5 Ways To Make Your 2016 Resolutions Not Suck
45% of Americans make New Years resolutions every year. You’re reading this, so that means you intend to make some yourself this year, and you don’t want to suck at it.
Why would you be worried about your resolutions sucking? Well, because out of 144,000,000 or so people who make resolutions every year, only 8% of us are successful at keeping them. 11.5 million people nail it. 132,500,000 blow it.
And what’s the #1 resolution made by Americans? Lose weight.
As a guy who used to be really quite overweight, who was ordered by his doctor to do something about it, I can tell you I’ve been there. I’ve been one of those 92% of Americans who resolved to lose weight in the new year and failed at it… repeatedly. Why? Because it’s hard. And while I’m not specifically writing about how to succeed with a weight loss resolution here, I am going to use it as an example because, for one, it’s something I’ve got direct experience with, and secondly, it will provide a solid example of why and how resolutions to make a significant change in your life fail far more often than they succeed.
So, let’s get into it, shall we…
1) Focus On Process Not Outcomes
Alwyn Cosgrove talks about this one a lot, and honestly, if this is the only tactical change you make this year with your resolutions your odds of success are going to skyrocket. So, what do we mean by focusing on process and not outcomes. If your goal is to lose 10 pounds and all you focus on is whether or not the needle on the scale is moving you’re going to drive yourself crazy with frustration. We tend to think of progress as something that happens in a straight line. You start at point A and end up at point B, and the path between the two points is linear. In the case of weight loss, the graph of successful weight loss would look, if your expectations are linear progress, like a straight line that graphs a stead loss of X number of pounds per week or month.
In both cases we do, in fact, start at point A and end up at point B, but the realistic path between those two points is a jumble of mid-points, backtracking, sidetracking, rest stops and plain old random. When all you do is look at the path there are many points along the way where you can easily begin to believe all is lost or maybe you’re going the wrong way.
When you focus on the process instead then it becomes much easier to stay on track. So, what does that look like? Instead of obsessing about the outcome (what the scale said today) you obsess (in a good way) on the specific things you need to do in order to move that needle. Commit to 30 minutes of exercise every day, or eating vegetables and protein with every meal. Focus on what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it, not on where you’re trying to go. If your goal is spending less and saving more money, find a process-oriented way to make this happen. Perhaps you could set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to a savings account of a given amount every pay period, or limit yourself to buying coffee at Starbucks only twice a week instead of daily. The point is to focus on what you’re going to do and track your compliance with that and let the outcome take care of itself.
2) Be Realistic and Honest With Yourself
When I started my fitness quest I was shallow as hell about it. While my doctor had warned me my health was in danger, and I knew I needed to take better care of myself, all I really wanted was to look like Robert Downey, Jr. in Iron Man –
I had visions of never wearing shirts with sleeves ever again.
The thing about this goal is it’s utterly unrealistic. RDJ looks like that because he’s paid a lot of money to look like that. It’s his job. What that means is he has a professional chef and nutritionist who make all of his meals for him and make sure he eats them at the optimal time to support the four or five hours a day of workouts his trainer drags him through.
Could I do that? Sure. If you pay me a couple million dollars for six weeks of work and give me three months to spend with my nutritionist and trainers.
Having massive, scary, gigantic goals is wonderful. Aspiring to greatness is how greatness happens in the world. But aspiring to look like a fitness model or Hollywood star when you have neither the time nor the resources to do the things they do to get the results they do is a bit like setting a goal to launch a commercial space flight from your backyard using an old skateboard and the tools in your shed.
Be honest with yourself about how much effort you are willing to put into reaching your goal, how much time you have to work on it and what resources you have at your disposal and what potential you have to acquire new resources if necessary.
Here’s the tough part – you also need to be honest and realistic about why you haven’t achieved this goal before. If you’re trying to eliminate a bad habit or acquire a new good habit what are the things and who are the people that are a part of your life today who have contributed to where you are right now? What can you do to minimize the impact of those people and/or things in the new year?
3) Find Your Why
Not only was aspiring to RDJ sleeveless hotness a bad goal for me because it wasn’t realistic, it was, as I said, shallow. A shallow reason to make a change will never drive you.
Shallow reasons work OK on a good day. On January 2nd wanting to rock that LBD or show off your guns might get you to do your workout and eat your veggies if the sun is out, the stars are aligned, you got plenty of sleep the night before, your spouse smiled at you and gave you warm good morning hug and the kids are contentedly making themselves breakfast and getting ready for the day ahead with no help needed from you.
Shallow reasons turn to dust and bitter memories on January 3rd, when you had too little sleep, the dog puked on the rug, your spouse is angry and won’t tell you why, your kids are fighting (and one of them saw the dog vomit and puked on top of it), it’s raining outside, the astral plane is out of whack and you stepped on a Lego on the way to the bathroom.
On a good day it’s easy to find motivation. On a bad day, F&*$ this actual S^#%, I’m having cake for breakfast, buying not one, but two deluxe Starbucks ultra whipped frapawhatsits and I’m putting it on my damned credit card, thankyouverymuch.
Here’s the problem – if you’re over the age of 15 you’ve probably realized a long time ago that bad days happen far more often than good days. If your WHY only gets you to stick with your process plan on good days then the odds of achieving your goal are pretty close to zero.
Let’s say I’ve put a 10 foot long 2×4 down in my driveway and I tack a $20 bill to one end of it and I tell you that if you can walk across that 2×4 without falling off you can have the $20. Will you do it? Of course you will. Why wouldn’t you. Easy money.
Now, how about if I put this 10 foot long 2×4 between two 30 story buildings, and tell you if you walk across that beam without falling (to your certain death) you can have the $20. Will you do it? No friggin’ way. Why? Because it’s not worth it.
What if I up the stakes? If I put the person you love most in all the world on the other side of that chasm between the buildings – your wife, husband, daughter, son, mother, brother, sister, best friend is on the other side of that beam and I’ve set their building on fire. Now you have to cross that beam, retrieve them and bring them to safety. Do you do it? I’m going to guess you do. Why? Because, in that scenario, risking yourself is worth it to save them. The why is big enough.
Use this in two ways for goal setting and choosing resolutions. First, is there a reason you would make the change you are targeting that’s big enough for you to stick with your process and plan even on a very bad day? Second, is the change you are contemplating actually important enough to suffer through those times (which, as I mentioned above are probably going to far outnumber the good days) when sticking with your process is going to be pretty awful?
My aspiration to have RDJ tank-top arms did not keep me on track. Here’s what did: When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans I saw a story on news about a man who had saved his family by punching and clawing his way through the roof of their house as the waters were rising and threatening to drown them all, hauled his wife and kids to the roof and then, as the waters continued to rise, used his strength to put them all up into a tree. When I saw that story I realized that if that same situation presented itself to me, my family would be dead.
I was fat and weak. I couldn’t pull myself up onto a pull-up bar, let along pull my wife and kids and myself out of harm’s way. Looking good in a tank top didn’t matter. Being able to save my own and my family’s lives did. RDJ arms didn’t get me to get up at 5:30 am every day to do my workout. Being strong enough to save myself and my family did.
Your why might not look anything like mine. But if you can find it, you can use it to build the consistency you need to change your life.
4) Accept and Embrace Failure
Striving for perfection is the surest path to disaster I know. No one can nail it 100% of the time. Holding yourself to an impossible standard is demoralizing. Look at the graphic about success above. Regardless of your goal, your path is going to look like spaghetti someone spilled on the floor. Energy expended trying to straighten out that line and take out the backtracks and sidetracks is energy you cannot use to create progress.
Darren Hardy wrote a book called The Compound Effect, and if you’re at all inclined to pick up a book to read in order to move you forward in life, I’d suggest you give that one a shot. I will give you the extremely truncated Cliff Notes version here:
What you do consistently, over time, produces who you are. I didn’t get fat and sick because of one thing I did. It was a consistent set of behaviors compounded over a 20 year period. Eating too much at Thanksgiving doesn’t make you gain weight. Skipping a workout because of an emergency at the office didn’t make me unfit. Consistently eating a bit too much and consistently favoring being sedentary over being active did it.
You are going to miss workouts. You are going to indulge. Disorganized days and splurges are going to happen. The trick is making them the outliers and not the norm.
Tony Horton says he plans to do a workout every day. 7 days a week, 365 days a year. But he’s human (surprisingly enough) and sometimes family, work and life get in the way. By planning to exercise 7 days a week if he misses a day that means he got 6 workouts in. If he has a really crummy week he’ll get in 5. 6 or 5 out of 7 still means the ratio of success to failure at sticking with the process is still heavily tilted in favor of success. If you plan for 5 and miss 2 then you’ve got a problem because you’ve bailed on your process more than you’ve stuck with it.
Apply this to anything and you’ll succeed. Plan to follow your process every day. When life gets in the way, accept it and move on. Tomorrow is another day.
5) Be Accountable To Someone
Remember what I said about Hollywood stars and why they can consistently look the way they do? There’s a chef cooking their meals (and making sure they eat them on a schedule that supports their goals) and a trainer who shows up at their houses to force them to do their workouts every day.
If you’ve got the scratch, hire people to keep you on track. Seriously. Do it.
If you don’t (and really, you don’t because you’re reading my blog), all hope is not lost. Accountability is the secret sauce for blowing up any goal. Find a buddy who shares your goals and sync up with them every day. Check in and say “I did my workout” or snap a picture of your plate to prove you’re eating your veggies with every meal.
I run fitness groups on Facebook for this very purpose (shameless plug – email me if you want to know how you can participate). Why? Because, as a wise man once said, you are the sum of the 5 people who spend most of your time with, and for many of us, our family and close friends are not a reflection of who we want to be, but a reflection of the person we are trying to change.
Remember what I said about being honest with yourself about who in your life might be keeping you from achieving your goals. That doesn’t have to be a nefarious arch enemy, or even someone who wishes you ill at all. To be blunt – if you’re fat and sick there’s a pretty good chance the 5 folks you spend most of your time with are fat and sick too. If you’re depressed and struggling to dump a negative attitude take a look around you. Are your friends and family struggling with the same issues? Are they generally positive or negative people.
I am not saying you need to pack your bags and move (although, in some cases, that might be exactly what you need to do). The tendency when we are trying to make changes is to view everything from a subtractive standpoint. People who want to lose weight go on diets, but if diets (any of them) worked, the diet industry would have put itself out of business decades ago. Subtracting pie from your life might help, but it’s far less important than adding broccoli would be. The same goes with people. You don’t need to abandon your friends and family in order to get healthy, if those people are generally unhealthy. You just need to add healthy people who have similar goals into your life.
Improve the ratio of positive, successful people who are doing what you want to do in your life and you’ll increase your odds of being one of them. If there’s no one close to you who you can partner up with for accountability and encouragement, seek out some new folks online, at work, at church… it doesn’t matter where.