The New Year is quickly approaching! You know what that means – countless New Year’s resolutions that you will create, and fail to follow through on. I’m just being honest. Only 9.2 percent of people ever achieve their New Year’s resolutions. But after reading this post, your odds will be much improved.
So many of us get a jolt of excitement and inspiration for the New Year. New Year, New You. It’s a clean slate – a chance to redefine yourself. So you set off on creating a list of things you want to do differently this year, and 12 months later, you find yourself leaving these promises unfulfilled. And the cycle repeats.
Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail
The problem isn’t you. The problem is your system. Right now, you rely on bursts of motivation and inspiration to carry your behavior changes. But as I’ve spoken about at length in other posts, that doesn’t sustain you. As James Clear would say, “You don’t rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”
Not only that, but most of us suck at creating goals. We say things like “quit smoking” or “lose weight”. Maybe you’ve set out to “read more books” or “eat more healthy food” or even “learn to play an instrument.” These goals place the focus way down the road, at the finish line. In short, it’s unrealistic, unsustainable, and doomed to fail.
When setting your New Year’s resolutions and defining your goals, they should be S.M.A.R.T. Obviously you don’t want stupid goals, but when I say S.M.A.R.T., I’m referring to goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, and Time-bound.
Rather than “read more books,” try “read one non-fiction book every 2 weeks by spending 30 minutes each night reading before sleeping.”
Rather than “get in shape,” try “losing 5 pounds of body fat in 8 weeks by tracking my food intake and eating at a deficit of 400 calories.”
Rather than “double my bench press,” try “improving 1 rep max by 10% in 3 months.”
Results-focused (or Relevant)
Rather than “go on social media less,” try “track social media use daily using iOS Screen Time and secure an average of 15 minutes or less per day over 7 days.”
Rather than “learn to play an instrument,” try “learn to play one song on guitar in 3 weeks.”
Boom! Now your goals are rock solid and you’re ready to take on all the New Year’s resolutions, right? Not so fast.
A Better Way to New Year’s Resolutions
Even with rock solid S.M.A.R.T. goals, you’re still quite likely to face some road blocks. With too many goals and too few systems in place to reliably implement and sustain them, it just won’t work. Instead, as Charles Duhigg points out in the Power of Habit, focus on a keystone habit that results in a domino effect aligning multiple other areas in your life. Small incremental improvements are more likely than dramatic shifts to result in the outcome you desire.
For me, that was simply prioritizing going to the gym at minimum 5 days, but optimally 6 days per week. That was the keystone habit. I didn’t target a certain weight on my lifts, rapid muscle gain, cardiovascular fitness, or postural improvements. All of those are important outcomes to me, but I knew they would fall in line if I just managed to be consistent in going to the gym.
And after a few months of sticking to it, I’m proud to say I’ve come a long way. Going to the gym almost every day required me to ride my bike, so my cardiovascular fitness improved. Lifting regularly contributed to an increase in appetite, so I added mass and strength. I performed a balanced weight training program, so naturally my posture and flexibility improved as well. Figure out what your own keystone habit is and drive your energy and focus there.
Embrace the Inevitable
Look, it’s going to happen. Whether one week or one month into the new year, you’re going to slip up. You’ll miss that day at the gym, or you’ll find yourself watching Formula 1 racing when you should have been studying. The fact that you slipped in a moment of weakness isn’t the important part. The important part is what you do next.
If you get discouraged, give up, and revert back to your old ways, then you’ve failed. But if you know you’re going to have bumps along the way, then you’ll get back up, brush it off, and re-evaluate your system and strengthen it so that it doesn’t happen again.
Going back to my regular weight training sessions – I found that when I pushed the session past 6PM, I had a much higher failure rate. After realizing this pattern, I readjusted my system and began ensuring I would go to the gym in the morning or at latest mid-afternoon.
Don’t Feel Pressured
Lastly, don’t feel pressured into making New Year’s resolutions. I used to since everyone else did, But now, I haven’t made New Year’s resolutions in years. I find that it just doesn’t appeal to my personality. For those of you who are scratching your heads, check out my post on the four personality tendencies, where I go over how you can use study hacks and productivity habits that cater to your personality type.
The way I see it, as a questioner, I create new habits and implement systems any time of the year, not on an arbitrary day just because it’s a new year. For example, in 2013 I started a plant-based diet just 3 days before Thanksgiving. I’m no longer on a plant based diet, but that’s another story. People thought I was crazy for starting this diet shift just days before a holiday that focuses on food, but to me, it didn’t matter whether I started the day before Thanksgiving or the day after. It was a decision I made and I was focused on implementing, regardless of outside variables.
This works for me, but it isn’t for everyone, and there’s nothing wrong with setting New Year’s resolutions. I urge you to not get carried away in the self-congratulatory behavior of setting resolutions, and instead focus on implementing the systems that, over the long term, will deliver the results you seek.