How to Set New Year’s Resolutions You’ll Actually Stick To
New year, new me!
That’s probably how 2020 started for all of us… and 2019… and 2018. We’ve all gotten caught up in the hype of the new year and have probably all come up with new goals for the coming year. After all, January 1st is a fresh start at least in terms of the calendar so...why not let it be a fresh start for us too?
We’ve all been there and we all know what comes after the goals are set.
At first you have boundless enthusiasm. Monday morning comes around and the meals for the week are prepped already with every single calorie accounted for. You’re up and out the door at 5 a.m. and heading to the gym. You’ve decided you won’t mentally curse your boss out and you're practicing 10 minutes of meditation per day.
You feel amazing.
Then Tuesday comes and all of that enthusiasm is still there. By day three, things start to get dicey. You’re on your way home to meditate, fully worked out and In-N-Out starts sounding reallly good. The next morning you’re already sore from your last two days in the gym and it’s cold out, so the gym doesn’t seem quite so appealing.
At this point, you’re lucky to make it to day eight, far less actually achieve long-lasting change. So, how do you pull it off then? How can you actually make this year your year? In this article, we’ll be exploring a few strategies that you can use to set the best goals possible and see them all the way through to the end.
Always Set Measurable Goals
S.M.A.R.T. goals have become a bit of a cliché but there’s good reason to repeat the basic principles of effective goal setting. Setting goals the right way is a big part of seeing them through to the end. Let’s start breaking down the acronym and see how it can be beneficial.
You want to begin taking a general desire you have and forming it into a sentence that achieves a specific end. For example, “losing weight” isn’t a great phrase to build a goal around. It could mean anything and doesn’t generate the emotional power necessary to get you started.
Specificity in our goal statements takes us out of the realm of possibility and into the realm of probability. You don’t have to be particularly technical about how you measure your particular goal. Meaning, if your desire is to lose weight and you’re aiming to fit into an old pair of pants, that desire is already pretty specific, since it’s a definite objective.
Specificity makes your goal far more relatable and allows you to envision something specifically. Don’t believe me? Compare the feeling of “being rich” to the feeling to the feeling of “making $200,000 by December 31st, 2021”
Right now, I bet you’ve already started thinking specifically about how you’ll spend $200,000. You have a number of months in mind it’d carry you, maybe a specific debt or two you’d cover, changes to your car, a new computer, a shopping spree, and so on.
Even after all of that’s taken away, you probably have an idea of how much you’d have left over afterward. That’s the power of a specific financial goal and the power of adding specificity to any goal. Sure, it probably feels amazing to sit and imagine a powerful wealth goal and that’s healthy and productive, but specificity adds a touch of reality to your goal. This will go a long way toward helping you take and maintain specific actions.
Once you have a specific goal, you’ll need to ensure that you can also track your progress. Measurability is key to a long-term goal. Yeah, yeah. I know. You’ve heard the cliché from every Tony Robbins and Gary Vee video on YouTube but it’s a fundamental truth.
You see, the makeup of our brains predisposes us to pursuing short-term pleasures over long-term things. Most of the time it's because we’re given a quick and powerful hit of dopamine when we do something “fun” or enjoyable.
Long-term pursuits like New Year’s resolutions don’t trigger that dopamine rush as easily as simple things like scrolling your Facebook feed or eating Hot Cheetos. Which is where being able to measure your goals comes in handy. You see, the reason you’re compelled to keep scrolling Facebook or keep eating Hot Cheetos is because your dopamine system keeps giving you little rushes.
Given that long-term goals take a while to show up, the initial high you get from starting out on your pursuit will eventually wear down. Soon you’ll find yourself unmotivated and giving all of your old habits a second glance. Make a commitment to yourself to measure your progress at regular intervals.
Break your one large goal into several mini-goals that you can measure.
If you’re aiming to run a mile in five minutes but your current best is ten minutes, try to beat your previous best by 10-20 seconds each week. That doesn’t mean you go all out in every single run, but at least once a week, you go for it. If your goal is to lose 40 pounds, start with a half of a pound a week and make sure to measure. Seeing results regularly will help you get that dopamine surge and stay motivated for the long-term. Half of a pound a week may not seem like much to lose and it may take a while to see the results anywhere else but the scale, but having a weekly goal that small has its advantages, which we’ll cover in the next section.
Setting a massive goal is an admirable thing and often, it can be a key to getting us started and off our butts. Massive goals often result in permanent or long-term life transformation. However, they’re also the type of goal that we fail to follow through on most often.
Massive goals can strongly challenge our sense of self. As we progress toward achieving them, many people come up against obstacles that seem to say you’re not good enough to achieve them. Having set out to lose 50 pounds in 15 weeks, the stress of losing the first five in week one can make anyone think it's impossible to make it all the way through. Having a goal that’s attainable matters so much.
I’m by no means suggesting you "dumb down" your goals to something impossible to fail. Set your goal in a way that’s challenging to reach, but not so much that it becomes intimidating to do.
Relatability usually goes without saying. It’s really rare that a person would choose a goal that’s completely unrelated to them. But for the sake of argument, I’d advise against choosing a goal that’s truly unrelatable to you or your circumstance right now. For instance, unless you have access to a beach and a surfboard, don’t make learning to surf a priority this year. Instead, consider something like long boarding or skateboarding that you can do in any environment.
If you’ve moved into a work from home position, consider learning an instrument or doing that online Graphic design course you’ve always wanted to start.
Finally, always put a date to your goal. Bearing a specific time frame in mind is another way to keep your motivation high as time goes by. In addition to measuring your results at regular intervals, specific dates add a manageable level of pressure to your efforts.
In the pursuit of a new goal, it's natural to have weeks that are up and down. You’re not perfect nor should you endeavor to be. As you see yourself progressing toward your end date, you’ll know whether or not you’ll need to step things up a bit in order to stay on track. Keeping time in mind gives you an extra source of motivation to bounce back from days or weeks where you didn’t do everything you could to succeed.
Making a Habit Stick: How I Learned to Like Cardio by Copying Firas Zahabi
This touches on attainability once more, but on a more practical level.
I’m a beefy dude physically. It's mostly muscle, since I have a thicc frame, but I definitely put on a few extra during 2019 and that carried over into 2020. To start the year off, I decided that I wanted to get back into at least reasonable shape cardio-wise.
I’ve always been into lifting, but outside of sports, I hated cardio. The only things that could get me running was the fear of my coach and my desire to win. Outside of that you’d never catch me just running for the sake of being healthy.
Because I’m older now and the ongoing health situation, playing rugby or basketball again was pretty much out of the question. So, I had to learn to love running.
I approached this by applying a method I once heard Firas Zahabi discussing on a podcast with Joe Rogan. Zahabi is a mixed martial arts coach and physical trainer who has trained world champions like Georges St. Pierre. He emphasized that one of the reasons European fighters would so often dominate American fighters had to do with the European focus on consistency over intensity.
You see, American wrestlers would tend to go in for training a few times a week for a few hours at a time but go all out every time. Once they leave the gym, they are exhausted and need time to recover before the next session. On average, they spend time in the gym probably three times a week.
European wrestlers, however, would often spend hours upon hours training, but never go to the point of absolute exhaustion. Doing so allowed them to recover extremely quickly which meant that they could be in the gym every single day.
Over time, this effect adds up to a startling gap in the amount of time invested between European and US wrestlers. I applied a similar philosophy when I started learning to enjoy cardio. I would deliberately only push myself to the point where I just barely became uncomfortable running. Once I got uncomfortable, I’d take a break and walk for a bit while I recovered.
Once I felt good enough to run again, I would. I’d repeat this process only up until the point that I felt I’d completely had enough.
Taking this ultra-low intensity approach is very slow at first, but it minimizes the “effort hurdle” we face each day when it comes to taking action on our goals. If you know you’re only going to do as much as you’re comfortable doing, it's easy to get started.
Once you get started 21 days in a row, you now have a habit and thanks to your body’s remarkable capability to adapt to stress, you’ll naturally start running longer and longer. I’ve personally gone from running for 60 seconds at a time to running for up to 9 minutes unphased in under 6 months.
The point is, you don’t have to get started with a huge chunk all at once. Do what you’re comfortable doing just up until it becomes uncomfortable. But, make sure you get back at it the next day.
The Power of Visualization
Equally cliché but just as useful as our starting acronym is the power of visualization. In a very real way, your mind has the potential to be limitless. If we think of everything, we can perceive with our five physical senses as information, then your mind already has access to potentially infinite information.
Now of course I’m not saying you have an entire dictionary of words at the tip of your fingers, but if I were to tell you to imagine a Rottweiler puppy, chances are your mind can conjure up the image, despite no puppy being present.
Yeah, it sounds wild but just roll with it for now.
The thing is, visualization can work on a number of levels and you can take whichever level you feel the most comfortable with and roll with it.
For now, try putting yourself mentally where you would be should you achieve your new goal or goals. Who are you talking to? Where are you standing or sitting? What does your room look like? Are you enjoying a cup of coffee? Are you cuddling with your significant other? What emotions do you embody?
Wherever you find yourself going mentally, do so in first person and really focus deeply on the emotions and sensations you feel. It’s more important that the emotional content of your mental scene is relatable than it is intense. Let it be as natural as possible.
What’s the point?
Well, if you’re a little bit on the esoteric side (like I obviously am), you can probably already guess where I’m going with this. However, it must be said that our minds have the power to shape the realities around us.
Even if you want to skip the esoteric and focus only on the literal applications of this principle, then during those times when you’re feeling down or unmotivated, go back to your mental scene. Doing so will get your fire lit once more and you’ll find the strength to give it your all.
As for the more esoteric of us, experiencing something in imagination is the way reality is made. No matter which success guru you listen to or follow on social media, they all encourage and make use of this practice themselves. Is it a coincidence that so many of them achieve their goals?
The point isn’t necessarily only to visualize, you can feel free to use your imagination in whatever way you’re the most comfortable with. If you’re really good at hearing a hearty congratulations, then go for it! If your thing is tasting the champagne you’ll be sharing with friends after you’ve found success, do that!