A new year is upon us, which means the time has come to tell yourself that you’re going to become an altogether different person tomorrow because the calendar changed from 2021 to 2022, right?
Nope, not this year.
Instead of setting up some crazy arbitrary, unrealistic rules for ourselves for the entire year starting January first, we’re going to change it up.
Less but better
This New Year’s podcast is dedicated to less but better when it comes to our resolutions.
I think our biggest pitfalls when it comes to resolutions are that we make too many. We make them too big, and we make them too vague. The result is a super intense few weeks of January and then a big sigh of quitting relief around the beginning of February.
I am going to give you seven steps today to combat this and to make success with your resolutions inevitable.
Just for reference, some of my favorite resources that I will reference here on this topic are, Finish by Jon Acuff, Essentialism by Greg McKeown, and Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg. It also might be helpful to listen to last year’s episode on Micro Resolutions if you would like to revisit that as well.
What is a resolution?
Your resolutions options are not starting 53 new habits or embarking on six new hobbies or trying to do everything at once.
These are not your only options.
The definition of a resolution is a firm decision to do or not do something. That’s it, simple, straightforward, firm, and a choice.
A firm decision made and executed relieves us of decision fatigue. According to McKeown, we stick to it because the more choices we’re forced to make, the more the quality of our decisions deteriorates. A decision is a choice.
McKeown says this about choices as well. The ability to choose cannot be taken away or even given away. It can only be forgotten. When we forget our ability to choose, we learn to be helpless.
Why do our resolutions fail?
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “I choose every year. I decide on my resolutions, and then I don’t stick to them. I don’t execute.”
And to that, I say, the fault does not lie in the decision itself, but likely what you have decided to do or not do.
We are taking on too much for too long for the wrong reasons without consideration of where we are, what we are capable of, what is realistic, what we actually want, or like, and why we want it in the first place.
Seven steps to better resolutions
So, the steps I will outline for you here, largely taken from the book Finish, are going to address these obstacles so you can make a firm decision, execute, and celebrate your success.
We want to start with the goal or resolution we are thinking about setting and do some pre-investigation before we even begin to work on it.
Step One: Find your why
The first step is to find your secret rules or the core belief that this resolution is attempting to address. The real why behind it.
For many of us with weight-related resolutions, we believe things like successful people are disciplined. Or people who are thin, skinny, healthy weight, average BMI, whatever label you use to categorize people’s body size are more valuable. Or some opposite rule like, people who are overweight, fat, obese, whatever label you use here are lazy, less valuable, not worthy of love, success, happiness, etc.
So, look at your resolution and ask:
- Why do I want this?
- What do I get to think about myself if I achieve it?
- Do I even like doing blank, whatever it is I set out to do?
- What’s my real goal?
- Does the method I am using match who I am?
Start by investigating and understanding what’s driving this resolution and if you like that reason. If you don’t, it doesn’t mean you don’t do it. It just may mean that you restructure it, and rewrite your rules so that they align with who you are.
Write yourself a new rule that is flexible, reasonable, healthy, and based on the truth.
Step Two: Make your goals doable and desirable
Once you feel like you like your reasons, step two is to make it doable and desirable and inject some fun.
Doable means it’s something you are currently capable of. You can afford it. It is accessible to you. You are physically capable.
Climbing Mount Everest might not be doable for you right now. Working out at the gym for two hours a day might not be doable. Meditating for an hour every morning might not be doable.
Desirable means it’s something you actually want to do right now. It matches your current desires. You have a desire to do it or stop doing it. It might even sound a little fun.
Maybe it’s learning to knit or get seven to eight hours of sleep, or get ten minutes of fresh air every day, or listen to more music and fewer podcasts or stop scrolling social media first thing in the morning and read something instead.
Look at the thing you want to do or not do. Let’s say you decide it’s to stop eating sugar and flour. This may be doable because there are other foods available to you, and your body doesn’t need sugar and flour, but not desirable at all because you love to eat Oreos to destress.
This isn’t to say that you should keep eating the amount of Oreos you currently do with the same frequency and that you can never become someone who doesn’t eat Oreos. It’s just a pretty sure sign that you won’t execute this long term. You’ll stop doing it for a minute until the conflicting desire runs out.
So to make it desirable, brainstorm some creative ways that you can cut back that will lead to lasting change.
Maybe it’s the opposite issue; it’s highly desirable but not doable. Like you really want to take an evening yoga class at the beautiful new studio down the street, but it’s outside of your monthly budget, or you have a new baby, and leaving every night at bedtime doesn’t work right now.
If you want to do it, but it isn’t realistically possible, it’s not going to last.
Step Three: Identify your noble obstacles and hiding places
A noble obstacle is a virtuous-sounding reason for not working toward a finish.
An example would be telling yourself you want to start going to yoga down the street, but you can’t until you build up enough supply of milk so that your partner can feed your baby while you’re gone.
In order to make that happen, you need a better pump and an adequate milk storage solution. You have to figure out which bottles and nipples your baby likes and make sure all the options are BPA-free. You have to coordinate schedules with your partner so that you make sure the handoff is smooth and not rushed, and on, and on, and on.
It sounds noble. I mean, it’s taking care of your child, for heaven’s sake.
The reality is it adds twenty steps to make your resolution happen, and it basically guarantees you put it off and don’t do it.
If you notice this is happening, ask yourself how could things be easier? How could they be simpler?
A hiding place is an activity you focus on instead of your resolution. It’s a safe place to hide from your fear of messing up.
Usually, it’s a task that lets you get your perfectionism fixed by making you feel successful.
For me, this is doing my mom stuff, household chores, laundry, dishes, cleaning up my kitchen, all things that have a start and a finish and a visible result that is so satisfying.
Another hiding place for me is cleaning out my email inbox. That may sound funny, but I can sit and sort and archive and delete and answer emails until it’s empty while I am supposed to be creating podcasts or meditating or whatever else.
If you’re not sure what your hiding places are, ask where do you find yourself going accidentally, or instead? What’s the app you open on your phone automatically?
Step Four: Choose what to let go of
Now you must choose what to bomb. Meaning you can’t do everything, so what will you sit down and not do well to focus on your goal?
- What is critical?
- What can wait?
- Does this serve my success at this goal, or does it hinder it?
- Do I want to make room for this, or get rid of it just for now?
Step Five: Cut your goal in half
This is my favorite step.
We often set goals and make resolutions based on the concept of going big or going home, right? But in that spirit, we aren’t usually considering what is actually realistic, and we end up being overwhelmed and just staying home in the first place. We don’t even get started.
This is called the planning fallacy, and it’s based on a concept study by Kahneman and Tversky. They describe this as a phenomenon in which predictions about how much time will be needed to complete future tasks display an optimism bias and underestimate the time required.
If we consider where we currently are, how could we take our goal and cut it in half or even lengthen the timeline to achieving it? If you cut your goal in half, what’s the worst that could happen?
Step Six: Create a contingency plan for the day after perfect
It’s crucial to create a contingency plan for how you handle missteps, skipped steps, fails, bumps, bruises, imperfections along the way.
That’s often our undoing when it comes to resolutions. Acuff calls this the day after perfect. He describes what often happens when we forget our resolution. We don’t do it one day, or we eat fries when we’re resolved not to eat them.
Might as well, he says, is one of the most dangerous phrases in the English language.
“Might as well”, is never applied to good things. It’s never, ‘Might as well help all these orphans,” or “Might as well plant something healthy in this community garden.” It’s usually the white flag of surrender. I’ve had a single French fry might as well eat a thousand, right?
This journey to change will not be perfect. Plan on that, and plan for it.
Step Seven: Use data to celebrate imperfect progress
When you are making your resolutions, make it something with a measurable result.
Rather than eat healthier, define what healthy eating looks like for you specifically. Then you know when you are doing it and not doing it.
Make sure you know the minimum baseline and maximum effort or ideal. Then, use multiple data points to help you see progress and celebrate it along the way.
Acuff says, if you don’t review the progress, you can’t make adjustments. You can’t learn from mistakes. You can’t get better, and ultimately you can’t finish.
That’s what we want throughout all of these steps. Things that will help us stay motivated and keep going.
How many resolutions should you make?
Let’s just pause here to say I personally think one to three resolutions is as much as you should take on in the first place. And when we’re talking about measuring data points of each of them, I think a useful, realistic timeline for assessment is daily or weekly.
Here’s a list of some things to keep track of if you’re setting health and weight goals, just to give you an example of what a data point might be.
Think about your resolution and what data points you might want to use for you. Then, choose no more than one to three data points to measure.
- How many half pounds were lost in the last week?
- What was the number of meals planned?
- What was the number of meals executed as planned?
- How many movement minutes?
- What was your water intake?
- How many hours of sleep did you get? Or, what time did you go to bed?
- What number of urges for foods outside of your plan were not answered?
- What was the number of minutes spent allowing urges?
- What was the number of self-care activities?
- What was the duration of the self-care?
- What was the number of times you processed discomfort without eating?
- How many minutes did you spend consciously feeling your feelings?
- What was the number of minutes of conscious rest and presence?
- What was the number of times you’ve focused on gratitude?
- What was the number of times you’ve chosen to eat food that your body likes?
- How many minutes of fresh air/outside time did you get?
You can also create data points around things you are limiting.
So let’s say you want to limit how many servings of dessert you’re eating from endless amounts to maybe one a day. So, you may measure the number of servings of dessert. Perhaps you want to cut down on time on your phone. So, you may track the number of minutes of scrolling social media compared to your previous number.
We want to build evidence of success and motivation to keep going.
As a review, here are the seven steps to better resolutions:
- Understand clearly why you are doing what you’re doing.
- Make it doable and desirable.
- Find your hiding places and noble obstacles.
- Choose what to set down to focus on your goals.
- Cut your goal in half.
- Make a plan for the day after perfect.
- Use data to celebrate your imperfect success and ensure you keep going to the finish.
Following these seven steps will help make your New Year’s resolutions much more likely to be achieved.
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