Mid-Year Report: Making New Year’s Resolutions That Actually Work

January of every year brings countless New Year’s resolution tips-and-tricks articles.  The problem is that despite reading all of the helpful tips each January, the vast majority of us fail to stick with our resolutions.  If you’ve gotten off-track, there’s still plenty of time to right the ship and end the year with a great new achievement. 

Franklin Covey, a global leader in effectiveness training and productivity tools, conducted a study of New Year’s resolutions in December 2007.  The study revealed that 35% of respondents break their resolutions before the end of January.  Of the resolution-breakers, nearly 40% reported that they broke their resolutions, because they had too many other things to do, and 33% said that they never really committed to the resolutions that they set.

35% break resolutions before January 31st

With that study and many skeptical friends on my mind, I was more aggressive than ever with my New Year’s resolutions this year. Late last year I found that procrastination was getting the best of me, and the upcoming new year gave me the perfect opportunity to get my priorities in order.  The past six months have taught me some important lessons, both positive and negative about resolutions and goal setting.

1. Focus on Starting

Starting and not finishing is still progress. But you’ll find that once you start, you’ll usually finish.

I learned a valuable tip this year, which has done wonders for beating my ongoing battle with procrastination.  I began to stop focusing on flossing each and every tooth or thinking about all 60 minutes of my workout.  Now, I just think about flossing my back teeth or I think about doing a 12 minute run.  Exercising for 12 minutes isn’t daunting at all.  That gets me started.  The brilliant part is that I’m finding over 90% of the time, once I get started, I end up going all the way.  Flossing my back teeth turns into flossing all of my teeth and my 12 minute run turns into my best 40 minute run of the week.

If you get nothing more from this post, remember #1… It’s that life-changing.

2. Narrow Your List of Resolutions

Having too many resolutions becomes difficult to track.  If you create a list of several resolutions, I recommend narrowing it down to a top-3.  I’m a huge proponent of Jim Collins’ BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal), but I was too aggressive with the number of goals that I set out to achieve.  As a result, I quickly got off-track on close to half of my resolutions.  The bright side is that this is a mid-year report, so I still have 6 months to get back on track.  I’m not giving up yet, but in the future I’ll reduce my list.

3. Honest Progress Reports

A year is a long time, and that’s a good thing.  I’ve failed miserably at a few resolutions that are important to me, but the good news is that I still have plenty of time to get back on track.   Where I got off track with a few of my resolutions and goals, I was very successful with others.  In fact, one of my highest priority goals was to exercise everyday, and I’m at the point now where it’s become habitual, and therefore requires reduced effort to maintain.

Matt Cutts gave an internet-famous TED talk about 30-Day Challenges, which works on the premise that if you can do something for 30 days straight without missing a day that you can create a habit.  I haven’t been successful in exercising every single day for the past six moths, nor even 30 days straight, but I’m at roughly 90% overall.  And when I miss days, I find that I’m thinking about it and tend to only miss due to unavoidable circumstances (stomach flu, longer than expected travel days, etc.).

4. Distinguish Between Resolutions & Goals- Approach Accordingly

Franklin Covey recommends thinking of resolutions as goals.  I actually prefer to embrace the differences between the two.  I think of resolutions as committing to the process, and goals as the result of the process.

For example, I created a resolution to exercise everyday this year.  The resolution represents my committment to the day-to-day process, which will result in achieving my goal of 1) Improving my flexibility, 2) Doing 20 hanging pullups, and 3) Weighing a lean 225 lbs.  Keep your eye on the big prize, but don’t get ahead of yourself to the point that it feels out of reach.  Remember: One day at a time!

No. 5  is for the 33% who never committed to their resolutions to begin with.  I’m guessing that they either chose the wrong resolution or that they were afraid they would fail and became discouraged.

5. Don’t Be Afraid of Failure

Don’t let fear of failure stop you from committing.  My experience over the past 6 months has taught me that even falling short of a resolution is still a huge net positive. I’ve technically fallen short of my fitness activity everyday resolution, but I’ve worked out more frequently this year than ever in my life, including when I was playing college football.  In the end, just setting and working at the resolution has been a huge step, even if I fall a bit short.

We can all be better at something.  It doesn’t have to be about dieting, quitting something that you love, or anything that leaves you wanting.  Try setting a goal to get even better at something you already excel at and enjoy.  It’s up to you, but remember that you have options, and becoming great at something you like is equally as rewarding as eliminating a bad habit.

This is the first year where I viewed my resolutions as something to look forward to, rather than a big process to take the fun out of my life- and it’s working!

Have you stuck to your New Year’s resolutions?  Do you have any tips?  Do you have any funny fail stories?

Bonus link: Psychology Today- Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

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