healthier' mean? To someone that eats nothing but McDonalds and chocolate then doing just about anything would be healthier. You need to get specific.
A better resolution: "To remove all processed food from my diet" or "To remove all added sugar from my diet", or maybe an easier first step "To remove fizzy drinks from my diet".
With these ones the success conditions are clear. You know immediately if you have broken the resolution.
Insert your own here - this should be unique for everyone
Remove processed food from the shopping list entirely
Don't carry loose change, rendering the vending machines at the office unusable
Prep lunches and dinners for the week on Sundays
Start the day with porridge and berries
Add healthier snack options to the shopping list
Being able to cook will be important and might be something you need to learn.
Do you have the minimum required cookware to enable you to prepare your own meals from fresh unprocessed produce?
Recipe apps to help you prepare food
Calendar for meal planning
Different size boxes for food storage
That stag party in two weeks
Maybe you've just gotta accept that you will eat and drink poorly here, which is fine - just be ready to get back on the horse after. You could prep food for after so that once it's done you are ready to go again
Busy periods in work leave little time to prepare food
This can be tricky - but really it's just about time management. You can prep 4 or 5 lunch and dinners in a couple of hours if you know what you are doing - time to learn efficient food prep
Weekly date night at the cinema
Trade in cinema junk food for some nuts and dried fruit
Count the number of meals you have per week that contain processed foods - this should trend down over the course of the year
Count the number of processed snack foods you have per week - this should trend down over the year
Count the number of times you had fresh fruit as a snack per week - this should trend up
Count the number of meals that were prepared entirely from fresh produce per week - this should trend up
By the end of the year your target could be 95% of all meals are made with fresh produce and 90% of snacks are fruit/nuts/wholefoods.
Working with percentages means you can be flexible. Don't strive for perfection, it's near impossible to achieve - strive for a trend that is going in the right direction and don't be too hard on yourself if you slip up, just get back on track and remember your percentages.
Resolution: To get fit
Another poor resolution. What does fit even mean? Most body builders couldn't run a 5k, but they look fit, and most marathon runners can't lift decent amounts of weight but can run forever.
Get more specific: "To be able to run 5k in under 30 minutes" or "To be able to deadlift 150kg".
These new resolutions are better, same as with the diet ones above they contain the success criteria right there in plain text.
Insert your own here - this should be unique for everyone
Exercise at least three time per week - with fitness target in mind (run if your goal is a 5k)
Avoid any counter productive activities - ie. Stop smoking if you want to be able to run
Find a community, online or real world, with similar goals for support
To be able to lift weight you will need a gym or a barbell setup at home.
To run you will need a decent pair of shoes and some shorts are advisable
Maybe some high visibility clothing if you run at night
Run tracking app
Weight progression tracking app - though you could do this with a pen an paper
Injury - leaves you disheartened and will cost you momentum
Being sidelined for two or three weeks could make it so that the healthy habit you’ve worked hard to cultivate is destroyed - but there is always something you can do, even if it’s just going for walk instead of a run, don’t break the routine.
Make sure that you don't over exert, find a good mobility and flexibility routine to reduce your risk.
Reduce the risk of injury significantly by reading up on how to protect your joints and muscles
Weather - for runners
Figure out a home cardio routine you can do when it's too horrible to go out for a run, or maybe a bit of yoga - something, anything, preserve your routine and your momentum
Life often gets in the way of our fitness goals - keep this in mind when creating a workout schedule, it needs to be maintainable and flexible. For example three work outs a week can happen on any day - having a rigid set of gym days can cause problems. Having said that, discipline and routine is good - find a balance between the two.
With weights this is easy - figure out what the max you can lift right now is and track how much you are adding week on week, month on month - this should trend up
For running you can track how far you can run and how much you can add each week/month. Or you can time a specific distance and try to get that time down.
Count how many times you exercise each week and set a minimum/maximum
Fitness and exercise can be frustrating because when it is done correctly progress will be slow. Tracking your work outs vital. You can look back through your progress for a little hit of motivation when ever you need it. Progress pictures can be useful too.
Resolution: To quit smoking
This resolution is fine - it speaks for itself
Insert your own here - this should be unique for everyone
Avoid alcohol for three months - it's hard enough to quit without having to do so while drunk
Meditate for 5 minutes whenever a craving comes along
Create dedicated savings account for money that would have been spent on cigarettes
Find an online community of people for support and advice
Disrupt routines and change habits that usually involved smoking (ie. If you always had a cigarette after lunch, find something else to occupy you during that time - create a new healthy habit)
Your own will power - this will be important during the first few weeks
Tracking app that tells you how much you have reduced smoking related health risks and how much money you have saved
Meditation app to help learn meditation as a way to stave off cravings
Stressful day at work
Parties with friends who are smokers
Track the amount of cigarettes you currently smoke on an average day
After quitting track the amount you have per day - this should be zero or at least trend down
If you usually smoke 60 cigarettes per week and during the first week of January you have 2, then this is not failure, it is success - provided you can maintain the downward trend
Track the number of cravings you have per day and what you did to subdue them - this should trend down
Track the amount of money saved from not buying cigarettes
Track any physical changes you notice - better breathing, sense of taste, sense of smell etc...
By now you should see a common theme here - lots of tracking. Keep track of the positives and any progress, or lack there of. Seeing progress provides motivation and helps you define future goals. Seeing a lack of progress lets you know you need to tweak something. Then at the end of the year you can look back on everything you've achieved using this clear and concise record.
Try taking your own resolution and applying the same thought process as above. Figure out if you are really ready to take this on and make sure you understand why you are doing it.
I think it's fine to spend January planning and learning about the changes you want to make. Jump right in and start learning, but feed all of these learnings back into your plan. By the end off January you should be in a great position to keep going for the next year.
The best thing about this approach is that if you can't even sit down to make a plan, or if during planning you get overwhelmed and pack it in, deciding instead to just 'wing it' then you can just forget about the resolution straight away and save yourself a month of trying.
Happy New Year!