Tell me if this sounds familiar… It’s New Year’s Day. You sit down, slam some water (because you’re feeling a little, well, “foggy” after last night), and you start writing down your big goals for the new year. Maybe you’re finally going to lose those 20 pounds. Or, this is the year you’re going to bench press your body weight or squat 300 pounds. You’re going to cut back on carbs, stop (or “moderate”) your drinking, give up sugar completely, etc.
Maybe your goals are less fitness-related, and your focus will be to make new friends, spend less money, remodel your house, read more books, start a blog, make more money, etc.
Chances are, you did the same thing last year; you thought about, or even wrote down, some big, hairy goals for the year in various categories of your life (health and fitness, finances and career, relationships, intellectual, spiritual, etc.). How’d that go for you? Did you accomplish your goals? Did you even remember them after a month or two (or even a week)?
Maybe you even took it a step further, and you set SMART goals. That is, goals that were:
Now you’re off to a great start! There’s no chance of failing, right?
Ummm… maybe you got close, but did you accomplish all you wanted? Or, did you accomplish the goal and then slack off later in the year? For example, have you ever hit your New Year’s weight-loss goal only to gain all the weight back (and maybe even then some) in the following months?
First off, you are not alone. Not remotely. According to one often quoted statistic, while an estimated 40% of us make New Year’s resolutions, a mere 8% of us will actually achieve them.
Please don’t get too discouraged, though. Just by setting a goal, you are a lot more likely to accomplish that goal than the person who said, “Why bother?”
So, how can you transform your resolution from an 8% success rate to a fantastic chance of moving in the right direction and pretty darn likely to achieve it?
Well, those who were successful didn’t just have greater will (or often, “won’t”) power. And while SMART goals tell you where you want to go (let’s say, for example, your SMART goal is to lose two inches off your waist in the next three months) and are much better than an intangible goal (like “lose some weight”), they still miss two of the most important components of achieving your goals: the Why and the How.
9 Tips to Make your New Year’s Resolution Stick
Tip 1: Start With Why
Most of us are pretty sure of the “what” we want to achieve (for example, lose weight, be in better shape, have healthier heart markers, pay off debt, have more money in the bank, etc.). Yet the more important question to ask (and answer) is why.
As Nietzsche said, “If we have our own why in life, we shall get along with almost any how.”
Each of us has a why: The real reason we are seeking to make a change. The why gets down to the core reason. The purpose or belief that we filter our decisions through that provide greater fulfillment in all our efforts.
The why is what gets us up to exercise when we’d rather sleep in. It helps us drive past the drive-thru even when we think we’re too exhausted to cook a healthy meal.
How do you find your why? It can take some digging. Start with some alone time to do some soul searching. Your reasons are yours alone and may be very different from those of your friends, partner, siblings, etc., so this isn’t a group activity.
One of the best techniques is known as “the 5 Whys.”
- Step 1: Start with your goal (such as, I want to drop some weight).
- Step 2: Ask yourself why you want to accomplish that goal (for example: “Why do I want to drop some weight? Because I want to feel better and more energetic.”).
- Step 3: Ask yourself if this is the root why—the deep-down reason you want to accomplish that goal. If not, ask yourself why again (for example: “Why do I want to feel better and more energetic? Because I am sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.”)
- Step 4: Repeat (usually a total of 5 times) until you get to the core why.
Now that you know your why, take out some note paper, and post your why where you’ll see it throughout the day. Too personal to post where everyone can see it? You can write one word that makes you think of your why.
Once you know your why, you can start looking at the “how.”
Tip 2: Make Your Resolution a Lifestyle…Not a Number
When you look at most goal-setting advice, much of it is focused on an outcome (for example, losing 20 pounds to get in shape, doing 100 pushups to feel strong, saving an extra $1,000 to build wealth). Yet for those who consistently achieve their goals, it isn’t an event or end game that defines the success. It’s the process and the commitment to the process that defines success.
In other words, it’s not an event, it’s a process. And you don’t get to an outcome overnight. The desired outcome is the sum of your behaviors.
For example, years ago I interviewed a woman who had won a body transformation challenge. Because she had entered a contest, she wrote down her starting stats (e.g., weight, body fat percentage, inches, etc.), and she got started.
But she didn’t set any end goals. In other words, she didn’t set a “goal weight.” Instead, she set up processes and new behaviors and committed to those. She decided she was going to follow her exercise plan to a T, and she wrote down and scheduled every workout. She committed to cleaning up her diet, and she started by removing fast food, soda, and chips from her daily diet. Then she decided on her menu in advance, and she planned, prepared, and prepped healthier meals that fit her busy lifestyle.
While she had committed whole-heartedly to her new lifestyle, a full month later, she hadn’t dropped any weight, lost any inches, or reached any traditional weight-loss goals. In other words, in the eyes of most, she hadn’t seen one change.
You might think she was frustrated by her lack of results. Where had she gone wrong?
However, she had done what she set out to do. She celebrated because she had hit every workout and had removed the foods she knew were in her way of living a healthy lifestyle. She had prepared healthy meals and stuck to her plan. And because her goals were process oriented rather than focused on an outcome, she saw them as wins, and they motivated her to keep going.
She kept hitting the gym, kept cleaning up her diet, and kept showing up for herself.
It wasn’t until eight weeks later when the results finally started showing up on the scale and on the tape measure—and man did they show up. At the end of 12 weeks, she had completely transformed her body, going from 36% body fat to under 15%, gaining loads of energy, and improving every one of her heart health markers. She felt like she had won her life back.
More importantly, though, because her goal was never a short-term end result but rather a process of behaviors, to this day, she’s still continues to improve year over year by staying committed to living her active lifestyle and fueling her body in healthy ways.
How many people decide they want to lose weight, and after a few weeks, they’re frustrated because they didn’t reach an arbitrary number?
How many more people would continue to be more successful if they celebrated every workout, every glass of water, and every healthy meal as a win to build upon?
If you want to get into the best shape of your life, you may indeed need to lose weight, but the only way to accomplish that long term is to exercise consistently and eat a nutrient-dense diet (that provides an appropriate amount of energy for your body transformation goal).
Tip 3: Be Specific With Your How
So, look back at your goals and think about how you’ll accomplish them. That is, decide on the type of person you are becoming and then prove it to yourself with small actions or habits that align with where (and who) you want to be.
For example, if you have decided you want to be lean, what do lean people do that you are not currently doing? Are they more active? (Yes.) Do they move more throughout each day? (Yes.) Do they eat less junk food? (Yes.)
Look at how people accomplished what you are trying to accomplish, and instead of focusing on those big outcomes, start acting like they do.
If they go to the gym 5 days a week, then start becoming the type of person who goes to the gym 5 days a week. But don’t just stop there. Be specific with your how. Write down that you are at the gym Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 7:00 a.m. and that you walk at 7:00 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday (or, whatever days and times you decide ahead of time work best with your schedule.). Knowing where and when you are exercising makes you significantly more likely to exercise (or keep any commitment).
If your role models work standing up, start becoming the person who stands up throughout the work day. Set a timer to remind you to stand up for the first 5 minutes of every hour, for example.
If they don’t eat after 7:00 p.m. at night, become the type of person who doesn’t eat after 7:00 p.m. Again, you can set a timer (on your phone, for example) to remind you to eat at 6:00 p.m., so you’re done eating and cleaning up by 7:00 p.m.
Tip 4: Go Small to Go Big
Keeping on the theme above, it’s common to set big, ambitious, overly restrictive goals (like going a full year without sugar, exercising for a full hour every day, etc.). Yet this all-or-nothing thinking is more likely to lead to failure. The motivation and excitement for goals can fade fast, especially if they’re difficult to keep.
While they may not be as exciting, small, incremental changes have a much greater chance of creating real, lasting habits that contribute to creating (and maintaining) true transformation. Set a goal or create a habit that’s so easy you can’t fail and start building momentum.
If you haven’t exercised in years, you will probably find it really challenging (and will likely give up quickly) to hit the gym for an hour and a half every day. But it’s probably easy to walk for 10 minutes every day this week. So, start there.
If, on the other hand, you’ve been working out in the gym for months but still feel like a “before” picture, then take an honest assessment of your workout and diet and make incremental improvements. Do you need to progress your workouts by stepping up the intensity (e.g., increasing your weights) or adding some volume (e.g., more sets, more exercises)? Do you need to cut back on portion sizes or increase the amount of vegetables you’re eating? Start where you are and pick an area that you can improve easily. Often the low-hanging fruit can make a big difference!
Tip 5: Keep it Simple Stupid
You already have priorities and demands on your time. Avoid creating an all-encompassing bucket list for improvements in all areas of your life. Focus on one new goal at a time rather than a laundry list of daunting goals that you’re more likely to put off indefinitely.
Tip 6: Make it Public
Support and accountability are powerful and priceless. You can certainly find support with a workout partner, spouse, friend, sibling, etc., but you can also easily find a group of amazingly supportive folks in our free and friendly BioTrust VIP Facebook Group.
Tip 7: Keep Showing Up
There will be days, even weeks, when you’re bored or lacking motivation with your new habit. It’s no longer that exciting, all that fun, or you’re just not “feeling it.” Yet the people who are successful are ultimately the people who keep showing up, day after day, practicing the new habit even when it no longer feels shiny and new. Everyone experiences a lack of motivation from time to time. The difference between success and failure is finding a way to show up even when you don’t necessarily want to.
If you need to, tell yourself you’ll just eat one piece of broccoli, just put on your gym clothes and drive to the gym, or just walk to the end of the driveway. Once you get started, who knows, you might just keep going. And if not, you did something, which will help you stay in line with your new identity as a leaner, healthier person.
Tip 8: Reset
It’s easy to think about starting a new plan on January 1st, Monday, or the beginning of next week/month/quarter/year. In other words, we tend to put off new habits or goals for the “right time.” Yet anyone can reset at any time. If you fall off the wagon and “blow it” for a meal, day, or week, instead of waiting for the perfect time to get started again, just hit the reset button NOW. As you successfully reset, you’ll continue building up your habits, so they become more and more ingrained.
Finally, and maybe the most important tip, believe in yourself. You have as much willpower and as much chance of success as you believe you do. As Henry Ford famously said, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.”
You will undoubtedly experience obstacles, setbacks, and bumps in the road. Your ultimate success will depend on your determination and persistence to get back on track when they occur.